The Departmental Archives of Pas-de-Calais

The Land Registry - Le Cadastre

Plan cadastral

In over forty of the links to the left of this page are listed departmental archives with land records online. These land records are usually the plans cadastraux, the cadastres par masses de culture, the cadastres parcellaires, with the tableaux d'assemblage, the états de sections, and the matrices cadastrales. No departmental archives has put all of these on their website, but many have put up at least one set.

The modern French land registry is over two hundred years old and the beautiful maps are its ongoing legacy. There were maps before the Revolution, the most accessible being the Cassini map, but it was after the Revolution, when the new government wanted to tax all those new landowners, that correct maps became urgent. Napoléon was famous for his ability to read and memorize maps and for his obsessive study of them before a battle, so we would only expect it to have been he who founded a national land registry. Initially, only 1800 communes were surveyed and mapped, with the maps showing land cultivation. Created from 1803-1808, these are the cadastres par masses de culture.

The intensive map-making got under way with the law of the 15th of September, 1807, which ordered detailed maps for all the communes of France, les cadastres parcellaires, also known as les cadastres napoléoniens, the Napoléonic maps. These show the boundaries of each commune and the division of it into between three and eight sections, each of which is designated by a letter. The lettering begins at the northernmost point and continues clockwise around the map toward the centre. 

The tableau d'assemblage will group all of the section maps for a commune together. It will show the boundaries, the section letters, main roads, rivers,  forests, etc. The état de sections is the legend to the map, giving for each parcel, in numerical order, the name of the owner, the name of the property, the type and capacity of cultivation, and the revenue. The matrices cadastrales detail the taxable property, from houses and barns, to woods, pasture, heaths, orchards, etc. Each of the matrices cadastrales also has a table alphabétique des propriétaires, an alphabetical list of landowners.

National maps have been updated repeatedly, of course, in 1850, 1898, 1930, 1955, etc. but it is those explained above that are on the departmental archives' websites. They can be used, with a census entry,  to locate exactly where a family lived. The list of landowners can help to find relatives in the same area. The maps can also be used to trace the history of a house:


  • the état de sections will show when the property first was surveyed and added to a map and who the first owner was;
  • then the  alphabetical list of landowners shows the accounts page in the matrice for that property
  • the accounts page in the matrice gives the names and professions of all owners and renters of the property, the dates when the property changed hands, its classification, name, parcel number and revenue.

Google Street View

Although we are charmed by the occasional stories of villagers stoning Google's car with mounted cameras when it begins to film their homes, we have to admit that it can be entertaining to use Street View to look at the address where an ancestor lived. However, do make sure that the building in Street View actually existed at the time it was your ancestor's address!

Finally, we think that the cadastres napoléoniens are very pretty and spice up a genealogy book nicely. 

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy