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Huguenot Genealogy - The Protestant Registers

Huguenot Martyr

Documents and registers are going online at a snapping pace, so much so that we must revise our post of last November on Huguenot records in the archives. There are now quite a number of Departmental Archives which have, in the sections on the parish registrations, (the registres paroissiaux), the Protestant registers as well. 

One must differentiate between the Protestant churches. The Reformed Church, or Eglise réformée, was that of the Calvinists. They were the Huguenots and their church was officially banned from 1685 to 1787 throughout France and her colonies. The Lutheran Church, or la Confession d'Augsbourg, (the registers for which are usually termed registres protestants) was always legally tolerated in Alsace and their registers date back to 1525. Thus, for those genealogists who know that their ancestors were Protestant from Alsace, it is important to know whether they were Calvinist or Lutheran.

At times the registers were required by law, and at other times, when the religion was banned, so were any registrations. Only the legal registrations will be found on the websites of the Departmental Archives. They may also be held at the municipal or communal archives with a few being held at the National Archives. The timing, and what may be found as a result, are as follows:

  • From 1560 to 1685, registrations of marriages and baptisms, which gave the subjects' names, parents' names and godparents' names. The places for which the earliest registers still survive are: Caen, Loudun, Montpellier, Saint-Jean-du-Gard and Vitré. These appear as separate registers from the registres de catholicité or paroissiaux.
  • From 1579 to 1685, when the posting of banns became a legal requirement for all, the law included banns for Protestant marriages, but they had to be made via the local priest, which must have made things uncomfortable. These appear in the Catholic registers.
  • From 1684 to 1685, pastors had permission to register their church members. Most of these lists were destroyed when the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685. Those that remain are better sought via the Huguenot Society or the Bibliothèque de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français.
  • From 1685 to 1782, the Catholic baptism registers might often have said if a child was born to Protestant parents or had been previously baptised as a Protestant.
  • From late 1685, Protestant deaths had to be declared by two witnesses to a local judge.
  • From 1736 to 1787, registers of Protestant burials were maintained. The archives for Caen and Montauban both have complete series for these years.
  • From 1744, and probably before, Protestant pastors kept secret registers, les registres "au Désert". Again, the information from these is better sought via the Huguenot Society or the Bibliothèque de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français.
  • From 1787 and the Edict of Toleration, things got very messy: those Protestants who all ready were married  had to declare their marriages to the local Catholic curate or to a judge. Some of these declarations may appear in the Catholic marriage registers. All future baptisms, marriages and burials also had to be declared to the curate or a judge. The curate put these into his Catholic BMS registers.
  • From 1792, the insanity ends and the civil registrations, the actes d'état civil, begin. Even so, some unofficial Protestant registrations continued until as late as 1840. Again see the publications of the Huguenot Society or the Bibliothèque de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français.

We do hope that this post's value will last longer than ten months, but if not, we will endeavor to bring things up to date.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy