Spies for Genealogy - La Police Secrète du Premier Empire
Local Archives Online - Update



Passe-port is a French word, literally a pass to be used at a port. The Glorious Eleventh Edition's article on the subject opens archly with a discussion of  the passport, "or safe-conduct, in time of war, a document granted by a belligerent power to protect persons and property from the operation of hostilities." After a long discussion of safe-conduct for ships, the  author adds as a mere afterthought: "In its more familiar sense, a passport is a document authorizing a person to pass out of or into a country..."

Originally, beginning in the reign of Louis XIV, these were not little books as we know them now, but a single certificate for a limited period of time. Very few have survived being opened, shown, stamped, folded and put away again repeatedly. The more modern passport  in France began with the Décret du 10 vendémiaire An IV (the decree issued on the 2nd of October, 1795, in the Gregorian Calendar), with numerous updates in subsequent years. This changed the passport from being a safe-conduct that one requested to facilitate one's voyage to being a requirement enabling authorities to record one's movements.

The decree required not only passports for travel out of the country, but internal passports, passeports à l'intérieur, for travel outside of one's canton. (One type of passport existed prior to this, from 1724, was the requirement of vagabonds to have their own passport, a sort of homelessness permit.) Happily, the introduction of railway travel made the internal passport system impossible to maintain and it was abolished in 1862. Not so happily, it was to be replaced later by a document whose function is truer to the original intention: the identity card.

The internal and foreign travel passports were issued by different authorities in different places.

  • In Paris, the prefect issued both types of passports
  • In the departments, both types of passports were issued in administrative centres (chef-lieux) with a population of more than 40,000
  • In all smaller towns, the mayor issued internal passports, but for a foreign travel passport, an applicant had to go to the chef-lieu of his or her region

Physically, the French passport of the 19th century was a sheet of paper that separated into two parts along a curved line. One part was kept by the voyager and constituted the passport. The other part is in the national archives, in 656 cartons.

For genealogical research, those passport forms are not as useful in France as are perhaps the passport applications in North America. There are many gaps, primarily because a large percentage of them were thrown out in the 1890s by a gang of gleeful archivists. (It is rare, but it happens.) Most of the registers and indices were lost long ago. Those that remain refer in some cases to records that no longer exist. Over the years, some printed indices and lists of names have been created and are in book form. All of the passport forms are on microfilm. 

 Where to find passport records:

  • In the Archives nationales CARAN, in the sub-series F7 are the forms described above (within that sub-series, no. 12 233 has some relating to Alsace and Lorraine. ) Not online. An internal system does allow a name search for the years 1793-1818.
  • In the Archives départementales de la Gironde  are the administrative records of the Admiralty of Guyenne, with passport records for those leaving Bordeaux, some with documents of proof of identity, 1670-1787. 
  • In the Departmental Archives of the other coastal departments (check this map) the Admiralty records (Fonds des amirautés, Ancien Régime) in series B, will have some passenger lists and permissions to travel. 
  • In all Departmental Archives (see the list of links in the panel to the left) 19th century passport and visa applications are in one of two sub-series: M (general administration and police) or Z (sub-prefectures). Check the department's website to see if their passport records are online. Series P may have some passenger lists for merchant ships.
  • In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archives are some foreign travel passport records, for 1667 and for 1712 to 1731. Not online.
  • Not exactly passports, but there are also the authorisations de garder du service à l'étranger in the Archives nationales in series BB11. These were permissions for a person to work in another country without losing French nationality and range from 1789 to 1930.
  • The published volumes of La Police Secrète du Premier Empire have, in almost every Bulletin, the names of those given passports to leave the country, and from which port.
  • Généalogie.com (now Filae.com) has a small list of passport and related documentation in their databases.

The information found may be well worth the hunt, for it will include:

  • name in full
  • date of birth
  • place of birth
  • age
  • profession
  • residence
  • possibly spouse and any children under the age of fifteen may be on the same passport

All in all, not the best resource.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy