Nobles on the Net
Sint ut sunt aut non sint

Finding a Parish

Saint Etienne du Mont

It may be that you have traced your family and have copies of civil and parish registrations back to the eighteenth or even seventeenth century, and then are blocked because a person on, say, a marriage registration, gave his birth in another parish and you cannot locate that parish. Such is the case of our Reader,  Madame H., who wrote of an ancestor from "Saint-Mathurin-de-la-Dagueniere" in Anjou, a place that seems to be two.

Firstly, a couple of definitions. A paroisse in the French Catholic church is the territory under the spiritual jurisdiction of a curé; not to be confused with the British parish, which is an administrative division, comparable to the French commune. A diocèse encompasses many paroisses and is under the spiritual jurisdiction of a bishop or archbishop. 


Usually but not always, a parish takes its name from a local church and a diocese takes its name from the town where its cathedral is located. In small villages where the village name is a saint's name, the village may be the equivalent of the parish. Additionally, from Roman times to the Revolution, France was divided into provinces, which fluctuated somewhat.

To find a parish is no longer too much of a headache, thanks to the Internet, but it still may take some hunting and may, in the end, be found with help from many people, as we described on a similar parish hunt. Here are a number of places to look:

  • Start with a search of the parish name on Wikipedia in French. It may be the same as a town. If so, the page will give the department where the town is located and you will then be able to use the link in the left-hand column of this blog to go to website of that department's archives. In this, case La Daguenière is a town near Angers, in the department of Maine-et-Loire, which Madame H. had already discovered. Be sure to read the history of the town to see if its name was different during the century for which you are searching.
  • Find the town on Google Maps, if possible. (Be warned that Google Maps for France is not infallible. Some of the maps used date from the 1960s and much has changed since then.) 
  • Wikipedia and Google Maps have no Saint-Mathurin-de-la-Daguenière and no Saint-Mathurin near to La Daguenière. On the map can be seen that, about five or six kilometers up the river is a Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire
  • French Wikipedia has listings of every commune (city, town, or village) for every department. In the search box, just type in commune and the name of the department. The list for Maine-et-Loire has, of course, the two villages, La Daguenière and Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire. It does not have any other version with Saint-Mathurin.  
  • Wikipedia also has a list of old commune names for each department (liste des anciennes communes) and that for Maine-et-Loire shows that Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire was known as Saint-Mathurin until 1974.

It is our experience that people tended and still tend to give the name of a larger town near to their home when speaking to those who do not know the area. Knowing that near to La Daguenière was a town named Saint-Mathurin, the quickest way to determine the parish location is to go to the website of the Departmental Archives or Maine-et-Loire, which will show the parish names for the registers for each place. La Daguenière had one parish in the seventeenth century and that was named Saint-Blaise et Saint-Nicolas. Looking in the listing for registrations in Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire, called simply Saint-Mathurin in the same century, shows that the parish was also named Saint-Mathurin. Madame H. wanted to know if it would behoove her to search the registers of La Daguenière. It would not. We would like to point her in the direction of Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire, with wishes for good luck.

Where the Departmental Archives may not be online or where the parish did not keep its own registers, the hunt may be more difficult. Continuing the search with the following may be of help.

  • The Catholic church of France has a website with a map of all current dioceses of France. It is interactive, so you can click on the diocese to get its address and a link to its specific web page. Each has a link to a list of its parishes. Many parishes have their own websites as well and are often worth checking as some give the history of the parish which may have changed its name over time.
  • Check the list of pre-Revolutionary dioceses, Ancien Régime dioceses of France, (which is in English) on Wikipedia to see if the boundaries of the diocese have changed radically. 
  • It may help to also study the map on France Gen Web of French Archbishoprics and Bishoprics in 1748, again, to be certain of boundaires and hierarchies at the time. 
  • Many towns, even the smallest, have their own Wikipedia pages which may give the town's complete history, including all of its churches. 
  • In despair, one could write to the archivist of the diocese or to the archivist of the relevant Departmental Archives.

Failure is no reason to give up; only a call to be more creative.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy