Ryan Taylor Sources for tracing roots in France


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By Ryan Taylor

I always tell people there is no handbook detailing how to do genealogy in France. What I mean is, there isn't one in English.

There are a number in French which could be accessible for those willing to work with a dictionary at hand.

A very good one is Yann Grandeau's A la Recherche de Vos Ancetres (1975), unfortunately now out of print but still available in many libraries. It is a brief guide with everyday language.

As with Quebec research, church and civil registration records are tied up together in France. Couples wanting to be married, for instance, had to appear at the local town hall to register the marriage before proceeding for a church wedding. It was the civil ceremony which supplied the legal contract on which marriage is based, not the religious one. (In Quebec, it is the religious ceremony which does so.)

Whatever we may think of Napoleon's other efforts, his organization of the French legal system, including civil registration, is a blessing to researchers today. The French Revolutionary calendar, which sought to regularize the months with different days and leap year, was in place for fourteen years (1792-1805 in the Gregorian calendar). It had months with exotic names like Brumaire and Fructidor. Grandeau provides a chart to convert your family documents from Republican to Gregorian, although good researchers will continue to give dates in both forms since the Republican one is more authentic to the event.

The Book of Calendars (1982), or similar books, can provide the same information to convert your Republican dates.

For those who might be in the market to buy a handbook for France, there are other possibilities:

ABC de Genealogie, by Valerie Gautier (21,85-all prices are in Euros) is in dictionary form, as is the similarly named Abecedaire de la Genealogie, by Pierre-Valery Archassal (9,45).

W.-G.Hartley has published Absolument tout sur la Genealogie (18,69) but I must admit to a prejudice against any book which claims to have 'absolutely everything' on any topic. Despite the author's English name, it is from the editor of Ge-Magazine, the principal genealogical magazine in France. Its address is Editions Christian, Ge-Magazine, BP 99, 75522 Paris cedex 11. The price given is 374 francs (not yet converted to Euros) for foreign subscriptions.

As with so many other things in France, the final word in genealogical handbooks comes from Larousse. Entitled Le Larousse de la Genealogie: A la Recherce de Vos Racines (37,05), is brings together the most information and most substantial detail.

All the above are available from amazon.fr, the French branch of amazon.com. Even Grandeau, although out of print, is offered for sale used at amazon.fr.

French Canadians who have some idea where in France their family started out may want to look at the appropriate volume of Nos Origines en France, by Normand Robert, published in Montreal by Archiv-Histo. It is now complete in fourteen volumes, the last of which includes an overall index.

Another interesting series is Thomas Laforest's Our French-Canadian Ancestors in thirty volumes (1983-1998) which gives biographies of the earliest settlers in New France, with their places of origin in old France. There is an index to the first 28 volumes.

In the meantime, French researchers in North America can hope that someone will write a handbook in English. Louise St-Denis of Heritage Productions in Toronto says she is often asked for one, and would gladly publish it if she could find an author.

Posted February 18, 2004
Column copyright © 2004 Ryan Taylor

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