“One of my ancestors was French, how can I find out more about the French side of my family” is a question that many of our clients ask us at some point during their journey from property search to moving in to their new French house.
Some of our clients begin their property search by looking in the area around the town or village where their family came from and so they already have an idea where to start searching for genealogical records.
Others clients become fascinated by the search for their French ancestors once they have brought a French property, moved to France and are settled in their new house. For these researchers there may not be just a single geographical starting point.
Either way, here are some general guidelines that may help you get started in your search.
Firstly, you need to understand that in France archives, though coordinated from Paris (quelle surprise!), are held at the Departmental level and you will almost certainly need to begin your search here. If you can’t easily visit be assured that the French archives are rapidly moving to digitised storage so even if you live some distance away you will likely be able to connect to the relevant archives online.
Secondly, since Napoleon, French administration has been extremely diligent in maintaining complete and accurate records of births, marriages and deaths. With the depth and breadth of French archives you are very likely to be able to build a complete genealogy of your French family back to the 18th century.
Thirdly, going back beyond the 18th century is not quite so easy, because the records before then were often kept at the parish level and may not have been recorded diligently. Apart from the obvious problems caused by physical loss and damage due to time there are a number of less obvious difficulties. In many rural parishes the priest may not have been literate and so you may find periods when no records were kept. You may also find that the text may be difficult to understand because it was written in a local dialect which may have very little in common with modern French.
Finally, it is generally best to try to find marriage records first because the marriage records will give you the most complete picture as they will include both sides of the marriage, including parents.
Despite the difficulties of research you need not struggle with your research on your own. A professional researcher can probably achieve in a few hours what it might take you months to discover working alone.