Thanks to my discovery of online records in France, I have had a couple of very productive months of genealogy. The branch that had long been the one that I knew least about has grown substantially over the last several weeks and continues to do so. This is the branch of my great grandmother who I wrote about in an earlier post. She was born in Nantes, France.
Many French records are kept in the departmental archives. France is divided into 100 departments. The department is one of the most important administrative divisions. If you are looking for records, you will have to figure out what department your ancestors lived in. Nantes is in the department of Loire-Atlantique (formerly Loire-Inférieure). The departmental archives have an extensive collection of online records, including Parish records of baptism, marriage and burial from the 1500s to 1792 and civil records of birth, marriage and death from 1792 to the beginning of the 20th century. In order to do effective research you will also have to find out the commune that your ancestors lived in. The commune is the smallest administrative unit and the most important for tracking down the records.
My great grandmother was born in the commune of Nantes in the department of Loire-Atlantique. However, in this case, the commune records are not kept in the departmental archives like the rest of the communes of this department. Nantes, the largest city, has its own municipal archives with the same types of records in addition to a number of other online collections of records, pictures, maps and photographs. Several indexes are provided for locating records. You should start with the table décennale which provides a ten-year indexes for records. For my great grandmother, my search for her birth record would start with the table décennale of births (naissances) for 1893-1902. On page 212, you will find the entry for Suzanne Jeanne Gardahaut. This entry will point you to record #343 in the register for the 6th canton in the city of Nantes for the year 1900. With this information I can begin my search of the appropriate register and find the birth record. In this same set of records, you will also find the birth record for my uncle Léon Eugène Gardahaut (pictured above). However, because he was born before my great great grandparents married, he is listed under his mother's surname, Le Bourhis.
Once you have found a record, it will often give information that will help in finding other records. For someone who has done genealogy mainly in the US, you will probably be pleasantly surprised by how informative the records are.