Thursday, March 29, 2012

Finding online French records, Part 2: Navigating French departmental archives

Once you have found the webpage for the appropriate departmental or municipal archives (see here), the next step is to find the relevant information on the website.  To do this you should know a few basic phrases.  The first thing you want to find is the location of the online resources. The key phrases are archives en ligne "online archives" and archives numérisées "digitized archives", even just the terms en ligne "online" or numérisé(es) "digitized" might point you in the right direction.

Let's take a look at the Departmental Archives for Calvados in Normandy (here).  On the right side of the webpage you will find the following box:

You will want to click on the second item down "Les archives numérisées en ligne".  This will take you to a page that lists their online collections.  There are two sets of resources.  The resources of most interest to genealogists are in orange and unfortunately you must pay in order to access them ("Nos consultations payantes").  The three collections that require payment are:
  • REGISTRES PAROISSIAUX ET D'ETAT CIVIL - Parish registers from the 16th century including baptism, marriage and burial records up to 1792 and civil registers since 1792  with birth, marriage and death records
  • CADASTRE NAPOLEONIEN - Land maps first instituted by Napoleon
These are three of the most common types of collections available on departmental archives websites.  The census, here "listes nominatives", will also sometimes be referred to as "recensements de population".  In some departments, these collections are free, but for Calvados a small payment is required. The rates (here) range from 2€ for two days to 200€ for a whole year.  Even if the collections are free, you may still need to register to use a departmental archives website.

Next, click the "consulter" button for "registres paroissiaux et d'état civil", probably the most important collection for genealogists.

 Now, let's take a look at the search form.

The first heading is "Vous connaissez le lieu?", "Do you know the place?".  In the first box you enter the commune you want to search for records in.  If you don't know what a commune is check this post. Under that box is a pull-down menu that will let you search by all the parishes and institutions in that commune.  For a large city you will have many choices, while a small commune may have only one parish.

Under the second heading you can search for a commune in an alphabetical list by clicking on the link in green.

Under the third heading, we can limit our search by date. You can put a single year in the box marked "Exacte" or a range starting with "Début" and ending with "Fin".

Finally, we have the heading "types d'actes", "types of records".  Here are the key terms:
  • Baptême - Baptism
  • Mariage - Marriage
  • Sépulture - Burial
  • Naissance - Birth
  • Décès - Death
  • Table décennale - (an index for civil records covering a ten year period)
When you are ready to search, make sure you hit "OK", not "ANNULER" which will clear the search box. Even if you have haven't paid yet, you can search and see what records they have; you just won't be able to view the images.  Play around and get a feel for the materials they have.  You can also try navigating other departmental archives with your new arsenal of words and phrases.

If you are still struggling you can use Google Translate, you simply need to enter the URL.  One limitation is that it will only translate regular text, not text in images. 

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