Your French ancestors' free public records online
The Public Archives in France have been created during the French Revolution, on 25th June 1794, under the government of Maximilien de Robespierre. All the French citizens were given then, and still enjoy now, a civil right to consult freely the public records produced on a national, a regional or a municipal scale. The basic idea was that these records had to be preserved but also communicated on request for free in proper establishments. This French revolutionary principle of absolutely free communication of public records has recently been extended to online data by the French Parliament, which voted a Bill for a Digital Republic on 7th October 2016. Anyone in the world is now allowed to access freely French public records on French public websites.
The French public records are run by three different ministries, under the control of one single institution called the Archives of France. This public institution opened its own website, France Archives, which provides the links to all the websites of French national, regional and municipal public archives. Another system of links is available, though, in a French online encyclopedia on genealogy, GeneaWiki, which contains a page dedicated to the online public records in France, called “Archives départementales en ligne”. You just have to click on the map at the right place, in order to access the website of any regional archives you need.
The French ministry of Culture is running the National Archives, the National Library, the Overseas National Archives, the regional archives of 96 metropolitan counties, 5 overseas counties and 8 overseas territories, and the smaller municipal archives of 610 cities (out of 35,416 French municipalities). The main online public documents used by French genealogists, namely the vital records found in both civil and church books, as well as census-papers and soldiers’ enlistment registers, can be found on the websites of the French county and territory archives. Some of them even provide views of notarial records, in which one can find very useful marriage contracts and post mortem inventories and allotments of goods. The same records can partly be accessible too on the websites of some major municipal archives, like in Paris.
There is no public website in France dedicated exclusively to the Huguenots. All the online public documents about them are provided by French regional and municipal archives, which keep some pastoral church books. Other books are kept too at the French National Archives, as well as in the private library in Paris of the Société de l’histoire du protestantisme français, but none of them are accessible online yet.
Research on French soldiers is far easier. All the enlistment registers can be viewed on the local websites of the regional archives, run by the French ministry of Culture. The French ministry of the Armies created its own public website, called “Mémoire des hommes”, where you can find military data on all the French or foreign soldiers who gave theirs lives for France during the First World War and other conflicts. The French ministry of Foreign Affairs created another public website called “ADEL”, on which one can obtain information on French citizens abroad or of foreign origin.
Major cities in France may have their own municipal archives. If you have Parisian ancestors, for instance, you will find records about them on the website of Paris City Archives. You can access birth registers from 1860 to 1912, marriage registers from 1860 to 1940, and death registers from 1860 to 1986. Unfortunately, Paris lost most of its older civil registers and church books in a huge fire of its City Hall in 1871. You can only view now a reconstructed alphabetical file of Parisians who were born, who married and who died before 1860. The parish books of Paris from 1791 to 1909 are not accessible online. They are kept at Paris Archives and at the Archbishopric.