The north-west coast of France faces the south coast of England across the English Channel (la Manche, if you’re French) and the two countries are old allies or enemies depending on when in history the relationship is examined. The Norman influence on Britain has been felt strongly since their conquest of Britain from 1066, and some of the earliest surviving British records include the Domesday book of 1086.Perhaps the greatest friendship stems from the end of WWII when the Normandy coast was the scene for the invasion of Europe and the turning of the tide of the war.

Administratively since 1789 the country is divided into départements, 96 within France itself and 5 overseas territories (Guadeloupe, Guyana, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion), and large towns and cities may be further divided into arrondissments. The language is predominantly French, although there are many minority languages including germanic variants (2%), Breton, a celtic tongue used in western Brittany, and several others used by typically 1% of the population.

Berkshire FHS Holdings

The library catalogue may list some general reference books, but are of interest for how to start and for generic information.

French Archives

The Archives Nationales were created after the French Revolution in 1790, and are divided amongst five centres; see (French language) for details.

In addition each département has its own Archive, best located by searching on the département name coupled with ‘archives’; for instance that for l’Oise region is

Records are also kept in local town halls (mairie) and each arrondissement may have its own town hall and local archive.

BMD records date from around 1792 and are called registres d’état civile; in addition there are ten-year alphabetical indexes of BMD records registered at each mairie, starting in 1793, called decennial tables.

French FHS

Again there are a number of French FHSs, best located by searching for the Département name coupled with ‘Histoire de famille’ or ‘genea’; some of these do offer translated pages but this is often automatic translation, and may not always be helpful.


A Beginners Guide to Researching your French Ancestry, by Kimberley Powell

Many more can be found by searching for ‘France genealogy’

Revised: 21 March 2018

Additional information