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General information for Jewish genealogical research in France

by Micheline Gutmann

Before studying the sources for different regions of France, it is important to point out the similarities and the differences between the regions.

  • Vital records less than 100 years old: the civil registers are held in each town hall. Death certificates are accessible to everyone, as well as birth and marriage certificates that are over 75 years, for birth and marriage certificates under 75 years old, you must be a descendant.

  • Vital records over 100 years old: there is no systematic reporting of births, marriages and deaths prior to the establishment of civil registers on 1 January 1793, with a few exceptions (discussed region by region).

  • Fixing of names: names were seldom fixed prior to 1808. Exceptions are in the south (east and west) and often in the Lorraine region; in Alsace, more frequently in the Haut-Rhin department than in the Bas-Rhin. Name taking was generally as a result of the Bayonne Decree of 20 July 1808, in force in the Napoleonic Empire. Sometimes there were subsequent changes to the name.

  • Notaries’ acts: exist in all regions, these are very interesting in the 18th century with regard to marriages. Other deeds are available in many regions. These can be found at the departmental archives, except in Paris where they are held at the National archives ("Minutier" or Central registry of notaries).

  • The general census: started in France in 1836 (except for Paris and Ile-de-France). In particular, the census of 1851 indicates religion.

  • Census of Jewish heads of families prior to the Revolution, taken in order to tax them.

  • Online posting of vital records from civil registers is becoming widespread.

  • State of conservation of Jewish cemeteries depends on the duties and opportunities of consistories in regions under the Concordat system or when cemeteries are specifically Jewish. Burial Records sometimes exist.

  • In the rest of France, there used to be designated areas ("carrés") in cemeteries whose maintenance is usually the responsibility of municipalities. The "carrés" are no longer recognized so tombs now coexist regardless of religion.

  • Naturalization files are centralized at the National archives (see Research in Paris).

  • Archives concerning deportation are centralized in Paris (see Research in Paris), departments perform more specific searches.

We strongly advise you to consult the book by Gildas Bernard, archivist at the National Archives of France, titled "Jewish families in France". It includes an accurate, historic summary useful to Jewish genealogy, followed by a detailed inventory of sources at the time of publication in 1990 (Available at the GenAmi library and in all major departmental libraries).