JEWISH GENEALOGY RESEARCH IN FRANCE
JEWISH SETTLEMENT IN FRANCE
Jews have been documented in France since ancient times. Jews lived in Phoenician Marseilles before the Romans invaded Gaul. During the Middle Ages, they were periodically expelled and again allowed to return, until 1384, when some 100,000 Jews had to leave France, mostly to German speaking areas. For instance, Rashi spent a great part of his life in the town of Troyes around 1100 CE, growing wine grapes, teaching and commenting. Thereupon, there were no Jews any longer left in the Kingdom of France.
But the Kingdom did not control the Papal states around Avignon, in the South West of France, where Jews could survive. Also, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and then Portugal in 1492, a number of "New Christians" emigrated to the southWest of France, mainly around Bayonne and Bordeaux. Though apparently assimilated and christianized, this "Portuguese Nation" maintained a hidden Jewish faith and practice. Besides these two French speaking communities, the largest number of Jews living on the territory of present France, the so-called German Jews, lived in Alsace, initially under the control of principalities of the Holy Roman Empire, and in Lorraine, around Metz.
When France progressively took control of these provinces, a certain status quo was respected, though Jews were no citizens, not allowed to live in towns and were subjected to discriminatory taxes. On the other hand, Jewish communities could live according to their own rules, as long as the relations with the civil and Christian authorities remained as imposed.
In 1791, during the French Revolution, Jews at once became citizens with the same rights and obligations as all other Frenchmen. They were allowed to settle where they wanted, mainly in larger cities where they could more easily earn a living. There have been two major waves of Jewish immigration, from the 1880ies to World War II, Eastern Europeans, and from 1950 to 1962, North Africans. The present Jewish population in France, estimated as 600,000 persons, includes a majority of people originating in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
The 1791 revolutionary, anti-clerical government abolished vital registration by the Church parishes and made civil registration compulsory for all. Thus, from September 1792 to now, Jews in France have their birth, marriage and death events registered in civil vital registers. The system devised at the time has remained in force without any modification; it was apparently perfect from the day of its inception.
The administrative organization of France has also remained stable, the national territory being divided into Departements (presently 95 for Continental France, 2 for Corsica, and 5 for overseas colonies). Vital events are recorded in each town hall (Mairie). After 100 years, they are stored in the Departmental Archives (A.D.) located in the "chef-lieu" (the Departement "capital").
Civil registers exist since "Year One" of the French Revolution, (22 September 1792) and are generally available. There are exceptions, the most important being the Paris Town Archives before 1860, which were destroyed in 1871 during the Commune, a revolution.
Though French has been the country's official language since the 16th century, early civil records in Alsace and part of Lorraine are in German (or rather what the local officer, who spoke the local dialect, thought was German). The script was Gothic and written as though by people for whom writing was not a current occupation. The same applies for all other documents in these places at that time; they require some practice to be deciphered and understood.
ACCESS TO CIVIL VITAL RECORDS
All records older than 100 years are accessible without restriction, as well as death records less than 100 years old. Birth and marriage records more recent than 100 years are in principle delivered only to direct descendants; a verbal declaration is sufficient. There are no administrative or photocopying fees.
Index registers (Tables annuelles, tables decennales)
So, for example, the last years of the 1903-1912 period are still within the 100-year period of limited access. Therefore it is too early yet to microfilm the registers and tables to make them easily available to the public.
Physical location of the vital records
Send a letter to the appropriate Mairie (Town Hall), give a date as accurate as possible, include a French stamp or an International Reply Coupon (2 if you wish to request a reply by air mail).
For the online directory of postal codes of French Towns, see: http://www.france-codepostal.fr/en/
For the online Mormon (LDS) French letter-writing guide, see: http://www.familysearch.org
2. For the period prior to 1903, a copy of the records is kept at the Archives Departementales (A.D.). A.D.s do not perform research, nor do they provide copies of records. But access to all documents there is free, except for very ancient and fragile ones, where prior permission must be granted.
If there are microfilms (60% of the archives are microfilmed), you may make a copy if you go there, or if somebody goes for you. Most microfilms existing in the A.Ds have been microfilmed by the Mormons and thus may also be viewed at any LDS Family History Center.
One exception in Alsace (Haut-Rhin), is the "Centre Departemental d'Histoire des Familles" in Guebwiller, which may do research and send you a vital record for 60 FF (about $10). The preferred method of payment from overseas is an International Postal Money Order.
THE REPUBLICAN CALENDAR
The French Republic, in keeping with the trend to decimalize all measures, also instituted a new calendar, comprised of 12 months of 30 days each, plus 5/6 "complementary days" at year-end. The names of the months and days were changed, and the week replaced by a 10-day decade, etc. The Republican calendar was in use from September 22, 1793 (though starting one year earlier) to January 1, 1806. The conversion from the Republican Calendar to Gregorian dates can be found online.
THE SPECIAL CASE OF PARIS
Paris is presently divided into 20 "arrondissements" or districts, each one with its own Mairie which keeps the vital records as an independent entity. Prior to 1859, there were only 12 districts, with distribution different from the current method.
In order to obtain a document held in a Mairie, write to the appropriate district. If you do not know the correct Mairie, you may contact the Mairie du 1er arrondissement, 4 place du Louvre, 75001 Paris. Request that your letter be circulated to each of the 20 districts. Always include one or two International Reply Coupons. Be patient, especially if you request that your letter be circulated. Contact information is as follows:
Records prior to 1903 are held by the "Archives de la Ville de Paris", equivalent to an Archive Departementale. During the Commune (a popular uprising against the conservative government, after Napoleon III had lost the war against Prussia in 1871), the Paris Archive was destroyed in a fire set during the turmoil. Thus all Archive records prior to 1860 are lost. About 30 % have been reconstructed from copies held by other archives or by families.
Comprehensive census reports for Paris and the surrounding area exist only for 1926, 1931, 1936, and some after WWII. For some towns near Paris, such as Courbevoie, Boulogne, Vincennes, census reports exist as far back as 1881 or 1891.
CIVIL CENSUS REPORTS
In France, except for Paris and almost all the of the surrounding area, census reports are available from 1836 and every 5 years thereafter, until 1936, and then irregularly thereafter. Census reports for periods prior to 1903 are held by the Archives Departementales; for periods after 1903, the reports are held in the individual Mairies. These census reports are not indexed and have not been microfilmed.
NOTARIAL ACTS (ACTES NOTARIES)
When notarial acts are over 100 years old they are sent to the Archives Departementales, where they can be inspected, but not photocopied. However, sometimes they remain at the lawyer's office archive, where you can have them retrieved for you and even copied in some cases).
After inception of civil vital registration, the existence of a pre-marriage contract was usually cited in the marriage record, with its date and the name of the notary in charge. Notary registration of the pre-marriage contract was compulsory for Jews in Alsace and Lorraine from the 18th century on.
In addition to pre-marriage contracts, many other acts of daily life were registered by notaries, such as: purchase and sale of real estate, wills, IOUs, etc.
For further information, see:
"Mémoire Juive en Alsace: Contrats de mariage au XVIIIème siècle".
Compiled by André-Aaron Fraenckel. 451+p. Editions du Cedrat, Strasbourg, 1997. ISBN 2-95111121-0-6.
Index to "Mémoire Juive en Alsace...".
Compiled by Rosanne et Daniel N. Leeson, Paris, 1999. ISBN 2-912785-10-3. 2 volumes. Tome 1 (Bas Rhin), 475 pages; tome 2 (Haut Rhin), 413 pages.
THE PERIOD PRIOR TO 1792
With few exceptions, systematic registration of vital events was not in use prior to civil registration. Keeping registers of vital events is not part of the Jewish religious tradition. Therefore, other sources must be used.
Names of the French Jews
In order to avoid the problems raised by this continuous change of second name, Napoleon, in a Decree given in 1808, ordered that all Jews adopt stable family names, a practice that was already in use in several places. In every town where Jews lived, these adoptions of names were registered at the Town Hall, and a great majority of the records have survived. They provide a bridge from present names to those in use prior to 1808. They also constitute a comprehensive, detailed census of the French Jewish population in 1808, allowing researchers to reconstruct the families. In fact, the head of the family registered himself first, then his wife, specifying that she was the spouse, and thereafter the father registered his children one at a time. When known, the birth date and birth place of the children may be present, and also, in some cases, the father's trade.
For further information, see:
"Recueils des déclarations de prise de noms patronymique des Juifs en 1808" by Pierre KATZ:
Bas-Rhin ( 4 vol. 800 p.)., new edition, 1999.
Haut-Rhin ( 2 vol. 401 p.), new ed. 1999
Moselle, Meurthe-et-Moselle (2ème edition 1999 - 1 vol. 320 p.).
Collections of the hereditary names chosen by Jews in 1808, showing older and new names.
OVERVIEW OF THE VARIOUS ZONES OF SETTLEMENT
In each major zone of settlement, different conditions prevailed, each providing specific tools for genealogy research. For the sake of comparison, around 1789 some 5000 Jews lived in southwest France, 1800 in the southeast, and 1700 in various other cities, including Paris. In Lorraine, in and around the city of Metz, there were about 7000 Jews, and in Alsace about 23000.
The early settlements in the SW and SE of France, though in limited size, played an important role in the history of French Jews. Having adopted French habits for a long time, they were able to rise both socially and economically. Their family histories have been kept over time, inasmuch as most families had a well-known personality within their ranks.
The Jews in the Comtat Venaissin ("The Pope's Jews")
The Portuguese Nation
In the Departement de la Gironde, the A.D.(in Bordeaux) and also the municipal archives hold various documents, mainly from the 17th and 18th century. In the Departement des Pyrenees Altantiques, the A.D. (in Pau) and the municipal archives also hold various documents (mainly 17th and 18th centuries). These documents have been catalogued.
Vital registration documents, as well as tax registers and notary deeds, are available for periods since the 18th century. In particular, marriage contracts (tenaim) registered with the Royal Notaries have been indexed. They are held in the A.D. du Departement de la Moselle (Metz) and also in municipal archives.
For further information, see:
"Contrats de mariage juifs en Moselle avant 1792" par Jean FLEURY
2021 contrats de mariage notariés, (3e édition, 1999, 1 vol. 255 p.).. ISBN 2-9510092-5-9.
Extraction of records from the civil registers.
"Tables du registre d'état civil de la communauté juive de Metz (1717-1792)", par Pierre-André MEYER.
Republication in 1999 of the edition of 1987 by the author, comprising corrections included at the end of the volume and indicated in the text.
1 volume, 462 pages.
From the religious records.
In 1784, Louis XVI ordered a general census of all Jews in Alsace, which is available to researchers. Combined with the name adoption lists of 1808, the 1784 census forms a genealogical bridge from the 19th back to the 18th century.
Louis XIV had ordered that all Jewish marriage contracts (t'naim) be filed with Royal Notaries. These contracts, in many cases, cover the whole 18th century.
For further information, see:
"Le dénombrement des Juifs d'Alsace (1784)" (This is the new edition, published by the Cercle Genealogie Juive, taken from the original 1785 document in Strasbourg.) "Index to the Dénombrement des Juifs d'Alsace de 1784".
Compiled by Daniel Leeson.
Various Other Sources
NATURALIZATIONS AND ASSOCIATED PROCEDURES
There are 3 ways to become a French citizen :
The naturalization file usually contains copies of the documents requested for the procedure, often including important genealogical material. Naturalization files are available to the public 60 years after the application was filed. Exceptions can be granted for special cases: academic research, or access to one's own file.
After Alsace and Moselle were annexed by the German Empire in 1871, their inhabitants had the opportunity to move to France and there confirm/recover their French citizenship. In 1872/73, it was sufficient to live in France and to file an "option for the French nationality" to confirm one's citizenship. After 1873, sons of Alsace or Lorraine, French-born residents of France, could recover their French citizenship by applying for "re-integration". The corresponding files are similar to naturalization files.
Files for naturalizations prior to 1900 are kept at the National Archives in Paris; 20th century files are in Fontainebleau (60 km SE of Paris). Option and re-integration files are kept in the Paris National Archives.
Retrieving the files involves two steps:
The process of locating the numbers of the decree, etc., and using the varied indexes, are extremely complex and require a good knowledge of the system used. Then the wait time for receiving the actual files can be many weeks. Therefore, this is not something that can be done by mail from outside of France. These naturalizations can provide helpful genealogical information, but the services of an experienced local researcher are really a necessity.
JEWISH RELIGIOUS SOURCES
Since the time of Napoleon I, the administrative structure of the Jewish community is one "Consistoire" per Departement, and one national "Consistoire Central". Not only have no rules for maintaining files and archives been set, but many documents have been lost or destroyed. Finding a document is a rare opportunity.
1. Census Reports
1809, which had disappeared for a long time and was found some years ago in the USA. The Consistoire of Paris holds a copy. For each of the 2914 individuals, it lists given name, surname, address, year and place of birth.
1852, which contains only the head of household, the address, often the profession, sometimes the date of arrival in Paris.
1872, which is arranged by arrondissement, in alphabetical order (only for the first letter). It gives the surname, name, profession, and address for the head of household, the first name of the wife, and the number of minor sons and daughters. Only in the 11th arrondissement are the children named.
2. Marriages: Information is provided as certification of a religious marriage. Marriages have been recorded since 1823, stating surnames, given names (not always), addresses, class of marriages. After 1873, the dates and places of birth appear (not very precise). Not all marriages took place at a synagogue and thus were not recorded.
For further information, see:
"Mariages religieux juifs à Paris, 1848-1872".
Data compiled by Anne LIFSHITZ-KRAMS (3e édition, Paris 1999, 1 vol. 200p). ISBN 2-9510092-0-8.
3. Death registers: The registers exist since 1882 and list surname, first name, name of the spouse, address, age, cemetery, class.
Contact : Philippe LANDAU , directeur des Archives du Consistoire, 17 rue Saint Georges, 75009 PARIS, France.
There are specific Jewish cemeteries in Alsace, Lorraine and several other places in France. Generally, there used to be a Jewish plot (carre juif) in most general cemeteries. Recent burials may take place among non-Jewish neighbours.
Information about a grave in a general cemetery is available from the local cemetery administration. For Paris and the surrounding area, unless you know which cemetery among the 8 possible cemeteries is involved, inquire with M. le Conservateur en Chef des Cimetieres de Paris, 16 rue du Repos, 75020 Paris. Give the name, the year of death, say that the deceased is an ascendant or a near relative, and give a reason for the inquiry. Always send an envelope with a stamp or an International postal coupon.
For further information, see the IAJGS Cemetery Project for France.
Many books of French cemetery listings are currently published, and more are to be published. For full information please see the link to Publications on the web site of the Cercle de Genealogie Juive.