How to use French census records
French census records (“recensements” in French) are a great resource if you want to know more about the living conditions of your French ancestors: how many children they had, what other family members they lived with, where their house was located… And also about their occupations and employers.
When were census records made
The first population censuses in France were conducted in 1791. However, it is rare to find census records from that period. For most towns, census records start in 1826 or 1831.
Censuses were held every 5 years, except at times of war:
- the 1871 census was held in 1872 due to the Franco-Prussian war;
- the 1916 and 1941 censuses were cancelled due to the First and Second World War.
The type of information that can be found in the census records has evolved through time but some information can always be found for each individual:
- name and first name (women are sometimes listed under their maiden name, and sometimes under their married name);
- relationship to the head of household (wife, child, …);
- marital status (single, married or widowed);
- age or year of birth;
- address (since 1851).
Some census records also give: the nationality, the place of birth, the type of employment (boss, employee, …) and the name of the employer.
Finding census records online
Census records can be found in the Archives Départementales of each departement. Most of these records have been digitized and they can be found online on the Archives Départementales websites.
And thanks to a change of law in december of 2018, census records of many French departements are now available online until 1936.
Tip: You can find the Archives Départementales websites by googling “archives départementales” + the name of the département where your ancestors lived.
Census records can be found under differents names: “recensements”, “recensements de la population” or sometimes “dénombrements de la population” or “listes nominatives du recensement”.
Unfortunately, census records have rarely been indexed. So, you will have to read all the pages in order to find your ancestors.
For small villages, this is not really a problem. But for big cities, it’s better to know the street where your ancestors lived before searching in the census records. This is an information that can often be found on birth, marriage or death records.
Some census records have also been indexed on Filae:
- the 1872 census records;
- some census records from 1901 to 1911.
Here is an example of what I could learn about one of my ancestors’ family, thanks to the 1921 census records.
In 1921, the Méa family lived on the “Rempart du Midi” *** street in Avize (Marne). The family was composed of: Ernest Edouard MEA, his wife Clotilde and their 4 children ***.
Note: instead of repeating the same word on following lines, the census taker often wrote the abbreviation d° (for ditto) or a sort of wavy line. Here, the first child is marked as fils, and the line is used to indicate that the following persons are also the children of the head of household.
Both the husband and the wife were born in Tauxières (Marne) in 1868 and 1870 ***. And their four children were born in Avize, between 1898 and 1918 ***.
We also learn that all of them worked as wine-growers (vigneron) ***, except for the two youngest daughters who were too young to be employed. The name of their employer is indicated in the last column: it was the famous Champagne house Pommery ***.
Note: for people who didn’t have an occupation, the box will either be empty, or filled with sp or sans, meaning sans profession (“without occupation”).
47 thoughts on “How to use French census records”
hi i am so glad something like this has appeared to help
my father was born in Douai, Nord France but his father was english and mother was french and she passed away during his early years i was asking him about his family before he passed away and he had a serious fallout with his father as during ww2 he and his elder sister were left in france and brought up by his mums family can you please advice the best way to find out about my french side as my dad did not know his mothers maiden name thank you so much for this site im hoping it helps me in my future search.
thank you for your message. The best way to start would be to obtain your father’s birth certificate in Douai. In France, the maiden name of the mother was always written on birth certificates.
Birth certificates for Douai are online on the website for the Archives of the Nord departement until 1918. If he was born after that date, you can obtain his birth certificate by writing to the town’s city hall.
Hi Elise, I would like to find out about my French father but don’t know wear to start! I will tell you what I know & I’m hoping that you can help.
Father’s name – Henri Malfreye. Born Paris 04th December 1918
(his father died at the end of the 1st world war, he had come from Canada to fight for France)
(his mother, then a widow, moved to Bourth, Normandy with her small daughter & baby son)
1939 Henri Malfreye joined the French army & was taken as POW in June 1940, he was sent to Hannover to a camp in Muhlenberg. He worked in the nearby factory, Hanomag doing war work.
This is where he met my mother in 1942, they had a secret relationship until December 1944, when POW were sent back to France. I was born in January 1945. There was some correspondence in 1946, after that nothing.
My mother married to England late 1948 , then in 1951 a lot of her letters were returned to her, she only had a poste resident address, never knew why.
I would just love to know more about my french roots, but have no idea how to start! I don’t speak french, only English & German.
Look forward to hearing from Kind regards Annegret Fidock
as you know his place and date of birth, you can start by looking for his birth certificate in the Paris archives. They are online for the year 1918, so you should find it on their website. You can find the direct links to the archives and some information about how to research on this other post: https://www.myfrenchroots.com/finding-your-ancestors-in-paris/
Salut, Elise. Your blog is full of interesting and helpful information, and is wonderfully clear and easy to understand: well done! As you add more to it (which I hope you will), I think it will become an invaluable resource for those of us just beginning to delve into French genealogy. A word of warning, though, for anyone looking for census records of the Nord département – apparently the only year that has so far been digitized and put online is the one for 1906.
A couple of other baffling words that non-Francophones may find in the census (sometimes called a ‘dénombrement’ as well as a ‘recensement’). One is ‘néant’, which you’ll see in the ‘profession’ box, and translates as ‘nil’ – like ‘sans’ or ‘sp’ it means the person has no profession. The other is ‘id’, which is an abbreviation for ‘idem’ – it means ‘the same’, and is another way of writing ‘ditto’ for a repeated word on the following line. ‘id’/’idem’ is also found in English (it’s really a Latin term) – but its usage is more technical, and you seldom come across it in British genealogical documents .
P.S. Your English is perfect!
Thank you for your comment and for your insights!
My great uncle, Jan Niemiec, was born on May 21, 1899, in Giedlarowa, Podkarpackie, Poland. He died on July 1, 1965, at the age of 66. Back in Poland, someone wrote on his birth record that he died in Blanc – Mesnil, France.
Is there any way for me to find a census record for him in France? I’d like to learn, for instance, whether he was married, or had children.
As you know his date and place of death, the best way to go would be to ask for his death certificate in the townhall of Blanc-Mesnil.
On his death certificate, it should be mentioned if he was married.
You can also find some census records for Le Blanc-Mesnil on the website of the archives of Seine Saint Denis (https://archives.seinesaintdenis.fr/search?preset=85&view=list), but they are not online after 1931, so it depends if he already lived there at the time.
At what time of year were censuses recorded or did it vary, do you know? I’m thinking 1950s but I know they aren’t available yet.
Hello, the time of year varied from one census to another. Usually, you can find the exact date of the census either on the first page of the census or in the last pages.
The 1950s censuses are indeed not available online yet.
I just came across your blog. I’ve been doing some French research for my niece. My French is very rusty due to lack of use. The abreveations that Ossie wrote are coming in very handy. I’m sure the websites you recomend will also come in handy. If it wasn’t so late at night, (1AM) I’d try out those sites right now. Thank you for you helpful information.
Hello, I came across a census record for a french Canadian relative. One of the members in the houshold has the letters jine beside his name where it indicates his relationship to the head of the household. Do you have any idea what that stands for?
Like this, I don’t see what it could stand for… Do you have a link to the record, so that I can see what it looks like? (or you can send me a photo on my email on this page)
I hope you don’t mind me asking but how easy is it to get records after 1945. Suppose you want to find the whereabouts of a family who you know left Paris in 1945 but you don’t know where they went.
Unfortunately records after 1945 are not available online. So it can be quite difficult to get records after 1945. However, if you go to the archives, you can freely access census records until 1975. You can also obtain a copy of a death record freely without delay, but you have to know where to ask. If the people you are looking for died after 1970, you can use the INSEE death files in order to find their date and place of death. These files have been indexed on different webistes (Filae, Geneanet or https://arbre.app/insee/ for instance).
I wish to accertain if a James Brady is in the French census in the 1901
Do you know where he would have lived at the time? If you do not know where to look it will be quite difficult, as there is no global indexation of all the French census records.
You can try to search on Filae, where some census records between 1901 and 1911 have been indexed (but it’s mostly the 1906 census that has been indexed).
This is a wonderful blog, thank you. I have used the Oise recensements regularly as my mother’s family were all involved in the horseracing world in Chantilly and Maisons-Laffitte from 1831-1940. So many English families and they all intermarried – quite a jogsaw puzzle! One big stumbling block I have is that my great grandfather, Arthur Johnson, died in hospital in St Germaine-en-Laye, Yvelines Jun 1920. I believe he lived in Maisons-Laffitte (where his siblings lived) but cannot find him in the census. I have obtained his death certificate but would really love to find where he is buried. I contacted the vicar of the Holy Trinity Church at Viroflay (which seemed to be an English speaking Church) but he could not find any record of his burial – I’m not sure if they even have a cemetery there. I was wondering if the cemetery in Maison Laffitte has an English section like the Bois Bourillon? I am sorry to ask you but I don’t know what else to do.
There is a telephone number (Conservateur du cimetière Tél/fax 01 34 93 11 64 ou 06 43 43 29 82) for the Maison Laffitte Cimetiere but my French is certainly not good enough to phone them! Would you know if there is an email address to which I could try to write please as I cannot find one? Any other suggestions as to where I should look would be marvellous.
you could try to contact the townhouse of Maison-Laffitte through their contact page : https://www.maisonslaffitte.fr/Contacter%20les%20services/461/5792 and they should be able to forward the message to the people in charge of the cemetery.
Hi i dont know if it is possible to find any information my grandad born 1873 was a Jockey i know he lived in France between 1891 and 1897 he met my grandmother while serving in a hardware shop in Paris my grandmothers family were from Guernsey do you think it would be possible to find any information on either of them ?
Hello, if they lived in Paris, it might be difficult as there are no census records for Paris before 1926. If they lived in another town, you could find them in the census records for 1891 or 1896, but you would have to know in which town to look for them, as those records aren’t indexed…
I enjoyed your post. I am trying to find an address for a family. I have them in the census, but all I see is a number for an address. How do I find out what that number goes to? It has the town, a number, and then another number for the individual. I don’t see a name of a street. The town is Reichsfeld, France.
For small towns, such as Reichsfeld, the exact address usually wasn’t given in the census records. Sometimes, you can find the name of the street in the first column (but for very small town it’s not always given). The numbers in the following columns correspond to the count of the houses, households and individuals in the village. So they are not helpful to find the exact address. If they lived in the same town for many years, you can try to look for them in other census records, for different years, that might give additional information (at least the name of the street).
You have a wonderful blog!
I might try to find some distant relatives of mine in the 1926 Census of Paris. I have an address: Rue Saint Paul 22. I know that this address is in the 4th Arrondisement. As you observe above, I believe that the next step is to find the Quartier where this is address is located. Is there an online application somewhere that would take an address in Paris and provide the Quartier that it would be in for the 1926 Census. If not, how would one determine which address the Quartier is in?
The best way to find which Quartier a street is in, is to go through this page: http://www.v2asp.paris.fr/commun/v2asp/v2/nomenclature_voies/Voieactu/index.nom.htm. Every street of Paris is listed and if you click on it, you will find the Quartier where it is located. Here is the page for Rue Saint-Paul: http://www.v2asp.paris.fr/commun/v2asp/v2/nomenclature_voies/Voieactu/8946.nom.htm
You can see that it sits astride two Quartiers: Saint-Gervais and Arsenal. So you will have to look in both in order to see where the number 22 is located (in each Quartier the streets are in alphabetical order).
Any help would be greatly received I am researching my family and have come across a ancestor Thomas bramley/Bromley born aprrox 1826 British subject born France I have no idea how to go about looking for him or why his family would be in France..again any help very much appreciated
You can start by looking at French databases like Filae or Geneanet. Filae may be particularly helpful as almost all civil registers from the nineteenth century have been indexed. With luck, you might find a trace of your ancestor there.
Hi Elise. I’ve just found out I’m half french 😀and trying to find information regarding my father. I think he was born in 1945, and in 1963 lived at –
39 Rue de Excelmans
He was called Jean Pierre but I don’t have his full surname. It’s starts with Ban. Is there a way I can access the 1961 census for this area to try and find out his full name etc ? Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks.
Unfortunately, census records for Paris only exist for the years 1926, 1931, 1936 and 1946. Only samples of the more recent census records have been kept, so your chances of finding your father in them are very low.
Another way to find him would be to look for electoral rolls of his area. These rolls still exist and are kept by the Archives of Paris. However for this period, they are not digitized and you would have to go to the Archives in Paris to look them up.
Many thanks Elise.
Really appreciate the information. I can see it’s not going to be as easy as finding my birth mother in the UK especially as I don’t speak French ! Are the Archives of Paris open to the public daily, or do I need to make an appointment?
Also, do you have any other suggestions of where to look if electoral roll doesn’t prove successful? Is there a register of births (1945) open to the public / online ?
yes, the Archives of Paris are open to the public daily (see their schedule on this page: http://archives.paris.fr/a/71/venir-aux-archives-de-paris/)
The birth registers for 1945 are not available online. There are annual tables of births for this period, but I am not sure if they can be looked up in the Archives of Paris, or if you would have to go to each arrondissement town hall to look them up.
I found your site recently, and it’s a wonderful resource!
I am trying to find information relating to the death of a relative in Val-de-Marne in 1975, my French is not very good, and I’m having trouble locating on-line records. She was English and her death was ‘unusual’, so I thought there might be a newspaper report as well as official records.
Please could you advise me?
unfortunately, death records for 1975 are not online (too recent). But if you know the exact town and date of her death, you can obtain a copy of the death certificate by writing to the town hall.
As for newspapers, it is the same problem: they are not available online for this period. You would have to go to a local library or archives to look them up.
The 1911 Census was taken on what day(s)?
the day when the census was taken is usually written at the bottom of the very last page of the census.
I have a lot of detail regarding my grandfather’s family tree, ancestors and other relatives, but nothing about his 4 siblings, other than their date and place of birth.
My grandfather had a brother, a sister and twins (a brother and sister) who were born in Strasbourg in 1871, 1873 and 1877. I believe both brothers trained as doctors but I do not know where they studied or finally lived in France or whether they were married and had any children.
I have tried geneanet.com and archives-de-france.fr but am finding it very difficult to understand how to research ancestors and family on both websites (even with google-translate!). Are there any simple or basic instructions how to use these websites?
Do you have any suggestion how I should proceed? As you can guess, I am not a professional genealogist!
there is an English version of Geneanet that you can find here: https://en.geneanet.org/
However, if you have the exact dates and places of birth, it might be better to start by researching their birth certificates on the website of the Archives Départementales (you can see this article for more information on how French archives work: https://www.myfrenchroots.com/where-to-find-french-records/ or this one about how to start your research in France: https://www.myfrenchroots.com/finding-your-ancestors-in-france-where-to-start/)
what is the birth year in 1820 census of Pas-de-Calai, it is written as ad10 The other family dates are 1799 to 1830.
It’s difficult to answer without an image of the census record. But it might refer to a year from the Revolutionary calendar. See this post for more information: https://www.myfrenchroots.com/understanding-records-from-the-french-revolution/
Samuel Walker – 1816 to 1870
I think that I am descended from the above person (great-great-grandson), and have traced him in Nottingham on both the 1841 and 1861 UK Censuses, where his occupation was noted as a Lacemaker on both documents, but no trace of him or his family in the UK between June 1841 and July 1854. I think that he was married to Jemima (nee Keeton 1815-1854) in 1835, and they had at least three children – Samuel (1836-1838), Henry (1839-?), and my great grandfather Samuel (1841-1912). It could just be that the family was either not recorded on the 1851 UK Census, or that they have not yet been traced. However, there is an unsourced reference on the internet to them being at Rue de las Place du Crevecour (St Pierre), 62193 Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais at the time of the 1846 French Census, and knowing Samuel’s occupation, I wonder if that might be credible……
Any thoughts would be gratefully received…..
The census records for 1846 in the departement of Pas-de-Calais are available online. You can find them through this link: https://archivesenligne.pasdecalais.fr/console/ir_seriel.php?id=56&p=formulaire_recensement
It seems that “Place du Crevecoeur” was either in Calais or in Saint Pierre lès Calais, so if they actually lived there, you should be able to find them.
Hi Elise, i am not sure if this is the right way to do, but i am willing to try almost everything to find missing information about my granddad. He was born in Czechoslovakia (former Austria-Hungary) at 1918, and last info i have got from myheritage etc. is that he got a citizenship in France in 1963. The issue is, i don’t know anything else, like where he lived, whether he had remarried etd. I suppose so, but have absolutely no clue where to find that stuff. And my knowledge of french is zero..
There should be a file for when he applied for French citizenship in the French National Archives. If you have the exact date, you could ask for a copy of the file from the archives. You can find their contact information on this page: https://www.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr/en/web/guest/contact
You can also search for his name on French databases like Filae or Geneanet, to see if anything comes up.
Were there specific dates on which the Census was taken?
While other countries do have them, I could not find similar information for France.
I suspect that the census was taken about the end of the first quarter of the year, based upon the mayor’s stamp and date at the end of the census records I’ve seen. However; this is just derived empirically.
Since 1841, censuses had to be taken on a specific date. Most of the time, it was around May 1st. However, this could change depending on the year. To be sure on which date the census was taken, you have to check the date at the end of the record.
Awesome site. Thank you for posting and keeping it fresh! I am hoping for a tip to assist me on locating my husbands grandfather please.
He has put his name as Rene Emile Harriete born Hendaye 1900 in a number of documents. He has stated twice he was an electrical engineer.
He married and fathered a family in South Africa and was said to be away for long long periods.
I did try writing to the Hendaye Pyrenees commune about 10 years ago and got a reply to say no such person with that spelling of surname but the first names were also not matching either. I tried boats arriving in SA but the three names don’t gel from where I looked.
Please if you can think of something- i would appreciate your input. I scrutinised every document in South Africa for a closer birthdate but only the 1900 date works back on every item.
Thank you in anticipation of a reply
you can try to look for him on Filae and Geneanet, where you can find a lot of indexed records. You may find a clue there. Don’t forget to look for different spellings for his name (the name Harriet seems to be more common than Harriete in the Hendaye area).
There are also indexed records for the departement of Pyrénées-Atlantiques on this website.
I hope you will find a clue!
Best regards, Elise