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We start with a couple of interesting facts: 8.3 million Americans (3% of the total population) claimed French ancestry in the 2000 U.S. census, and 2.4 million Americans (0.9% of the population) claimed French-Canadian ancestry. Thus, with over 10 million Americans of French origin, this research guide was almost inevitable, and in true Genealogy at a Glance fashion, it lays out the basic elements of French research in just a few pages, boiling the subject down to its essence and allowing you to grasp the fundamentals of French genealogical research at a glance.
Consisting of Huguenots, Acadian refugees, and political exiles, the French contingent in America has always been viewed as a distinct element in the population, concentrated for the most part in Louisiana, New England, and the Midwest. Connecting these individuals to France and tracing them back through the earliest records, is the particular challenge of this research guide.
French research, we learn, starts with the vital records of birth, marriage, and death. These records fall into two categories: parish registers before 1792 and civil registrations after 1792. Because most records used initially in French research were created at the town level, identifying an ancestor’s town of origin is critical. Once determined (with tips given here to make it easier), research is generally conducted in the rich collections of departmental archives, including notarial records and censuses that are gradually being digitized and placed online. Municipal archives and libraries are rapidly digitizing their records as well, and the final section of this paper concludes with a list of helpful websites. No research tool in French genealogy is as effortless and as convenient.