How to Research Your French & Belgian Ancestors

lighting the way

Researching and finding your French and Walloon (French Belgium) ancestors can be an overwhelming feat, especially if you 1) don’t know the language, 2) live in an another country or continent, 3) don’t know the town they’re from (and you need to know it to proceed) 4) finding records and help online 5) deciphering sloppy handwritten old records, 6) brick walls, but once you overcome those hurdles, your genealogical research with pay off.

Over twenty years ago, I started my journey researching my French ancestry, and a painstaking and frustrating journey it was. Brick wall, after brick wall. Ancestors who didn’t write anything down (later I found most couldn’t read or write), didn’t pass on family history, never spoke about the ‘old country’ or relatives. I became so frustrated, I wanted to dig them all up, well, at least the ones I knew about, and shake them! Uuugh. By the time I was 20, every French relative known and unknown had died. My dad passed away in 1999, taking whatever he knew to the grave.

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At that time, Ancestry.com was a fledgling company, RootsWeb was flourishing, Geneanet was barely launched and French Department archives were not online. My 1 year high school French was about as dead as my ancestors. I searched and ordered every kind of record and information I could find on the ones I knew about; grandmother, great-grandparents, in the USA; death, probate, marriage, birth, ships lists, schools, newspaper clippings hoping I would find the towns in France. Each piece took me a step further to finding them. It wasn’t until I came across a naturalization record in the US, and a death record in Québec, that I finally got the big break.


Today, French departmental records are available and accessible online for free, plus numerous free resources and databases. My website and tutorials will help train you to research, find, read, and gather the important genealogical information from parish, civil, military enlistments, and census records, and how to network through French Gen sites, in the hope it will help you succeed in researching and then finding your French and Belgian Ancestors, and guiding you how to understand and extract the genealogical information

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