Q. Name of area
France. Metropolitan part without oversee department and territories (as Guadeloupe, ...)
Q. Current status:
A nation state. Formally, it is only a part of a nation state, because we did not take oversee territories.
Q. If the area has no current legal identity, when was it defined and by whom?
Q. Outline history: describe the historical development of the unit, as it affected its external borders and internal boundaries:
Around 1000, the royal possessions were only a small territory around Paris. During time, by wars and marriages, the territory extends again lord possesors of "grands fiefs". The south-west was, during long time, possession of England's king. This period started in 1166 with Henri Plantagenet up to 1453. Brittany was attached in 1491. The south boarder with Spain was finally fixed in 1659. The south-east boarder changes with the Revolution (1792) by annexation of Savoy and Nice, but these territories were loosed in 1815 and finally attached to France in 1860. On the north and east sides, the boarders change a lot during times. The Franche-Comté was attached at the end of the XVII century. The north border, in Artois and Flandres changed up to the XIX century. And for east borders, the limits in Lorraine and Alsace changed up to1918. The evolution of France's limits during time could not be study without taking into account the histories of other European countries. This is also true if we want study some particular extend in Italy at different periods or the Napoléon period.
Q. Describe the MODERN hierarchy of geographical areas used for civil administration:
communes (36 559 now, but around 40 000 in 1790)
régions (22, created in 1982)
Normally, each level is formed with units of the immediately under level. But one exception exists. Some "cantons", in towns, were only parts of a commune (for example, the commune of Boulogne-Billancourt is constituted from 3 cantons). But in some cases, a "canton" is formed from a part of a town and from some communes around the town. For example the "canton" of Blois-V is formed from a part of Blois and from the following communes Fossé, Marolles, Saint-Bohaire, Saint-Lubin-en-Vergonnois and Saint-Sulpice.
Q. How long has this system existed?
This system was created in 1789. New departments were created during time : 1 is created in 1793 (Loire); 1 in 1808 (Tarn-et-Garonne) ; 3 in 1860 (2 in Savoy and Nice) ; 1 in 1871 (Territoire-de-Belfort) ; 5 in 1964 (around Paris) ; 1 in 1975 (in Corsica).
Q. Describe earlier administrative geographies:
Before French Revolution (1789), the administrative geography is mainly based on parishes (probably around 40 000). But each administration has its own organisation. In 1789, the parishes were grouped in 117 "évêchés" grouped in 18 "archevêchés". They have in charge the vital registration of birth, marriage and death.
Taxes collector were organised in two ways : countries where local taxes collector were elected ("pays d'élection") and countries where the local states decided the taxes levels ("pays d'état"). But all were organised in "généralités" (or "intendances") created in 1542. They were 16 at the beginning and 34 in 1789. They were divided in "élections" (178 in 1789) for the "pays d'élection". But collecting the taxes is based not on parishes, but on "collecte" (collect) also call "parishes without church tower". Very often these were similar, but in some places, a "collecte" could correspond to parts of different religious parishes.
The taxes geography are also divided for taxes on salt ("gabelle") created in 1331. The main part of the country was taxed with the "grande gabelle" (large taxes, salt coming from Atlantic) where collect was organised in 253 "greniers à sel" (salt granaries). Other parts were divided in countries of "petites gabelles" (small taxes, salt coming from Mediterranean), "pays de salines" (salt coming from Lorraine and Jura), but there was also "pays redimés", "quart bouillon", and "pays exempts" (exempted countries).
These administrative levels were the most important. But other administrations have their own geography. Justice was divided in "bailliages" which were also used for election (for "Etats généraux"). They were grouped in "Parlements" which was the highest level of justice court. Military organisation was divided in "gouvernements". The administration of wood gives also an important division of the territory, organised in 1563 and reorganised in 1669. In 1789 there were 20 "grandes maîtrises" (great masters) divided in 170 "maîtrises" (masters).
Q. Can we identify a hierarchy of broadly similar units that exist for all countries?
Probably, communes and parishes were a good common base. In France, very often one parish gives one commune. But not always. Towns have generally many parishes but give one commune. On the opposite, in some regions (for example Jura) a parish gives different communes.
Q. When was the first national census of population carried out?
The first correct census could be considered as the one make in 1836. But before some attempts have been made to have national censuses, in particular in 1774. With the Revolution and after, some censuses were made : in 1790, anII (1794), anIV (1796), anV (1797), 1801, 1806, 1817, 1820; 1826 and 1831 there were also censuses. But they were from irregular quality and not all based one a real census. Some are only estimations. The regular series started in 1836.
Q. Outline the later history of the census. Have censuses been carried out at regular intervals, and if so with what frequency?
From 1836 censuses were made each 5 years (years terminating by 1 and 6 : 1836, 1841, ...). Because of wars, 1871 census was made in 1872 and the censuses of 1916 and 1941 do not exist. After this date, the number of censuses was reduced for economy. They were done in 1946, 1954, 1962, 1968, 1975, 1982, 1990, 1999.
Q. What are the main geographical units used in published reports? Have these changed over time?
Results were published at the lower level : communes. At this level, when they have been kept, nominal list exists. Information is summarised at all the upper levels for peoples numbers. For over data than population number, I don't know.
Q. Is there access to more detailed unpublished information? If so, what geographical units do these refer to? Here again, have these units changed over time?
Censuses were based on nominal list made at commune level street by street. Data collected changed during time. For example, nationality is first present in 1851, exists in 1872 and 1876 and for all in 1886 and later censuses. But the birth place was indicated in 1872 and 1876 censuses and in 1906 and later censuses. These communal lists have been generally conserved in department archives.
Q. What publications describe the history of the census, and of census geographies? Are any available in English?
Q. When was the recording of vital events (births, marriages and deaths) first required by law?
Up to 1792 recording of vital events was made by church. The oldest text known is from 1406 (at Nantes). But the oldest register is from 1334 (Givry-sur-Saône). This is probably more an accountant book than a vital register. The oldest register kept seems to be Roz-Landrieux (Ille-et-Vilaine) births register starting in 1451. 378 parishes have registers starting before 1539.
The first royal text about vital register was from 1539 (to know how nominate major peoples in church function). The first royal text specifically about vital registers was from 1736. After this date, register were kept in double and generally relatively well kept until now.
Q. What organisation was responsible for recording vital events? How has this changed over time?
From the beginning to 1792 catholic church is in charge of vital registers. For Protestants, the official authorisation to have vital registers was from 1664. But in 1685 Protestants were out of law. It is necessary to wait until 1787 to have a tolerance for Protestant registration in catholic church or in justice administration.
In September 1792, the vital registration became civil and all the old church registers were transferred to civil commune administration. This transfer didn't give special disappearance of registers.
The actual law doesn't authorise consultation of the register from the 100 last year to preserve private life. Every people could only obtain copies from their own ancestors or children.
A computerised data of birth and death exists since 1970. All peoples living at this date (or birth after) and birth after 1891 is registered with name, surname, dates and places of birth and death. Place is identify at commune level. But this data base is not accessible. Derogation for scientific analysis for anonymous statistic is very difficult to obtain.
Q. What geographical units were used in recording vital events?
For church register it is the parishes and since 1792 the communes.
Q. What historical taxation records exist for your area?
When they have been preserved, the registration of the family chief, how many he paid and for which possessions were written in the "rôles de taille". These documents have been made by "collecte" which was generally the parish. But the preservation of these documents is very variable and no list exists. For each parish it is necessary to consult archives at the department level to know what exists.
Q. What geographical units do these use?
The "collecte" (collect place) is generally the same than the parish, but sometimes a part of a parish could be attached to a neighbouring parish.
Q. What other major sources exist, and what geographical units do they use?
Q. When was the first computerised map of administrative units created?
Probably at the beginning of the 70'years because communes which disappeared in 1973 were visible.
Q. What does it show?
This map gives the commune limits. Each commune is a simplify polygonal representation of the commune.
Q. How easily is it to obtain a copy?
This map is very expensive, since for scientific researchers of public institutions. It could be sailed only for personal works and could not be diffused.
Q. Who was responsible for changing boundaries? How has this changed over time?
All changing boundaries (changing name, creation or disappearance but also moving a local boundary or changing a commune from a higher level of organisation to another) depend of "interior ministry". It is a law (for example for creation of new department) or a "decret" (simple ministry decision but published to "Official Journal").
This is normally the rule since 1789. But, at the beginning (and probably during a part of the XIX century) a local decision (at department level publish locally) could exist. Some changing names could be also observed, during the revolution period, by decision of the local communal administration.
Before Revolution, church limits depend only from church administration. For civil administration it was a royal decision.
Q. Who was responsible for creating a legal record of boundary changes?
Since 1943 the "Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques" (INSEE) has in charge to establish the authority list of names and administrative organisation of commune. All changes since this period were published by this public official organism. This Institute gives the official identification number attached to each department and commune.
Q. What records have been preserved of boundary changes? Are they published or unpublished? How do they describe the old and new boundaries? How accurately do they give the dates of changes?
Since 1943 publication of "official geographic code" by INSEE gives changing names and modifications of communes. Since 1994, exchange of part of communes without demographic consequences were also registered (but surface involved were not given).
Results were published with each new version of the geographic code. A computerised version has been published with the situation at the 01-01-1999.
Dates of changes were given by reference to the legislative text (law, "decret", "ordonnance") and its date.
Q. Who was responsible for mapping your area? When was this organisation created?
The first French map (1/86 400) obtained by triangulation (the "Cassini" map) was started in 1744. In 1789 165 maps were finished, 11 were ready to be engraved and the last 4 in preparation. In 1793 all these maps were transferred to military institution ("Dépôt de la Guerre"). Since 1826 to 1880 (with 5 to 6 sleeps each year) a new map (1/80 000) was made by military administration. In 1887, the "Service Géographique de l'Armée" (geographic service of army) is created.
The 8 April 1941 the "Institut Géographique National" (National geographic Institute) is created. From this period this civil institute is in charge of the official maps in France. News series (1/50 000, 1/25 000) were published. More recently maps (1/200 000 and 1/100 000) were also published. Last two years (1999-2000) a new series of maps (1/125 000) has been published by department with a visible indication of administrative limits (commune, "canton", "arrondissement" and department).
Q. When did systematic mapping of boundaries begin?
The military map, called "carte d'état-major" (military staff map), gives the limits of communes and other upper administrative boundaries. But the limits were sometime difficult to read because of other information (roads, rivers, names, ...) at the same places. The new series at 1/125 000 is the first map where these limits could be correctly read.
Q. What maps are available showing boundaries?
The military maps (maps "d'état major") show the boundaries (the latest was edited in 1880). But boundaries changing were not shown on these maps. To determine these changing it is necessary to take different publications, at different dates (when it is possible) to determine changes.
Q. For periods before maps are available, are there descriptions of boundaries in words? Where are they preserved? How easy are they to interpret?
For the border of France, an analyse of the limits, with diplomatic documents has been made recently. This type of documents is very difficult to interpret.
Q. What research projects have gathered information on HISTORICAL boundaries for your area?
For the moment, I know only the series from the "Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique" (CNRS) which publishes "Paroisses et Communes de France" (Parishes and communes in France) with one book by department. Up to now, 46 departments were published. It is mainly a demographic research giving results of counting and census by communes (1789-date of publication) and parishes (before 1790). But data about administrative changing was also collected. It is a very good tool to establish maps for departments when they are published.
Q. What historical gazetteers are available for your area, in published or unpublished form? How do they indicate the location of the places listed? Do they cover variant forms of names?
All the changes since 1943 have been collected by INSEE. For previous period, the first series of documents possible to use is the CNRS books spoken above. After that, we have to found all possible documents. Normally, in each department an "Annuaire" (year-book) has been published for a large part of the XIX century. The results of census give also list of communes (and its name). During the XIX century, a series of topological dictionaries have been published for a lot of department. All these documents have been published.
The National Archives have a specialised service on patronymic and toponymic names. A collaboration with this service could permit to obtain other information.
After this first series of documents we have to used archivist data. For example the vital registration could show disappearance of a parish or a commune. Administrative documents could also give information. An inquiry in each archive service (one in each department) will be necessary.
Q. Are more specialised geographical thesaurii available?
Generally, list of communes or parishes are given upper administration levels. Since 1789, if we could find changing names or grouping of communes, we could have canton and "arrondissement" administration. For the period before Revolution the limits (and changing of them) were probably more difficult to determine because no maps and no systematic thesaurii exist.
The National Library has also a computerised information of geographic names which could be consulting on web. Date comes from map department of the National Library.
© Jean-Pierre Pelissier (Ivry, May 2000)