Thursday, 3 March 2011

How to Research the History of your French House - an overview

In France, researching the history of your house is referred to as généalogie immobilière (real estate genealogy). Lots of people are interested in finding out about the history of their house, and sometimes circumstances mean you are obliged (or at least, well advised) to do so. As a consequence, the Conseil général and the Chambre départementale des notaires d'Indre-et-Loire have produced a booklet outlining how you go about it. The notaire supplied a copy along with our copy of the Acte de Vente.

It tells you how to locate sources of information, what the principal steps involved in the research are, what type of information the various actes contain and how to decode the references.

What will the archives reveal?
By retracing the history of your house through the archives you can find out when it was built, the succession of owners and details of changes such as extensions throughout the centuries. There are several ways you can approach the research.

The first, and the easiest, is to carefully read your deed (acte de propriété or acte de vente) which would have been put together by the notaire at the time of your purchase. It contains the first useful clues and references, indicating whereabouts of previous actes from changes of ownership. For instance, the acte for our house tells me the names, places of birth and occupations of the previous owners to 1945, and whether they acquired the property through purchase, inheritance or gift, as well as other more random seeming pieces of information. Each change of proprietor is listed with a reference to the name of the officiating notaire and which volume and document number the information was lodged under in the files of the Conservateur des Hypothèques in Loches. In time copies or originals of all documents relating to the transfer of property ownership find their way to the main archives in Tour. By visiting the archives reading room and consulting the actes, one will lead you to another, going back in time. As yet, we haven't made the time to do this, but one day...

If I owned this house, I'd want to know
about the people who constructed these
simple, graceful steps.
There is another way. When the actes notariés are missing, or they don't give any information about previous owners, or they leave you with a dead end, you can switch to other sources to find an owner's name. The Cadastral documents, the registers of the Enregistrement or those of the Contrôle des actes can all help you to pick up the trail. Your Acte de Vente documents should include an extrait du plan cadastral which gives you a map reference number for your property.

The quantity of information in the archives and the network of references should nearly always allow you to discover the history of your house. Sometimes it's not very direct and you have to wade through a maze of records and tiny clues, but you will have fun reconstructing the puzzle and revealing past lives, communities, families, owners and learn quite a bit about how people in the Touraine thought and acted in the past.

We would have loved a house with a proper tower...
This is just an overview of how you go about finding out the history of your house. I'm hoping to write in more detail about using each of the archive strands separately at a later date. Throughout your quest, I am assured by a friend who has researched several buildings in town, you will find the staff at the archives unfailingly helpful, and often indispensable to the success of your research.

The Departmental Archives for Indre-et-Loire are open from Monday to Friday, 9am - 5pm and some Saturdays from 9-11.45. Access to the reading room is free, allowing you to consult the files and inventories. Anyone can consult documents if they hold a Reader's Card (carte de lecteur). Reader's Cards are free and obtained by supplying proof of identity. The Archives can be contacted by email on and their website is Historic records are kept at 6 rue des Ursulines 37000 Tours, telephone 02 47 60 88 88 and contemporary records at 41 rue Michaël-Faraday 37170 Chambray-lès-Tours, telephone 02 47 80 89 00. You use the Archives historiques to consult the Contrôle des Actes, the Enregistrement and the Actes notairés that are more than 100 years old. The Archives contemporaines are used to consult the Cadastral records. You may also need to contact the Chambre des notaires d'Indre-et-Loire, 32 rue Richelieu, BP 15953 37059 Tours Cédex, telephone 02 47 05 60 20, email, website



Tim said...

Very useful.... where can we get a copy of that booklet? Any notaire?

And why not build a tower over the Apero Terrace!!

Susan said...

Tim: Dunno - our notaire gave it to us with our documents. Ask your local notaire. If no luck I can pop in to Me Robin and ask if they have any copies. Failing that, you could email the departmental chamber or we can scan ours and send.

And imagine what BdF would have to say!

Julie said...

Thank you for the useful information.
We are in the process of buying a house in pays de la loire. I was wondering about the history of the house, as it was built in 1850.


david mckenna said...

Can't wait to go to the Archives tomorrow Many thanks for this help. Our house is probably 15th Century so hope we find plenty. We also want to find out about the river steps that were there before a meeting with the Batiment de France. We have postcards from 1910 , we can see steps, but they don't show much detail.

Susan said...

Great! Hope for the best, but be prepared for difficult to read hand writing and no records beyond the Revolution. Good luck and let us know how you get on.

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