I'm researching my girlfriend's family tree and I've hit a brick wall in France as I have absolutely no experience using french records.

I have traced back to Pierre Louis Oscar/Oscard Cordier born in "France" in abt 1843.

I have the following records for him in England:

1869 marriage register, married Emily Elizabeth Smith at St Mary le Bow, London. This shows he was a widower, and his father was Jean Baptiste Cordier, an Officer in the French Army: Marriage register

1871 census, in Marylebone, London: 1871 census

1881 census, in Camberwell, London, where his birth place looks to be "Vendée" although a second opinion would be great. 1881 census

1882 death certificate, in Hackney, London: enter image description here

I know that with all French family research, I need to know precisely ( i.e. town and department) where he was born as there is no National Register like the English BMD. But that's all I really know.

I'd really appreciate if anyone could point me in the right direction in regards to finding birth/baptism records and anything else relating to him.

To clarify: I'm looking for a birth record related to Pierre Louis Oscar Cordier

  • 1
    As much as possible I think that you should try to keep your question focussed on finding an answer to the specific question of "Finding birth/baptism record for Pierre Louis Oscar Cordier - some of the other information that you would like to also know may come out of answering that but the strength of this site is answering specific questions. We've been having some discussion about this recently in Meta: meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/2086/…
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 22:03
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    If we only have a GRO index (or any index) of births, marriages, and deaths but not the certificates, we do not know for sure if the index refers to the person we are looking for. We only assume or suspect that could be the right person.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 22:59
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    @PolyGeo In this case I don't think the first question to ask is "finding birth/baptism". I think there are lots of other things that need to be investigated - e.g. his immigration to England, his first marriage - before delving into French birth records. I agree the question needs to be focussed for this format, but sometimes the process of focussing the question can be as constructive as the question itself.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 17:31
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    @vervet My point is that if you are making an assumption, you need to be aware of what that assumption is. I don't care how unusual a name is -- there is always the possibility that there might be more than one person bearing that name. Being careless about how we know what we know is a major factor in how we create brick walls for ourselves. You say we can't be sure even if we have a certificate -- so -- that holds true even more for an index entry, which has far less information extracted than the original record has.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 17:54
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    "Finding birth/baptism record" is just one of a number of questions that could be asked and I think it is best to try and tease them apart into separate questions. For example, I think the question about reading the place name on the 1881 census would make a nice separate question. And I think "Seeking military records for Jean Baptiste Cordier, French Army Officer?" would make another excellent one because his postings might point to possible birthplaces for his son.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 21:18

1 Answer 1


These days, there is quite a lot already indexed for France through various sites. Often my first stop if a proper location is not known is to look at GeoPatronyme and get a feel for how common the name is and where distributed.

Then Genealogie.com. This is a pay site, but with a little cleverness we can get it to give us quite a lot of info, then go look at the appropriate archives (e.g. Archives de la Vendée ).

In this case, I searched 'nom' as Cordier, 'prénom' as 'Pierre', and then on the results page, under 'Initiale du prénom' chose 'O' to pick up the 'Oscar'. Right away, up to the top of the list bubbles a Pierre Louis Oscar Cordier born sometime between 1825 and 1850 in La Roche-sur-Yon. Narrowing it down by going back to the search and putting in 'Cordier', plus a one-year range, shows this man was born 1842.

Instead of paying to see it on that site, we're going to go to the Vendée archives and try to pick it up on their free Etat civil database.

Unfortunately they don't make it easy to directly link, but a quick check of the index for 1842 (at the back of the births section, not right at the back) shows me he's there, number 192 (image 92 of 357).

His birth was registered 11 October 1842 - the son of Jean Baptiste Alexandre Cordier, aged 47, occupation something gendarmerie?, and Jeanne Pauline Mora.

in the case where a birth can't be found, tracking down a marriage in France is another way to find information on birth place and parents. His first marriage etc. can be tracked down as follows.

A popular American pay site, as well as geneanet.org, lead me to a possible marriage for him Ille-et-Vilaine. Using Geneanet gets me to the exact location - Rennes.

Rennes is one of the cases where the records are on the Municipal Archives site for the city. Judging by his age and the fact that he remarried in 1869, I went for the 1863-1872 Tables (ten-year indexes), which show the marriage was 21 Jan 1865, to Sainte Rousseau. To find the original - left hand side of page 8 on the 1865 marriages).

This shows this is definitely the same man b. 1842, with the same parents. He is, at this point, a tobacconist, and living in Hédé (now Hédé-Bazouges) although the marriage took place in Rennes. His parents, both who seem to be living, (father 'retired officer of the gendarmerie') were also living in Hédé. His wife's family were resident in Rennes.

(Obviously if we found the marriage first, we would then use this information to locate and double-check the birth record)

For my final trick, we can hop over to the Ille-et-Villaine archives:

'Etat civil' to find the possible death of his wife, but hidden under genealogy are 'recensements' - the census. Not often used in French genealogy because it's mostly unindexed, but Hédé was quite small - only 35 pages in the 1866.

On page 12 is this little bit of interest: Louis Cordier, aged 23, tobacconist, listed with a group of seemingly unrelated people (a widow and her child, some older women), and then an 8-month old child, Adele Cordier.

Adele was b. Hede as 'Adele Louise Cordier', 1 December 1865, daughter of 'Louis Pierre', aged 23, tobacconist, and Sainte Rosseau. Sainte Rosseau, wife of Louis Cordier, died 13 December 1865, aged just 20.

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    Excellent find - you have no idea how much time I spent fiddling around with the Vendee archives site. I have a feeling this may give rise to a question on French palaeography ;)
    – Harry V.
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 17:13
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    Wow, UNBELIEVABLE. Thank you so much! I think I'll need to make a new translation question now...Edit: Second that @vervet
    – Danny B
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 17:15
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    No problem, Danny! Found his first marriage, so added that - so much more information on French records, so marriages can be another way to find birth location, date, parents names, etc.
    – nkjt
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 19:47
  • My French lot originate from the Vendee, so I'm familiar with both the process and the frustration of pinning down the exact birthplace ;)
    – nkjt
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 14:59
  • I never realised how good french records are...once you actually find them
    – Danny B
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 22:00

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