There are more than 1.4 million different family names in France and eight out of ten people would have a rare name. This particularity represents an opportunity for the investigation of people.
Investigating people requires a methodology and sometimes requires imagination. In the best of cases, the person being sought has open social networks and poor digital hygiene.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case and it is important to be able to determine new leads from a simple last name.
Determine the geographical location of a family name
INSEE is full of public data, freely available, on the French population. Even better, the institute proposes the family names attributed at least 30 times in a department over the period 1891 to 2000 (source here).
The site filae.com has based itself on a previous census to create a visual interface to search for family names. When you enter a surname, Filae shows you how many people born in France since 1890 have had this surname at birth, but also in how many departments it was given.
A visual map illustrates the collected data: you can navigate through time to see the movements of family members through time.
For example, here is the search obtained with the surname MACRON.
A change of view through time tells us that the population has not moved much and is mainly settled in two poles: the Somme and the Paris region.
It is easy here to find more or less distant family members belonging to the Macron family, the latter not having broken out much.
As filae.com is originally a genealogy site, it has a lot of civil status records (for a fee). Nevertheless, a classification of the communes in which the name has been recorded is accessible for free, with the number of times it has been attributed.
Here is the list of municipalities in which the most Macrons were born during the last century:
Obviously, the information obtained does not guarantee that you will find the person for sure, but it opens up new and interesting leads to find distant family members, who can in turn serve as a pivot.
Use the results of the different French diplomas
A well-established French tradition is the publication by the various newspapers of the results of the main compulsory examinations in which a large part of the population takes part.
To illustrate, 739640 students obtained their brevet des collèges in 2021. According to INSEE, there were 785,985 births in 2007. If we assume that all the students were born in 2007 and that they are all alive, the rate of people having obtained their brevet des collèges in 2021 is close to 94% of the French population born in 2007. The figures given here are not accurate and do not take into account people born outside the French territory, as well as people who are deceased.
In 2018, Insee estimates that 81% of the population has earned their bachelor’s degree.
Most sites publish the specialty or branch chosen by the candidate, but also the city in which he or she is enrolled as well as the year of graduation. From there, it is easy to find a school, but also a probable geographical area of residence.
Although the oldest results are not or not easily available online, this method can still be very useful for finding family members, especially children, of the person you are looking for.
For example, a quick search found at least one remote member.
Sports results – Kikourou
Another very useful French resource for investigating family names is the site kikourou.net
Kikourou is a participative website which, thanks to the active collaboration of its community members, registers and lists the participations to the different sports races throughout France.
Like the other two tools mentioned above, it is quite easy to determine locations from races done by a community member. It is the small races that will get your attention: it is unlikely that a person will travel far to do a 9km cross-country race or a half-marathon.
Additional information can be included on the person’s profile, such as the sport club they belonged to at the time of the race. This information allows you to bounce off other leads, such as the use of Strava or the photographs of the races in question.
It is also often possible to find a website for sports clubs or Facebook groups, which are preferred for direct communication with members.
Deceased persons – Deces-en-france.fr
Obituaries are a great source of information about family members. However, not all the deceased benefit from a publication in a newspaper and even less online.
The data concerning the deceased in France being public, the deces-en-france.fr website offers a very easy to use interface to search for a deceased person or persons with a certain surname. This information is provided by INSEE and the registered deaths go back to 1970.
Death certificates are registered in the birth name of the deceased. Therefore, if you are looking for a person’s spouse, you will not find him or her under his or her married or customary name.
The marital name is a name of use, which does not modify the administrative acts. Born with the advent of the civil code in 1804, the marital name was for a long time given by default to French women who got married, especially by institutions such as banks. However, its use remains very common because of the weight of tradition.
Although it is commonly used, each individual keeps his or her birth name in administrative acts and identity documents. There was a category “Maiden name” and “Wife’s name” that could apply to both women and men who decided to take the name of their co-spouse as a customary name. This sexist distinction was abolished in 2012 and the nomenclatures were modified to introduce the patronymic name and the name of use, which would not take into account the marital status or the sex of the individual.
To take our example with the Macron family, we can see that 347 people died between 1970 and 2022. It is possible to refine the results by adding one or more first names, a year of birth or death.
For the year 2022, there has so far been only one death in France of a person with this surname. When consulting his individual file, other interesting information is communicated:
- The sex of the person at death (which may be changed on the civil status record and therefore differ from its assignment at birth).
- His/her surname (or birth name)
- All of his first names
- Exact date of birth
- Exact place of birth, including department and country
- His exact date of death, as well as his age
- The place of death, as well as the department and the country
- The death certificate number
From this information, you can bounce around, either by looking for a death notice mentioning him, for example a message on social networks, or by using his place of death to find other members of his family. These are just a few examples of possible pivots.
In conclusion, there are many ways to investigate a family name in France. By adopting the right methodology, you can determine new research axes quite easily and find relatives, a location and much more information with a simple surname.