The following information which explains the relationships between the ancient parishes and provinces to the current communes and départements in France was provided by Monsieur Pierre Le Clercq, vice-chairman of the Société généalogique de l'Yonne. My sincere thanks to Monsieur Le Clercq for his extensive research on the Roy family in France and for permission to publish this information.
He wrote, " When you read old French documents nowadays, dating back from 1792 and before, you discover a totally different system of situating places on the map. Before 1793, there was no départements and no régions, and Joigny was not a town situated in the French département of Yonne, within the French région of Bourgogne (or Burgundy in English). Everything is simple now, but things were very complicated then. The smallest administrative units were the parishes on a religious level, and the seigneuries on both fiscal and judiciary levels.
In 1790, the French revolutionaries, who were still monarchists then, decided to choose the existing 32,000 French parishes as the only basic administrative units, with the very same limits as before, and to abolish seigneuries. In order to simplify the whole architecture of larger units, such as French provinces used on a military level, French élections and généralités on a fiscal level, and French bailliages and parlements on a judiciary level, the French revolutionaries decided to merge all those different larger units into only one, called départements with about the same geographic area. At the end of 1792, a new wave of French revolutionaries, who were now republicans, decided to create a new type of basic administrative unit, called communes, with the very same limits as the old parishes. The only difference was that major cities including several parishes, like the town of Joigny and its three parishes of Saint-André, Saint-Jean and Saint-Thibault, formed one single commune.
Since 1793, the French population has been living under the administrative system created by the French revolutionaries of 1790 and 1792. Nowadays, our basic unit is the commune, with the same limits as the old parishes (apart from major cities), and our major greater unit is the département. Some new units have been created later, like the cantons and arrondissements between the communes and the départements, and the régions above the départements, but most French people only use the communes and the départements nowadays to localize precisely the places where they live. If they use a word like Bourgogne or Bretagne, we are never sure whether they mean the old province or the new région, the limits of the two systems being often quite different. This is why I would advise you to concentrate on the nowaday communes and départements, which are in fact the two basic kernels of our administrative and geographical units. The Mormons in Salt Lake City localize all the French places with this system only, writing Joigny, Yonne, France.
In my last electronic letter, I wrote that one could alter this basic system by adding the nowadays French régions, which are big enough to be compared with the huge American states, Canadian provinces and German lands. This is why one could localize a town like Joigny in the following way : Joigny, Yonne, Bourgogne, France.
This last system would be sufficient if we only read modern documents. But a genealogist reads old documents, mostly church books in which names of parishes and dioceses are mentioned. Knowing that some major communes like Joigny used to include several parishes, a good genealogist cannot ignore those parishes, because they are the basic units where researchers must look for the proper church books in order to get the genealogical pieces of information they need. This is why I personally add a fifth column in order to mention the name of the parish or any smaller unit than the commune (for instance the names of hospitals). For instance, your ancestor Antoine Roy was baptized in Saint-Jean, Joigny, Yonne, Bourgogne, France. If I do not know the name of the church, I always put a comma in front of the name of the commune, in order to put the commune in the right column. For instance, someone who was born in Joigny after 1792, when church registration had been replaced by civil registration in France, would appear in any of my PAF databases as being born in , Joigny, Yonne, Bourgogne, France (with a comma before Joigny). "
The following table shows some of communes where our ancestors came from and what department you will currently find that commune in France. Some of the entries in our database currently represent a mixture of commune, canton and arrondissement. I am in the process of converting them to use the convention of parish, commune, département, région, and country. You can click on the links provided to obtain additional information on the commune, département, and région.
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