What was the Decree of 20 September 1792 and why do I care?

If you’ve studied French history, you know the huge impact the Napoleonic Code had on genealogy. Basically, it required countries under the influence of the Code to start keeping civil records of births, marriages, and deaths. No more hoping that your ancestor’s church happened to record the event you’re looking for – if you can find it. If you’re not familiar with the Napoleonic Code, you can read more about it here.

So, if the Napoleonic Code was so important, why am I writing about a decree that happened in happened in 1792? Because Luxembourg started keeping civil records before 1804 when the Napoleonic Code was passed. It varies slightly by town, but most started somewhere between 1795 and 1800.

Why earlier? Luxembourg was invaded by France in 1795 and at that time, became part of France. You can read more about the invasion here.

As it turns out, France already a decree requiring civil registration on the books, passed on 20 September 1792. If you’re interested, you can read about the Decree’s impact here. Luxembourg apparently caught up to the system within a few years of the invasion and kept with it, even after the Duchy became independent in 1815.

That’s why for vital record events prior to 1795, you need to refer to church  records. After, you can refer to civil records. Understanding the division makes research much faster.


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