Ministère de la défense

Records of the french armed forces


The Records of the Ministry of Defence, collected since the 17th Century, are a vast collection of works made available to researchers.

The core of these records is occupied by documents from the ministry of defence and consequently, of the armed forces. To this have been incorporated collections from the General Delegation for Ordnance, the Secretariat-General for National Defence - a department falling under the remit of the prime minister - and collections from the ministry of war veterans that became part of the state department and was recently placed under the authority of the ministry of defence.

At the source of military history

Rayonnages d'archivesThe Defence Historical Service has gathered its exceptional record collections in its two centres in Vincennes and Châtellerault. These collections provide the main source of French military history since the 17th Century.

Correspondence from ministers, their offices and headquarters, unit war diaries, or even private records from top political and military figures; all this enables historians to retrace campaigns from Louis XIV and the epic actions of the great Napoleon army to the most recent conflicts of our time. In addition to the different aspects of these great conflicts that have shaped Europe, these records bring to light the strategic and military issues of international politics, with a wealth of information on Africa and Asia through the records of the French armies overseas.

Although they are essential for their recordings of military history, these records are also of great interest for their documentation of cultural, diplomatic, scientific, economic and social history of France and other nations. From the first marine atlases to aerial photographs, the Records of the Ministry of Defence hold documents containing a wealth of information, works of engineers and military cartographers who, since the 16th Century, have exercised their talents on land, sea and in the air. They show how these skilled professionals contributed not only to geographic knowledge of the national territory, but also to the evolution of map-making techniques.

Finally, the technical record collections describing studies and tests concerning manufacture of weapons help to show the influence of the defence services on scientific and technical development.

Tracing ancestral sources

Document conservé au SHDThe history of national defence also concerns the lives of individuals who have fought in the ranks of the French army over many centuries.

Although conscription records are sent by the ministry to the regional records relating to each person in question, the centre in Vincennes holds individual files on officers of the three armed forces and the national Gendarmerie, dating from the 18th Century. The centre in Châtellerault houses civilian files dating from the end of the 19th Century. The collective records from various units add to or provide these sources from individuals and personnel who contributed to the manufacture of weapons.

Apart from the ministry personnel or the armies, the two world conflicts of the 20th Century involved the whole nation. Hence, the register of those who died for France in the First World War, files on resistance networks or registers from concentration camps, all record the names of hundreds of thousands of people and shed a little light on the history of every citizen whose name is entered.

Find out more

Status of records and research tools, records available on-line (in french)


Vérifié : janvier 2011