You have French ancestors from Brittany ? The decree of marriage (décret de mariage) is a genealogical source that will help you find more about their families.

If you have already searched for your Breton ancestors, you may have read this term in a wedding certificate : “décret de mariage” or “décrété de justice“. What does this mean ?

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Agence Rol, Plougastel, mariés devant le calvaire, 1910, Gallica

Definition of decree of marriage

This procedure is specific to Brittany. In the 18th century, it stipulates that orphans of father, minors (in Brittany it is 25 years, for men as for women, and not 30 for men), must request a decree of justice (or decree of marriage) authorizing them to contract marriage. The mention of justice in a marriage certificate therefore implies that the future spouse is under 25 years of age and that his / her father has died.

Why searching for a decree of marriage ?

The decree of marriage is a valuable source in your search for your French ancestors. It often alleviates the vagueness of the marriage: marriage certificates are not always filiative, while the decree of marriage is always filiative. You will also find more about other members of the family.

Where can you find a decree of marriage ?

You can find the decrees of justice at the departmental Archives, filed under the series B, judicial archives. They are established in the jurisdiction where the bride or the groom resides at the time the decree is drew up. In general, the jurisdiction is mentioned in the marriage certificate.

Those documents are not digitised. But, some genealogical societies have done a great work indexing those of their region, like the Cercle Généalogique de l’Est de l’Ille-et-Vilaine. For a modest fee (10€/year), you can access their online database, which includes, the decree of marriage.

A decree of marriage, what does it look like ?

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Decree of marriage of Jeanne GUY (part I)

Jeanne GUY is my 5th great-grand-mother. This decree of marriage is dated on January 25, 1744. Jeanne married Mathurin GALESNE on February 13, 1774. She was 16. Jeanne’s father, Mathieu, died in 1732.

I already knew when and where he father died, but the deed tells me that her mother is remarried with Jean GARDAN (line 6). I also learn that the groom, Mathurin GALESNE, is not only a good match but also an advantageous one (line 11).

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Decree of marriage of Jeanne GUY (part II)

We have the details of the witnesses, members of the family. It is specified if they are on the father’s side or on the mother’s side. I can complete my family tree with these cousins mentioned as well as their spouse.

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Decree of marriage of Jeanne GUY (part III)

Then, the precision that all are consenting to the planned marriage and that they give full powers and power of attorney to the notary.

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Decree of marriage of Jeanne GUY (part IV)

Last but not least, the signatures, which tell us so more about our ancestors.

In the upcoming post, I will introduce you with the French surnames, their origins and meanings.