From the beginning of the history of France, since the 5th and 6th century, we can find records about abandoned children, as an inherited habit of the Roman Empire.

The born of feudalism and nobility , at the beginning of the Middle Age, established that the landlords had a right called "Droit d'epave" (right of possesion of lost and found things); therefore, the feudal lords had a right of possesion on all the abandoned children, recruiting them in their lands as servants. This right was also applied to the bastards' possesions, or even over possesions of all that people deceased with no heirs. In the same way, it included the obligation, according with their Haute Justice rules, to economically being in charge of the maintenance of those children. As they cannot support physically a huge volume of abandoned children, this task was delegated on religious orders. It means that the assistance of enfants trouvés was a task done both by the clerge and supported, in part, by the Lord Justice.



Traditionally, in Paris, foundlings were always hosted at the Hôtel Dieu, a hospital for pilgrims, leprous and indigents. It was one of the first Public Assistance systems in Europe. The first Hôtel Dieu was built at a side of the Cathedral at the 7th century. Later it was transferred to the Petit Point on the River Seine. This institution depended directly of the Paris Bishopric. There were anothers Hôtel Dieu in Nantes, Marseille, Lyon, Caen, and Angers.








Guy de Montpellier, Lord of Montpellier, at the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, on what actually is the Department of Hérault, founded near 1180 the Order of the Holy Ghost, with the object of give reception and assistance to abandoned children, and poor and sick people in general. This hospital was destroyed in 1562 by the Calvinists during the War of Religions.

Guy de Montpellier was educated by the Templars. Officially recognized the Order by a Papal Bull of the Pope Innocent III in 1198, they adopted the Rule of Saint Augustine. The header of the Rule is a fragment of the Gospel of Saint Matthew: "For I did hunger, and ye gave me to eat; I did thirst, and ye gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and ye received me;..Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me". The main objective of the Order was to spread and exercise the ideal of Christian charity. Abandoned children would be supported until their adolescence.

The Order had hierarchies, beginning with the Grand Master, a General Vicar, General Inspectors, Procurators, Commanders, Rectors, Priors, Chamber Helpers and Zealots. One of their Grand Masters was Jacques the 1st, king of Aragon and Lord of Montpellier, a Guy's great-grandson.


In 1203 the Duke of Bourgogne built a Saint Esprit hospital in Dijon. In 1204 the Pope built a Saint Esprit Hospital in Rome. At the end of the 13th century there were more of 100 filials of the order in France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, England, Ireland, Spain and another European countries. They had a militar branch dissolved in 1459. The Order still exists, in its feminine branch in France, fussioned with the Filles du Saint Esprit.


In 1363 the Hôpital du Saint-Esprit-en-Grève was created in Paris, to assist the abandoned children.

L’Hôpital des Enfants-Rouges, in 1531, was receiveing the children whose parents were hospitalized at the Hôtel Dieu. It was named that way because of the red clothes the children weared while they were seclused on there.

In 1545, l’Hôpital de la Trinité assisted the children whose parents were in prison or hospitalized.

In 1579, a Parliament of Paris' decree establishes the obligation of the priests to help the children left inside the jurisdiction of their parishes, in default of present parents or landlords.


Obligatory Declaration of Pregnancy :

By an Edict of the king Henri II, on February 1556, every single or widowed women must make an official declaration of their pregnancy, under severe punishment in case of not being accomplished.

" Every woman who is equally surprised and convicted of having guarded or concealing both a pregnancy and a birth, without having declared neither one or nor the other one, and having appeared of one or of the other sufficient testimony, about the life or death of her child after having gone out of her abdomen, and after the infante having been, so much deprived of the Holy Sacrament of the Baptism as of the public accostumed grave, such a woman shall be convicted and renowned of having commited homicide unto her infante, and for repair, she shall be punished by the death sentence as her last suffering. "

This law was clearly addressed to prevent clandestine abortion. But also the abandonment which could result in the death of many children. Of course, this kind of laws achieved not more than to increase the number of abandoned children in the streets and in the churches' thresholds.

These "déclarations de grossesses" may be found on the B series of the French Archives Départementales. Even though not being more punished with the capital sentence, this practice was extended approximately until1830. Also it's frequent to find the father's name, though it was not an obligation to report it.


Until the 17th century didn't exist a real support for the abandonment's problem in specific locations. They shared the hospices with the sick people, the poor with no asylum and other beings in miserable conditions.

Saint Vincent de Paul

Vincent De Paul, born in Pouy, Landes, at the region of Aquitaine, could organize and unify the assistance to the abandoned children founding the Compagnie des Filles de la Charité in 1633. The Order of Les Filles de la Charité was later called Sœurs de Saint Vincent de Paul. It was the first order which allowed the nuns to get out of the cloister.

Thanks to the persuasion of Vincent de Paul and of his main collaborator, sister Louise de Marillac, they could convince the Paris Ladies of Charity to finance the opening of an institution focused on the help of the enfants trouvés. In 1638 the Maison de la Couche (Maternity) was inaugurated, located nearby the Nôtre-Dame Cathedral's main gate. For then, the number of abandoned children was not more than 300 or 400 per year, figure what will be drammatically increased on the next centuries. In 1670, 10 years after the decease of Saint Vincent, the Maison de la Couche would be joined to the Hôpital Général de Paris, being renamed Hôpital des Enfants Trouvés.


On April 14th 1706 the Archbishop of Paris verifies in person the disastrous condition of the Maison de la Couche. He reports a notorious lack of space and air, and that on the over night, 14 childs were layed in only 4 beds. The rate of mortality reported by the Archbishop after his visit was extremely high: only a 10% of all the children could reach 5 years of age.


Here we have a very important historical document, a report from Monsieur Arrault, Director of the Hôpital des Enfants Trouvés, from 1746, published by Le Mercure de France in 1746 and taken from the Archives de l'Assistance Publique de Paris, (cote b 829 16):








"In all the times the exposed children had deserve the attention of Monsieurs les Magistrats; the Parliament had issued several edicts to provide assistance to those abandoned children; their feed and education, have been, for the City of Paris, as for all the Kingdom, one of the charges of the Lord's High Justice. The Parliament, always attentive to the public order, had extended its observance to the subsistence of the exposed children, and this August Company has done many regulations at the respect: but, in spite of all those wise precautions, it didn't exist a location for the retirement of exposed children, and the establishment of a place where to receive them was done few time ago: it was due to charitative cares of Saint Vincent de Paul Instructor of the Congregation of Saint Lazarus. He was sensitive like a Christian Man and like a Good Citizen, about the abandonment of exposed children where the soul is in a huge danger because of the lack of Baptism, and also the life, for the abandonment of their parents, whether inhumans, or in the impossibility of sustain their maintenance. The lost of these Young Subjects, for the Religion and for the State, touched the heart of Saint Vincent, he, so dispossed to Charitable works.

The epoch of this germ of l’Hôpital des Enfans-Trouvés comes from 1638: a widowed and charitative Lady was touched about the condition of those children; she had the good will of being in charge of receive them,and Monsieurs les Commissaires du Châtelet, after having done the Verbal Process of Exposed Children, sent them to this widow's house; she lived in Saint Landry, and her house was appealed the Maison de la Couche, as we appealed it today the Maison des Enfans-Trouvés nearby to the Church of Notre-Dame.
This first establishment didn't last for long.

That charge became too hard for the person who took it in her hands; her servants, ennoyed and tired about the babies' cries, felt down in the practice of a scandolous commerce, where the Religion and the humanity were equally defrauded.
These evil and mercenary souls were selling the babies to the Mendicants, who used them to move the people's feelings and to trick them
. The Nurses , when the babies died, bought those babies to make them suckle; many of them fed the babies with a corrupted milk; instead of give the life to these Young Infantes, they kill them because of the illness traspassed through the milk. Also when the babies they were feeding died, they used to purchase those babies to replace them and to recover them to the families, causing a great disturbance and confusion into the society. They were also purchased to serve to magical operatives; the price of these babies was fixed in 20 sols, and those persons capable of that horrible trade were not interested about to give a Baptism to these newborns; they were sacrified for the offense of the Nature and for the offense of the Religion.
These abuses and disorders were well known by everybody; people stopped to send their children to such a dangerous hospice.

In the same year, 1638, the Hospice was moved near Saint Victor, under the management of a person of piety. The fonds destined to the subsistence of these babies were not sufficient, the number of children was too high; they drew lots for those who would be assisted, and the others would remain abandoned.

In 1640, Saint Vincent de Paul convoked to an Assembly of Ladies of Piety who would have the good will of taking care of the Enfans-Trouvés. The drawing lots for children was abolished: life was conserved for all of them: the KING came into these charitable meetings, and HER MAJESTY had the good will to accord the Château de Bicêtre to locate the abandoned children.
They were moved to the neighborhood of Saint Lazaire and later in 1670 to the new Notre-Dame.

(...) Messieurs les Adminitrateurs de l’Hôtel-Dieu, knowing better than others the duties of humanity and society, had donated to the Hôpital des Enfans-Trouvés 3 small houses owned by l’Hôtel-Dieu. These houses became insufficient for the number of Enfans-Trouvés, which, after 1739, overpassed 3,000 per year.
We had the extreme pain of watching the death of these babies in a huge number: in 1739 they were attacked by a contagious illness and many of them died after being in agony for several days.
The Administrators of l’Hôpital des Enfans-Trouvés had tried by all means to get a solution for such disease. They concerned with Messieurs leur Chefs, Monsieur le Président and Monsieur le Procureur Général a Deliberation to augment the salaries of the Campaign Nurses, to make them more interested about to take care of the Enfans-Trouvés.
They invited to Messieurs les Médecins and to Messieurs les Chirurgiens, the most versed doctors about children illnesses, to come to visit the Enfans-Trouvés, and to examinate the reason of their disease.
These Gentlemen made their examination with the most possible attention and charity. All of them agreed about that the cause of the illness of the Enfans-Trouvés came from the lack of air and ventilation, and from the reduced space where they were located at the Hospital......



Tours d'Abandon

"Arriving to the fence at the entrance of the hospital, my eyes were halted on a box, a revolving window located at the right side of the door, which has two openings: one facing to the interior and the other one to the street. This revolving window could perfectly remember a mailbox. Truly, a mother deposits on there her child as if it was a love letter deposited on the mailbox, with the nuance that the love letter begins the plot, and the baby, in this case, get it discovered.

The history of baby hatches had provoked the whim of the public moral. Few time ago, at night and misteriously, mothers used to deposit there their newborns. After that, pulling the rope to make ring the bell and to awake the nun on guard, she run away throughout the shade with her tears and her remorses. Nowadays, a singular abuse had simplified by force the recruitment on the hospice. It seems to be that in some moment, they found frequently dead babies at the hatches, left before the daylight at that place, no doubt, to avoid the burial expenses or to hide some crime. This way to fool the guillotine and the funeral services has already disappeared. A nun watches during the night, at the entrance, and she receives the newcomers from hand to hand; the revolving window does not open any more, and it's locked with chains. In some way, this new system make it loose the charm of the secret..."

André Delrieu, Les Enfants Trouvés, 1831


The baby hatches costume was implemented by Saint Vincent de Paul, who installed the first one in 1638, and their use started to be widespread around 1750. They were legalized as obligatory in 1811. The idea was to avoid that the foundlings were left in the streets, exposed to epidemics, cold and street dogs. They were used until the end of the 19th century, and definitely abolished by law on June 27th1904; this law impossed that the deliverance of foundlings would be personal, although regarding the anonimity.


The condition of foundlings assistance during the Ancien Régime, was, really, regretable. They never could reduce the high rate of mortality. The nurses were brought around from Normandy and Picardie. And also the babies were transported from the provinces to Paris, where they had the best assistential center. Here we have another impressive story of André Delrieu, from 1831:


"Can you believe, that before the Revolution, the establishment at the capital must attend the whole France, and the babies were brought around from any place of the kingdom to get in the central facilities a ticket to the life?...Which was, the most possible, a certificate of death. A man, a carrier, was walking through the provinces, carrying on his back a bag with a padded box inside, containing, for example, three newborns. This man, walking through the dust, the paddles, the sun of the long ways, sleeping in miserable hotels, walked calmly towards Paris. The babies, at the bottom of the box, breathed the air by the top. Sometimes, the man stopped to take a break and to give a little bit of milk to his companions. Opening the box, almost always he found one of them dead. Without being too much worried about, he left the body at a side, and covering the hole inside the box, he re-started quitely his march with the rest of the load. At his arrival, a receipt was delivered to him for the merchandises. He didn't use to respond for the damages "...



At the arriving of the Revolution, everything was transformed. Children were not more mentioned as "enfants-trouvés" and they started to be called "Enfants de la Patrie". At the begining they were called "orphelins" (orphans). By law of June 28th 1793, they will be entirely in charge of the Nation in relation to their physical and moral education. As the feudal lord rights were abolished, the State will be since that moment in charge of the children. An inviolable secret will be kept about their origins. A Consular Decree from 25 Floréal of the year VIII rules the wetnurses salaries. At the 10th year of the Revolution the Departments will be in charge of the budgets to support the abandoned children. On the year XIII, the foundlings' guardianship will be accomplished by Commisiones Hospitalaires.

In 181, a decree of January 19th promulgates the most important modifications at the respect.

In its 1st Article, it establishes that " To receive the infants (dits trouvés), a hospice will be designed in every district. They must install a baby hatch (tour d'abandon) and to keep the deposits in a record. Hospices will be in charge of the halls' furniture and of all the expenses related with the children left at the hospital. Wetnurses expenses and pensions will be in charge of the Communes and of the State. Babies will be asigned to wetnurses until their 6 years of age ".

At that time there were more than 250 tours d'abandon (baby hatches) in France and the yearly figure of abandonment was near 80,000 children.


"Let's talk about modern poetry: and, in this case, it's about a hospital. Never a public building had offered such a look so directly opossed to the idea to which its existence regards. It seems that one could discover on there the pleasure of the contrast, so spread among all of us, between the simple things and the profound horror. At the entrance, maybe you look for tears, philosophic emotions, and the displeasure; and barely you will hear the babies' cries and everywhere you will find, around you and over your steps, flowers, gray-dressed nuns, white curtains, crucifixes, a little bit of crime, and that's all. You can walk amongst the row of cradles like in a meadow; only that in a meadow, the land, that natural mother, gives to the orphan plants their authentic food. We can see blond heads, angelical shapes, a hall poetically named "The Nativity Scene", ("La Crèche"), a small chappel and a table for disection. Formerly the buildings shaped a convent of prayers; today it's a hospice for left babies; there are two centuries between both names. Nothing remarkable about this hospice: it seems a school, a factory, that house at the end of the block, or your paternal house...."

André Delrieu, Les Enfants-Trouvés, 1831.




Since 1820, a "period of deposit " was established, previous to the definitive abandonment, into which the parents, who could be sick or in prison, may recover their children.

In 1833 the yearly figure of abandonments was increased to 130.000.

In 1849 all the hospitals will take the general denomination of "Public Assistance".

In 1863 the form of the secret deposit was ruled, and a social help in the way of pensions was established for single mothers.

In 1874 and 1877, two laws rule the children's protection making responsible to the Prefect of each Department about the Service of Assisted Children. He will have to periodically watch the children left in hands of wetnurses.


The most important law about this matter was the one of June 27th 1904, being this law the basement of the current legislation.

This law was promulgated in derogation of all the previous laws.

1º) It declares to the foundlings "Pupilles de l'État". The state will be since that moment their father and their mother. By means of its departmental representative, the Prefect, the State will become the children's guardian. He will watch their growth and assistance by means of Family Councils.

2º) Adoption: The Prefect in his character of guardian, will be able to take decisions about the adoption and to what families the foundlings could be delivered. Since now, the children can receive the adoptive family's last name. The closed adoption (adoption plénière) was established, which is definitive and irrevocable.

3º) It establishes the payment of a social security for indigent families.

4º) It makes easier the arrival and reception at the hospitals.

5º) The salary of wetnurses was considerably increased.

Since 1985, the management of abandonments is in charge of the Direction de l’Action Sociale de l’Enfance et de la Santé (DASES), 94-96 Quai de la Râpée, 75012 Paris, phone This Administration keeps all the records of less than 100 years, inherited from the Public Assistance.


The acts of birth of foundlings with less than 85 years after they were born, are not open to the public. They count 60 years after the register closure, or the lesser delay. The register closure was done at the majority of age, which was 25 years during the Ancien Régime. The access of the pupil to his or her own record is guaranteed by a law of July 17th 1978. Anyway, having one of the parents manifested his or her will to "keep the secret of the origins", the secret of that document will be then, imprescriptible.

The acts of birth of enfants-trouvés of less than 100 years are not recorded on the regular documents of the civil state. The Verbal Process of discovering of the child should be demanded to the General Procurator with an exact date and justifying the filiation with that person. This document is guarded by the Ministere de l'Interieur of France and it's regularly issued by the Police or the Gendarmerie.

Hospital records of less than 100 years are kept by the Direction de l’Action Sociale de l’Enfance et de la Santé (DASES), 94-96 Quai de la Râpée, 75012 Paris, phone

The most ancient records are conserved in Paris, at Les Archives de la Seine (18 Boulevard Sérurier, 75019 Paris). There are the documents of the Administration of Assisted Children by the Hospices Civiles de la Seine, from 1639 to 1917. In 1871 some of these records were distroyed because of disturbs of the Commune de Paris, but they are, in part, reconstructed.

For the Province's old documents , the Archives Départementales, Serie X, should be consulted. They conserve the Public Assistance records from 1800 until 1940.

RECORDS ON LINE: The records of foundlings of the City of Lyon, department of Rhône, at the region of Rhône-Alpes, are available to be consulted on line:

Given that the foundlings were immediately baptized, it's also convenient to consult the Parishes' records.

In general, these records are classified by alphabetical order, by chronological index of arriving to the hospice, or by individual dossiers with the matriculation number. On many dossiers the mother's name is registered, and sometimes, also the father's name.

Here is a record of the Fonds des Enfants Assistés of Paris from the year 1842:


former page