Monday, December 17, 2012

Tackling the Québec Drouin Collection for English Speakers - Part 1

Working with a large database of records written in a foreign language can be daunting, even if you have some prior experience with that language.  I took French throughout middle and high school, but I am by no means fluent, especially after years of not practicing.  So, at first I struggled to properly understand and use the records in the Québec Drouin Collection, which contains centuries of church baptism, marriage, and burial records.  Eventually I got the hang of it, but I know how difficult it can be.  I've prepared this series of "how-to" for English speakers to more easily decipher the Québec Drouin Collection records (although it may help you in other French records as well).

Through this series of posts, I will cover determining the type of event, the dates of the events recorded (baptism, marriage burial), the dates of birth and death for baptism and burial records, the individual's name, the individual's marital status, the individual's spouse or parents' names, and where the event occurred, among other facts.  I will try to go in the order the information appears in the records.

If you have any questions (in general or specific to your research), corrections, additions, or anything else, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or email me directly!

Records Start with Dates

The first and most important thing to remember is that the date at the very beginning of the record is NOT necessarily the one you want.  Almost every record starts off with a date.  Keep in mind that these include baptisms and burials, NOT births and deaths.  The starting date in a baptism or burial record may be the birth or death date, but oftentimes it is not.  You must keep reading the record for a hint of the actual birth or death date, which many times is noted separately.  In a later post you'll find some key words to look for to help you determine the birth or death date.  Simply copying the date at the start of the record is a common and easily fixable mistake in online family trees, so I thought I should note it upfront.  I used to make this mistake when I started using the Drouin Collection.

Every record starts with the date of the event - baptism, marriage, or burial - usually written out completely.  The order will be day, month, then year.

Numbers in French:
  • One through ten, in order:
    • un
    • deux
    • trois
    • quatre
    • cinq
    • six
    • sept
    • huit
    • neuf
    • dix 
  • Eleven through nineteen, in order:
    • onze
    • douze
    • treize
    • quatorze
    • quinze
    • seize
    • dix-sept (notice this is just the words for ten and seven combined, as if you're adding)
    • dix-huit
    • dix-neuf
  • Twenty through sixty-nine are written like "twenty and one" for 21, 31, 41, 51, and 61.  The rest are written like in English, "twenty-two," "twenty-three," and so on.  For example, "vingt" means "twenty" in French.  "Et" means "and."  To write "twenty-one," you would write "vingt-et-un."  Thirty-one would be "Trente-et-un."  Sometimes the "et" and/or the hyphens are left out in records.  Thirty-two would just be "trente-deux" - no "et."  Twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty, in order:
    • vingt
      • vingt-et-un
      • vingt-deux
      • vingt-trois
      • etc.
    • trente
    • quarante
    • cinquante
    • soixante
  • Seventy is written in French as "sixty ten" (kind of like you're doing some more math).  You follow the same procedures as the lower numbers but add eleven through nineteen to sixty in order to get seventy-one through seventy-nine.  Seventy through seventy-nine, in order:
    • soixante-dix
    • soixante-et-onze
    • soixante-douze
    • soixante-treize
    • soixante-quatorze
    • soixante-quinze
    • soixante-seize
    • soixante-dix-sept
    • soixante-dix-huit
    • soixante-dix-neuf
  • Eighty is written in French as "four twenty" (since four multiplied by twenty equals eighty). Eighty through eighty-nine are treated just like the numbers twenty through sixty-nine.  For example, eighty-three is written in French as "quatre-vingt-trois."
  • Ninety is written in French using the word for eighty, the same way seventy is written using the word for sixty.  Therefore, "ninety" is "quatre-vingt-dix," and ninety-one is "quatre-vingt-onze," and so on.
  • "Hundred" is "cent."  If you see "cent" alone, it means "one hundred."  If there is a number below ten in front of it, it means it is that number of hundreds.  For example, "sept cent" means "seven hundred," "huit cent" means "eight hundred," etc.
  • "Thousand" is "mil."  It works the same way as "cent."  In years, you will only encounter "mil" standing alone, since the records will be after the year 1000 A.D. but before the year 2000.
Months in French:
  • janvier - January
  • février - February
  • mars - March
  • avril - April
  • mai - May
  • juin - June
  • juillet - July
  • août - August
  • septembre - September
  • octobre - Octobre
  • novembre - November
  • décembre - December
Some key points to note:
  • The date may often be written in the format of "The twentieth day of April..."  Therefore, the number day wouldn't be the exact French equivalent of "twenty."  Often, to express the "nd," "rd," or "th" (as in second, third, or fourth), the number, when written out, will end in "ieme," which is more or less the French equivalent.  For example, "Le trentieme" can appear in a record to indicate the day is thirty (or the thirtieth).  One exception is for the first of the month, in which case the record will read "The first day..."  In French this is written as "Le premier jour," with "jour" being the French word for "day."
  • The year will almost always be written out in the Drouin Collection in words.  So, 1878 will be written out as "one thousand eight hundred seventy-eight."  This is where you will need to know how to read numbers in French higher than thirty-one.  In the Drouin Collection, you will see 1878 as (something very close to if not identical to) "mil huit cent soixante dix-huit."  Remember to break each piece apart to read the year.
  • Twice I've seen "improper" French used when it comes to numbers.  It may have been a local dialect, but I had never before seen these words, and you probably won't either.  I give them to you just in case.  I once saw "septante," which I realized was being used for seventy instead of "soixante-dix."  Another time I saw "neuvante," which totally threw me for a loop until I figured out it was meant as ninety instead of "quatre-vingt-dix."
  • At times, the writer may begin a record with something like "Ce jour" or "Le même jour" instead of writing out a date.  In that case, you must go up to the previous record to determine the date.  "Ce" means "this," and "Le même" means "the same."  The records are written top to bottom, left page to right, in order that they occur, so the previous entry should have the date if yours says it`s the same day.
As an example of a full baptism date, I will use my third great-grandmother, Angèle Corriveau (1807-1847).  The entry begins, "Le quatorze aout mil huit cent sept..."  Notice the French is imperfect and there are no breaks here.  We can ignore "Le," which means "the."  It's superfluous.  "Quatorze" means "fourteen," so this is the day Angèle was baptised (but NOT the day she was born). "Aout" is missing the accent mark but clearly is intended to mean August.  The actual text is a little unclear and can be mistaken for April, but the line through the last letter tells me it's a "t" not an "l" and therefore is August.  "Mil huit cent sept" means "one thousand, eight hundred, seven" (put the commas in mentally or physically if it helps you separate the parts), in other words 1807, the year of her baptism.

1 comment:

  1. A very good introduction to deciphering the French text of the Drouin Collection, Linda. I would add that if you're uncertain as to the date in a record (like your example of whether the month is "avril" or "aout" [without its accent]), that looking at the previous or the following record might help to determine what is written.

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