“Anonyme” and “Inconnu/Inconnue”

A little more on translating Roman Catholic parish records from the French:

Anonyme  = Nameless, or Unnamed. Generally with reference to the lack of a first or given name, and most frequently found in infant burial records.

Inconnu/Inconnue  = Unknown. That is, of unknown parentage, and generally with reference to the lack of a “legitimate” or legally recognized surname. So: de parents inconnus = of unknown parents. Found in both infant baptismal and infant burial records. Note: In many baptismal records for “illegitimate” children, the mother’s name is both known and given, but due to her unmarried status, the child’s surname will still be given as “Inconnu” (or “Inconnue” for a female).

A child could be both, of course: both unnamed (“anonyme”) and of unknown parentage (“inconnu/inconnue”). Here, for example, from the Mission of Ste. Anne at Calumet Island (L’Île du Grand Calumet), Pontiac Co., Québec, is the burial record for two unnamed infants (“Deux enfants Anonymes”), of unknown parentage:

Burial of two unnamed infants, of unknown parents

In French, the record reads:

Le douze Septembre mil huit cent quatre ving cinq par nous prêtre soussigné ont été inhumés dans la cemetière de cette paroisse les corps de deux enfants anonymes nés de parents inconnus ondoyés à la maison. Présents Francis Kelly et Arthur Grandpré qui n’on pu signer.

And in English translation:

The twelfth of September one thousand eight hundred and eighty five, we the undersigned priest have buried in the cemetery of this parish the bodies of two unnamed infants of unknown parents who were privately baptized. Were present Francis Kelly and Arthur Grandpré, who could not sign.

Btw, ondoyé à la maison is one of those phrases that is a bit difficult to translate literally from the original, owing to the accretion of several centuries of accumulated meaning. Basically, it means baptized privately, or at home, without a priest, in an emergency situation where a child was not expected to live.

Such records are unspeakably poignant; and always make me wonder about the complex human dramas behind the brief and bare-bones recital of the facts of birth and burial.

For genealogical purposes:

Inconnu/inconnue will almost invariably alert you to an “illegitimate” or “out of wedlock” birth. If a child was registered as having no legally recognized surname, then he or she had no legally recognized father.

Anonyme in and of itself, on the other hand, suggests nothing of the sort. Anonyme is most frequently encountered in infant burial records; and often refers to a stillborn infant, or to an infant who had died so shortly after birth that the parents had not yet given the child a forename. In many (and perhaps the majority of) such cases, the child was “legitimate,” and “born of the lawful marriage of [John Smith] and [Mary Jones],” but had died too soon to have been given a first name. Hence, “Anonyme [Smith]” is the name that was recorded in the parish register.

2 thoughts on ““Anonyme” and “Inconnu/Inconnue”

  1. Thank you, every little bit of French helps. With only high school French to fall back on, I had a terrible time deciphering some records in Montreal for some Irishmen I was working on. It took me a few hours to realize that most of it was “boilerplate”, e.g., “I the undersigned priest” etc. But interesting. And they actually named some Counties of origination in Ireland for me and used women’s maiden names, what a deal!

  2. The nice thing about the RC parish records is that they’re mostly “boilerplate”! or mostly written according to the same formula, no matter what language (English, French, Latin, or etc.). Some French Canadian priests were really good about recording counties of origin for their Irish emigrant parishioners: I’ve had a couple of “aha!” moments for Irish ancestors thanks to records kept by French priests.

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