Translation

Translating French Records: Catholic Marriage Records

Of the three types of Roman Catholic records most commonly used for genealogical purposes (baptismal, marriage, and burial), marriage records are often the most useful, and potentially the most complex.

Most useful because of the sheer amount of genealogical information that can often be gleaned from a Catholic marriage record.

While a baptismal record will supply the names of two family lines (the names of both the father and the mother of the baptized infant), a marriage record will often supply four: the names of both the father and the mother of the groom; and the names of both the father and the mother of the bride. And the mother of the bride or groom is typically listed with her maiden name, not her married name: in a Catholic marriage record, the parents are recorded as, for example, Michael Ryan and Bridget Lahey, not as Michael Ryan and Bridget Ryan, nor as Michael Ryan and Wife, nor as Mr. and Mrs. Michael Ryan. A Catholic marriage record can therefore be an extremely important source of information about maternal origins.

For early Irish to the Ottawa Valley (1st- and 2nd-generation emigrants), moreover, a marriage record will sometimes (not always! and not even very often; but often enough that it is always  worth checking the parish register) give the name of a county, and sometimes even a parish, of origin in Ireland (see, for example, Irish Origins in Canadian Roman Catholic Marriage Records: St. John the Evangelist, Gananoque, Leeds Co., Ontario, Part I and Part 2).1

Most complex because of the requirements that had to be met in order to marry in the Catholic Church.

Had the requisite three bans of marriage been published? Or did the couple have to obtain one or more dispensations from the publication of the banns?2 Were there any impediments (of blood or marriage, for example) which required dispensations? Was a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic? And if so, was this a case of a Catholic marrying a Protestant, which required a dispensation from the impediment of “mixed religion” (mixtae religionis)? Or was this a case of a Catholic marrying a non-Christian, which required a dispensation from the impediment of “disparity of worship” (disparitus cultus)? (Note: I have never come across an instance of “disparity of worship” in the nineteenth-century Ottawa Valley area RC parish registers, but here’s an example from the twentieth century). Were both parties of age? Or did one or both parties marry as a son or daughter minor, which required the consent of his or her parents?

The Formula: in English and in French

That said, and despite the potential complexities of Catholic marriage dispensations, whether the record was in English, French, Latin, or another language, the basic formula remained the same.

In English:

The [day of month of year], [1, 2, or 3] bans having been published [and/or the dispensation of 1, 2, or 3 bans having been granted], between [name of bridegroom], son of age [or: minor son] of [name of bridegroom’s father] and of [name of bridegroom’s mother] of [name of parish] on the one part, and [name of bride], daughter of age [or: minor daughter] of [name of bride’s father] and [name of bride’s mother] of [name of parish], on the other hand, no impediments having been discovered [or: a dispensation for the impediment of ________ having been granted], we the undersigned priest received their mutual consent and gave them the nuptial blessing in the presence of [name of witness] and [name of witness] who signed [or who could not sign].

In French:

Le [day of month of year], vu la publication de [1, 2, or 3] bans de mariage [and/or vu la dispense de 1, 2 or 3 bans de mariage], entre [name of bridegroom], fils majeur [or: fils mineur] de [name of bridegroom’s father] et de [name of bridegroom’s mother] de [name of parish] d’une part, et de [name of bride], fille majeure [or: fille mineure] de [name of bride’s father] et de [name of bride’s mother] de [name of parish], d’autre part, ne s’étant découvert aucun empechement, nous prêtre soussigné avons reçu leur mutuel consentement de mariage, et nous avons donné la bénédiction nuptiale en présence de [name of witness] et de [name of witness], qui ont signer [or: qui n’ont su signer].

An Example

 

Marriage of John Finnerty and Catherine Benton, 27 July 1875

The marriage record for John Finnerty and Catherine Benton 3 reads as follows:

Le vingt sept juillet mil huit cent soixante quinze, vu la dispense de deux bans de mariage accordés par Monsigneur Duhamel, évêque d’Ottawa, vu aussi la publication de troisième ban faite au prône de notre messe paroissial entre John Finnerty, fils majeur de Peter Finnerty et de défunte Ann Havey de cette paroisse, d’une part; et Catherine Benton, fille mineure de Thomas Benton et de Honorah Ryan aussi de cette paroisse, a’autre part, ne s’étant découvert aucun empêchement, nous soussigné curé de cette paroisse, avons reçu leur mutuel consentement de mariage, et nous avons donné la bénédiction nuptiale en présence de Michael Havey, Margt Finnerty et de Thomas Benton père de l’épouse qui aussi que les contractants n’ont pu signer. A. Chaine.

My translation of the above:

The twenty-seventh of July, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-five, in view of the dispensation of two marriage bans granted by Monsignor Duhamel, bishop of Ottawa, in view also of the third ban having been published at our parochial mass, between John Finnerty, son of age of Peter Finnerty and of the deceased Ann Havey of this parish, on the one part; and Catherine Benton, minor daughter of Thomas Benton and of Honorah Ryan also of this parish, on the other part, not having discovered any impediment [no impediment having been discovered], we the undersigned priest of this parish have received their mutual consent to marriage, and have given the nuptial blessing in the presence of Michael Havey, Margt Benton, and of Thomas Benton, father of the bride, who, along with the contracting parties could not sign. A. Chaine.

Note that as a minor daughter (fille mineure), Catherine Benton required the consent of her parents in order to marry John Finnerty.

A Few Terms in Translation

French English
de cette paroisse of this parish
fille majeure adult daughter; daughter of age
fille mineure minor daughter
fils majeur adult son; son of age
fils mineur minor son
un empêchement an impediment
aucun empêchement no impediment
la bénédiction nuptiale the nuptial blessing
défunt (masculine) deceased (for a male)
défunte (feminine) deceased (for a female)
  1. But for the Ottawa Valley area, some of the early, pre-1850s records are extremely brief, and often (and much to the frustration of the researcher) lack the names of the parents of the contracting parties.
  2.  Note that the “publication” of the banns did not refer to the issuing of printed literature. It referred to the announcement (making public, so: publication) of the banns at the parochial mass.
  3. St (John) Chrysostom (Arnprior, Renfrew Co., Ontario), Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1867-1882, p. 151, image 82 of 153, John Finnerty and Catherine Benton, M.6, database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 13 November 2011), Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967.

A 9-year-old boy who died “of the disease of Irish emigrants”

This was posted on Facebook, by the Institut généalogique Drouin (but the screencap below is from ancestry.ca: Quebec, Vital and Church Records [Drouin Collection], 1621-1967). It is the burial record for a nine-year-old boy named Henry Gill, “décédé de la maladie des émigrés irlandais” ([who] died of the disease of Irish emigrants):

Burial record for Henry, 17 September 1847, St-Louis de Lotbinière, Québec.

Burial record for Henry Gill, 17 September 1847, St-Louis de Lotbinière, Québec.

“La maladie des émigrés irlandais” (the malady, or disease, of Irish emigrants) was, of course, the dreaded typhus. For a brief account of the typhus epidemic of 1847, see History – 1847: A tragic year at Grosse Île (Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada).

The priest did not have the names of the boy’s parents (“fils legitime d’un père et d’une mère d’ont nous n’avons pas avoir les noms”/”legitimate son of a father and a mother for whom we have not acquired the names”), but he noted that Henry Gill was the brother of Patrick and of Catherine Gill. A commenter at Facebook notes that Henry Gill and his siblings Patrick and Catherine were the children of John Gill and Mary Lynch, and links to a database of Les orphelins irlandais arrivés à Grosse-Île en 1847-48 (Irish orphans who arrived at Grosse Île in 1847-48), where the Gill children can be found at Reg. Nos. 176, 178, and 177.

Kind of amazing to see these records online, and to see people commenting, and cross-referencing, and cross-linking to other records and databases.

Surname Confusion: Lavallee, Lavelle, Vallely

Returning to the French-Irish theme (see Strange Surname Spellings: Hohanlan for O’Hanlon) with respect to surname spellings, here are three surnames which sound somewhat similar, and which are often misspelled in the 19th-century records in ways that make them look even more alike:

  • LAVALLEE is a French, and French-Canadian, surname. And just to complicate matters, it is sometimes (but not always!) a “dit” name: Paquet dit Lavallee, for example.1
  • LAVELLE is an Irish surname. According to Irish Ancestors, in mid-19th century Ireland, it was most numerous in Co. Mayo, but was also found in Co. Sligo, as well as in such Ulster counties as Armagh and Fermanagh.
  • VALLELY is an Irish surname. More specifically, it is an Ulster surname, predominantly found in Co. Armagh, but also found in the nearby counties of Tyrone, Monaghan, Antrim, Down, and Fermanagh.

In nineteenth-century Canadian records, Lavallee (French) and Lavelle (Irish) are of course easily confused, and I have seen many instances of such confusion.

For Vallely, I have seen numerous spellings, including Vallilee, Valaly, Valely,  Vallile, and Valley. At a certain point, the spelling for Vallely starts to bleed into something that approximates Lavelle (Irish), or perhaps Lavallee (French).

And then, not only is the Irish Vallely sometimes written out in the records as Valley, but the French Lavallee is sometimes rendered in the English records as Valley, too. Which makes sense, actually, given that la vallée means the valley.

If you have a “Valley” ancestor, and you’re not sure whether he or she was French or Irish, your best first step is probably to consult the 1851 census, and look for Birthplace. Born in Ireland? You can eliminate Lavallee from consideration, but be aware that both Lavelle and Vallely are still in the running. Born in Lower Canada (or LC), later Quebec? Lavallee is now the strongest possible contender, though of course it’s still possible you’re looking at a Canadian-born ancestor of Irish (Lavelle or Vallely) origin.

  1. On French “dit” names, see French “dit” names and Understanding Dit names.

Strange Surname Spellings: Hohanlan for O’Hanlon

As I’ve mentioned before (e.g., in Spelling Doesn’t Count! [in Genealogy]), it’s extremely unlikely that an ancestor had a strong attachment to a certain spelling of his surname, if that ancestor never had occasion to personally spell his own name.

If my ancestor James Moran, for example, was not literate (and I’m pretty sure he was not), then he didn’t  always spell his name Moran (rather than Moren, Morin,  Murran, Murrin, or some other variation that I’ve yet to come across), because, well, he didn’t spell his name at all.  His name was written and recorded by the parish priest; by the county clerk; by the census enumerator … and he would have been in no position to correct the spelling of the recorder, of course, if he could neither read nor write. That’s what it meant to be illiterate.

So surname spelling variations are par for the course in genealogy (for a number of reasons, and not just because of the illiteracy of those named in various records), and the sooner we let go of the notion of a “proper” spelling (which can be surprisingly difficult to do, admittedly), the sooner we arrive at a properly historical understanding of the production of the records on which we rely.1

But while surname spelling variations are only to be expected, are, indeed, the historical norm for pre-20th-century populations, the particular, not to say the peculiar, French-Irish character of the Catholic records of the Ottawa Valley could produce some especially noteworthy oddities in surname spelling.

  1. Most of the records upon which we rely for genealogical information were not produced with future genealogists in mind. A family tree or a series of family events recorded in a family bible can certainly be said to have been written with future family historians in mind. An inscription on a headstone is also oriented toward future generations of the deceased’s family. But a census record? a civil marriage record? a sacramental record (e.g., a church record of a baptism, a Confirmation, a marriage, or a burial)? a register of a deed? a ship’s passenger list? Most “genealogical records” were not originally produced to serve as genealogical records at all. It is we, the genealogists, who now use the records as such, retroactively, and after the fact, so to speak. To approach these records historically means asking a series of “W” questions: Who wrote or produced this record? When was it written? Where was it written? Why was it written (to what purpose, or for what end)? Who was its originally intended audience? What assumptions and presuppositions are embedded in the document? and so on and so forth.

The Queen vs. Kelly: Part V

Continued from The Queen vs Kelly: Part IV (see also Part III, Part II, and Part I).

What Happened to John Kelly and Mary Hourigan?

When I wrote Part I of “The Queen vs. Kelly,” I had no idea what had happened to John Kelly after his release from the Dominion Penitentiary in May 1842. Nor did I have any expectation of finding him, once I had determined that he did not return to March township.

According to family lore, he had “gone to the States,” which certainly didn’t sound too promising. The States covers a vast territory, of course, and with a common surname like Kelly, and the even commoner forenames of John, Mary (his wife) and Ann (his daughter), searching for this family seemed like looking for a needle in a haystack. I did do a search of the 19th-century US federal census returns, but (not surprisingly, as it turns out) came up with nothing.1

It was while searching for another record (unrelated to the Kellys and the Hourigans, as a matter of fact) in the parish register for the Mission at Mattawa that I happened upon the burial record for Mary Hourigan, who was buried as  “Mary Horrigan, Dame John Kelly:”

Burial record for Mary Hourigan, widow of John Kelly.

  1. If the Kellys had gone to the United States, by the way, their daughter Ann’s Canadian birthplace would have been the best bet for identifying them in the US federal census. Since both John Kelly and his wife Mary Hourigan were born in Ireland, they would have been listed in the US census as John and Mary Kelly, born in Ireland and now living in America, but with no indication of a decade or two spent in Canada. Their daughter Ann’s birthplace, on the other hand, if accurately listed (and there are many such ifs when it comes to census data) would have been recorded as Canada. I have found other Ireland-to-Canada-to-America families in the US census by searching for children born in Canada.

Protestant records for Pontiac Co., Québec, 1894-1909: online at BAnQ, free of charge

Actually, Catholic records for Pontiac County are also online at BAnQ, free of charge, and for the same time period (roughly 1894-1909, though it varies by church/parish). But the Catholic parish registers for Pontiac Co., Quebec are available online at three other sites that I know of, and for a much broader time period:

  1. by subscription at ancestry.ca (Quebec, Vital and Church Records [Drouin Collection], 1621-1967);
  2. free of charge at FamilySearch (Quebec, Catholic Parish Registers, 1621-1900);
  3. and by subscription at Généalogie Québec (Registres du Fonds Drouin).

So I’m highlighting the Protestant records of Pontiac County here, since it’s my impression that these records are far less readily available in online, digitized format than are the RC parish records.1

BAnQ = Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (National Library and Archives of Quebec). And, because of Quebec’s pre-1994 church-based system of civil registration,2 BAnQ’s collection of digitized parish registers (both Catholic and Protestant) will be found under the heading of Registres de l’état civil (= civil registers).

The records are here. For Pontiac County (District judiciaire de Pontiac [Outaouais]), look for Outaouais in the left menu (under Par région [by region]), then look for District de Pontiac (the other option being District de Hull). The time period is admittedly quite limited (roughly 1894 to 1909, as mentioned above), but this is an ongoing project, apparently, and we can expect to see the coverage broadened in the future. The alphabetical list (right side of page) for Pontiac Co. begins with Bristol Township Presbyterian Church and ends with Thorne Township Methodist Church, and includes a number of Protestant (Anglican [Church of England]; Lutheran; Methodist; Presbyterian; and also the Shawville Holiness Movement Church) Pontiac Co. parishes in between.

A few French terms in translation, to help with navigation:

  •  Début = [to the] beginning
  • suivante = next
  • précédente = previous
  • Affichage plein écran = full-screen display

 

  1. Certainly, there are no Protestant parishes included in FamilySearch’s “Quebec, Catholic Parish Registers” collection, for obvious reasons. And while ancestry.ca’s Drouin collection does include many Protestant parishes in the province of Québec, there appear to be some gaps in its coverage of Pontiac County (for Protestant denominations, I mean, not for RC parishes). And as to Généalogie Quebec, I really don’t know: it is not easy to use its search tools (in fact, I don’t think it’s possible) without subscribing to its service, and I gave up my subscription when FamilySearch added not only “Quebec, Catholic Parish Registers, 1621-1900″ but also “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923″ to its online collection (which, in combination with ancestry’s RC Drouin records for both Québec and Ontario, now answers my research needs, and why pay for a subscription that you won’t actually use?). So for all I know, Généalogie Québec has Protestant Pontiac well covered, though with a paid, subscription-only service.
  2. Brief description of the system, in French, at BAnQ, under En savoir plus (to know more/further information), Présentation; but also see Marlene Simmons for a brief but comprehensive English-language explanation

Translating French Records: Canadian Census Returns

Alex Moran household, 1901 census of Canada, Ontario, Ottawa City (district 100), St. George Ward (subdistrict E-3), p. 19, family 152.

Canadian census records might be recorded in English, in French, or in a combination of both languages.

Here’s an example of a French-English combination, from the 1901 census of Ottawa (see right; click thumbnail preview to enlarge). This is the household of Alexander Michael Moran, with his wife Anna Maria Benton; his sons Allan Jerome and Orville Alexander Moran; his sister Emma (Mary Emilia Moran) Lenahan; and his sister-in-law Margaret Anne Benton. The six members of this household were listed with a combination of English and French descriptors, some of which were as follows:

Name Relationship to
Household Head
Racial or Tribal
Origin
Mother Tongue
Alex Moran Chef [Head] Irish Anglais [English]
Anna Moran épouse [wife]
Allan Jerome Moran fils [son]
Alex Moran fils [son]
Emma Lannehan Dom [domestique/domestic] Anglais [English]
Maggie Benton Dom [domestique/domestic]

Translating French Records: Catholic Burial Records

As with baptismal and marriage records, RC burial records adhered to the same formula, whether written in English or French. If you know the English-language formula, you can easily figure out the French. (And often the hardest part, as I’ve mentioned before, is to decipher the priest’s handwriting).

The formula, more or less:

The [day of month of year], we the undersigned priest buried in the [name of cemetery] the body of [name of deceased] who died on [date of death] at the age of [age of deceased]. Were present [names of two witnesses].

Le [day of month of year], par nous prêtre soussigné a été inhumé[e] dans le [name of cemetery/cimitière] le corps de [name of deceased], décédé[e] [date of death] à l’age de [age of deceased]. Furent présents [names of two witnesses].

A few forenames in translation (Latin/French/English)

When Bridget O’Hanlon married Thomas McTeague (15 November 1841, Notre Dame de Bons Secours, Montebello, Co. Papineau, Québec), the priest identified her as “Brigitte O’honlon, domiciliée en Grenville, fille majeure de Pierre O’honlon et de Marie Thoõner, domiciliés en Irlande,” which, in English, would read: “Bridget O’Hanlon, domiciled at Grenville, daughter of age of Peter O’Hanlon and of Mary Toner, domiciled in Ireland.” 

If your Irish Catholic ancestor was baptized, married or buried by a French Canadian priest, you may find his/her forename (but not surname) given in French in the parish register. Moreover, some of the early records for several Ottawa Valley RC missions and parishes (e.g., Our Lady of Holy Angels, Brudenell, Renfrew Co., Ontario) were written in Latin, with forenames (but not surnames) given in Latin.  
Here are a few forenames in translation. I’ll add more names as they occur to me, or as I come across them in the parish registers.
Latin French English
Aloysius Louis Lewis
Anastasia Anne Ann, Anne, Nancy
Andreas André Andrew
Antonius Antoine Anthony
Augustinus Augustin, Augustine Austin
Bartholomeus Barthélémy Bartholomew, Bartley
Brigida, Brigitta Bridgitte, Brigitte Bridget
Carolus Charles Charles
Francisca Françoise Frances
Franciscus François Francis, Frank
Georgius Georges George
Helena Hélène Ellen, Helen, Eileen
Henricum, Henricus Henri Henry
Hermani Armand Herman
Ioannes, Johannes Jean John
Jacobus Jacques James
Johanna Jeanne Joan, Jane
Margareta Marguerite Margaret
Maria Marie Mary
Matthias, Mattheus Mathieu Matthew
Michaelem Michel Michael
Patricius, Patritius Patrice Patrick
Petrus Pierre Peter
Willelmus, Guillelmus Guillaume William
Stephanus Stéphane, Étienne Stephen

“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. As in: 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”). And if you spend any amount of time perusing the RC parish registers, you will undoubtedly come across a burial record such as the following, from the Mission of Ste. Anne at Calumet Island (L’Île du Grand Calumet), Pontiac Co., Québec:
S. [Sépulture] 26.27 Deux enfants Anonymes
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.
[Burial 26.27. Two Unnamed Infants
The twelfth of September one thousand eight hundred and eighty five, by we the undersigned priest were 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 (ondoyés in the plural) 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 buried beneath the brief and bare-bones recital of the facts of birth and burial.