Thursday, February 14, 2013

Translating and Transcribing Foreign Language Records

My mother's paternal line has early roots in the city of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. has a wonderful resource for Canadian research called the Drouin Collection which contains over 25 million, yes MILLION, records from Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. This collection has been a blessing to my research. The downside of this brilliant collection, though, is that a majority of the records are handwritten. And of course a majority of the records from Quebec are in French.

I don't speak French. I understand a few words but only enough to nod my head to and smile; who knows what I'm agreeing to really. I wouldn't be surprised that if on my last trip to Montreal I agreed to marry a few handsome Canadians.

When it comes to reading these Drouin records from French-Canadian churches it's quite a headache for me to read them. Not knowing the language is bad enough but that is a huddle that modern technology has helped me overcome; there are many free, online-based translators available such as Google Translate. When you can't make out the words due to lousy penmanship, though, it adds another layer of struggle to the research. And let's not get into the indexing. If someone who can read the language can't read the name to properly index the records who thinks there is any hope for someone who doesn't know the language.

I come from a big gene-pool of blue-collared networkers. Aww, yay! We were networking before networking was hip. I think it stems in-part from the fact that we are not wealthy people. See we don't pay anyone to do anything around our homes. If we don't know how to do the job ourselves then we find a cousin who knows how to fix that. And once we have tapped out the family resources, we look to friends and friends of family. You need your roof patched, call Cousin So-and-so. You need a faucet fixed, call Cousin What-his-names friend. Oh, Cousin Whosey-whats-it, you say you need an electrician, call my friend!

So when it comes to getting help translating these French-Canadian church records, I network. First I translate what I can. And once you translate a few you begin to recognize phrases that are used repeatedly in these types of records like "the undersigned priest of this parish" and "buried the body of." Once I translate what I can, I give the original and my spotty translation to a friend or fellow researching cousin.

It's worked out quite well. So my advice when researching in an area outside of your language....

...Network, people, network!

The translation of the image above provided by my friend, Rally:


Olivina Pagé
April 15, 1834, the undersigned priest baptized Olivina born on the same day to Pierre Pagé farmer and Desange Brunet of this parish. Godfather Augustin Gratens and godmother Angélique Desjardins who, just like the father, were illiterate.
Signed by Descharmen

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