We have seen in a previous post how to read French civil registrars. In this new post, we’ll learn how to read French parish records.

Modern period in French genealogy is quite easy. Once you have survived the Republican calendar, you can softly navigate through the records. Though the handwriting might sometimes be painful to read, you can find help in the ten-years tables.

Parish records is another story.

The ordinance of Villers-Cotteret

In August 1539, King Francis I signed an ordinance of 192 items in his castle Villers-Cotterets. This order is very important to us, genealogists.

This very important ordinance first institutes what will become the civil status by requiring parish priests to proceed to the registration in writing of baptisms, in other words, births (subsequent orders, at Blois in 1579 and Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1667, will also prescribe the registration of deaths and marriages). The order also states that all legal and notarial acts will now be written in French. Until then, they were in Latin.

How to read a French baptism certificate ?

Archives départementales de Dordogne – Sceau-Saint-Angel – Baptêmes Mariages Sépultures (1772 – 1792) – cote 5MI16204_002

1 – This is the date of the baptism (October 28th), name of the child (Joseph), and date of birth (born the day before).
2 – «  fils légitime » indicates the gender but also if the child is legitimate or not. This is the father’s name (Jean Auset), his occupation (plowman), the mother’s name (Catherine Vaudou).
3 – This is the child’s godparents (Joseph Auset and Marie Auset).
4 – This is their residence (all residents in the village of Gallou).
5 – The priest indicates that none of the godparents sign.

If the parents were not married, you can read the word naturel for illegitimate. Sometimes, the priest is very clear about his thoughts and do not hesitate to write fils/fille bâtard(e) (bastard son/daughter of…).

How to read a French marriage certificate ?

Archives départementales de l’Ille-et-Vilaine – Gosné : baptêmes mariages sépultures (1715) – cote 10 NUM 35121 78

1 – Date of the marriage (July 16th).
2 – Names of the groom and bride, and their parish of origin
3 – Mention of a marriage decree.
4 – Names of those present.

Here’s the transcription of the document :

Le saisiesme du Juillet mil sept cent quinze
Jay administré la benediction nuptialle a
Julien talvart et a Renee guillou tous deux
de cette paroisse, les trois bannies faites sans
oposition et ayant recu le decret de mariage de
la ditte renee guillou en datte du saisiesme de
Juillet mil sept cent quinze, present pierre
hoüedry, Joseph Simon, guillaume chevaucherie
et autres et le dit decret signé au dessous huchet

How to read a French burial certificate ?

Archives départementales de l’Ille-et-Vilaine – Dourdain : sépultures (1768) – cote 10 NUM 35101 208

1 – Name of the deceased, place and date of death.
2 – Age of the deceased
3 – Place and date of the burial
4 – Names and status of those present.

Julien Goupil has been buried in the cemetery. Some of your ancestors may have been buried inside the church.

How to read French parish records ? Some tips.

You have to be aware you’ll have to deal with different spellings, not only for the family names, but for the current language as well. For instance, in the marriage certificate above, sixteenth is written saisiesme, instead of seizieme. My advice : try to read it outloud to be more aware of the word and find its current spelling.

The information you’ll find on the certificates depend on the priest or the vicare. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll have as many details as the parish of origin of one of the parents, the date of the marriage, the link between those present, etc. But you can also encounter priests little talkative. They will just write information useful to them.

French ancestors from Brittany ? In the upcoming post, we’ll discuss marriage decree.