Friday, February 24, 2012

Beyond French 101: It's all relatives

What you need to know depends on what you are using a language for. Fortunately, what you need to know to read a record is often much less than you would need in other contexts, like having conversation. Even if you can't read every word, you can still get a lot out of records. The key for making effective use of records is knowing the right structures and vocabulary.

Not surprisingly one of the most important vocabulary domains for a genealogist is the terminology used to describe different relatives, what linguists call "kinship terms". If you took a language class in school, you probably know the basic terms for the members of a nuclear family, such as "father", "mother", "son", "daughter", "brother" and "sister". You may even know a few others like "grandmother", "grandfather", "uncle" and "aunt". These are all essential terms and, if you are new to a language, This is the place to start.

Take the following excerpt from the marriage record from Québec City of my 9th great grandfather, Guillaume Paradis, which is available on in the Drouin Collection:
Guillaume Paradis fils de Pierre Paradis et Barbe Guion ses pere et mere
Guillaume Paradis son of Pierre Paradis and Barbe Guion his father and mother
In just a few words, you encounter three basic kinship terms fils "son", père "father" and mère "mother" in a somewhat redundant, but very common, formulation. Don't worry too much about the accent marks; they are not that common in handwritten documents.

The basic kinship terms in French include:
père father
mère mother
fils son
fille daughter
frère brother
sœur sister
grand-père grandfather
grand-mère grandmother
oncle uncle
tante aunt
Going further: In-laws
While these terms are essential to your genealogical research, you will encounter other relations in your research that may be of great help. These include cousins, nephews, nieces and in-laws, who may be listed as sponsors or witnesses on different records. '

One of the more useful terms I have found in dealing with civil records in France is beau-frère "brother-in-law". On the civil marriage record of my fourth great grandparents, Louis Charles Le Bourhis and Marie Anne Le Bacquer, a brother-in-law is listed:
En présence de Michel Le Corre âgé de vingt sept ans, profession de cultivateur à Plouguernével départment des Côtes du Nord qui déclaré être beau frere du contractant
In (the) presence of Michel Le Corre aged 27, profession of farmer in Plouguernével department of Côtes du Nord who declared (himself) to be the brother-in-law of the contractant
The reason that this particular relationship is very useful is because many indexes to marriage records are listed only by the groom. This particular record allowed me to search a table décennale, an index to French civil records which covers a ten year period, and find the marriage record for Louis Charles' sister, Margueritte Le Bourhis, in the online archives for the department of Côtes d'Armor. This is one good way of finding records for your ancestors' female relatives.

The word beau-frère also illustrates the way words for in-laws are formed in French. All you need to do is add beau before the appropriate kinship term. You may already know this word which means "beautiful". For women you need to use the feminine form belle. There are also plural forms for both masculine (beaux) and feminine (belles). Now, if you already know the basic terms, you can add six more:
beau-père father-in-law (pl. beaux-pères)
belle-mère mother-in-law (pl. belles-mères)
beau-fils son-in-law (pl. beaux-fils)
belle-fille daughter-in-law (pl. belles-filles)
beau-frère brother-in-law (pl. beaux-frères)
belle-soeur sister-in-law (pl. belles-soeur)

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