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Chapter Two: Parish Christening and Civil Birth Entries

Parish Christening and Civil Birth Entries

The purpose of this chapter is to provide you with an example of a parish christening and a civil birth entry. It is
designed to explain the various parts of each entry and give the keywords and characteristics that identify each
part of the entry. This chapter will also point out differences and similarities between the parish christening
entry and the civil birth entry.

Each christening or birth entry consists of several parts arranged in a particular order. Each part contains some phrases which change little from entry to entry. Often the specific information that will be extracted, such as names and dates, are the only words that change. Thus, by being able to identify each part by its keywords and phrases, you will be able to quickly locate the specific information and extract it.

Many times parish registers contain not only christening entries, but also burial and marriage entries. There may also be nongenealogical information entered, such as bishops' visitations, marriage information, confessions, and confirmations.
These other types of entries are covered in chapter four.

You may find misspellings, words run together and diacritical marks missing in the transcription of parish and civil entries. The transcriptions are meant to be written as they appear in the original record. The recorders often did not pay close
attention to correct grammar and spelling.

Example of Parish Entry


Le Lundy onziesme jour de Septembre Mil
Six Cent et quatre-vingt quatre Francois fils de Pierre
duval et de francoise Berenger Les pere et mere
né du Jour precedent et a esté baptisé par nous Soussigné
pbre curé de Bouquelon et nommé par francois Martin
et Marguerite colombel ses parrain et marraine qui
ont Signe en notre autre Registre L Perier.


Monday the eleventh- day of September one thousand
six hundred and eighty-four. Francois, son of Pierre
Duval and of Francoise Berenger, the father and mother,
born the day before and was baptized by us the undersigned
priest of Bouquelon and named by Francois Martin
and Marguerite Colombel, his godfather and godmother, who
have signed in our other register. L. Perier

Example of Civil Entry


Mairie DehousséviIle

Arrondissement Communal De Luneville

Du Dix Sept Germinal an onze Dela Republique Francaise une indivisible
Acte de Naissance Deanne houbeaut né a housséville Departement Dela
Meurthe, Ie même Jour neuf heures Du Matin, fille Defrancois houbeaut
journallier a housséville et De Elizabeth Nagent Son Epouse Ie sex
Delanfant a Etéz Reconue Etre la fille Dudit francois houbeaut et De Son
Epouse; premier témoin Joseph Nagent age De Vingt et un an Garcon
Chez Son père a forcelle Sous Guguey, Departement Dela Meurthe Cousin
issus Germain a la ditte Anne houbeaut, Seconde témoin Anne houbeaut, agée
De Vingt trois ans, fille Denteliere Demeurante Audit housséville, Cousinee
issus Germaine aladitte Anne houbeaut, Sur la déclaration a Moi faite parle
Citoyen francois houbeaut pere Delanfant Denommée ey dessus et onts
Signes, Exeptes laditte anne houbeaut qui a fait Sa Marque ordinaire
Nayant pas lusage Décrire.
                                                                                       francois houbeaut
                                                                                       Joseph Najan



Mayoral of Housseville

Communal District of Lunéville

Of the 17th of Germinal, year eleven of the French Republic, one indivisible
act of birth of Anne Houbeaut, born in Housséville, Department of
Meurthe, the same day (at) nine hours in the morning, daughter of Francois Houbeaut,
day laborer from Housséville, and of Elizabeth Nagent his wife. The sex
of the child has been recognized as the daughter of the said Francois Houbeaut and of his
wife. First witness Joseph Nagent, age of twenty-one years, a young man,
residing at his father's house in Forcelle Sous Guguey, Department of Meurthe,
second cousin of the said Anne Houbeaut. Second witness Anne Houbeaut,
age of twenty-three years, maiden, lace worker, residing at the said Housseville,
second cousin of the said Anne Houbeaut. By the declaration to me made by
the citizen Francois Houbeaut, father of the above named child, and they
signed, except the said Anne Houbeaut who made her customary mark,
not having the ability to write.

                                                                                                                        Francois Houbeaut

                                                                                                                        Joseph Najan

Marginal Notation

In some registers the officiating agent entered a short note in the margin next to the entry. This was used as an indexing system to enable a rapid search for a particular record. At times, this marginal notation contained information not found in the entry, such as legal name changes and adoptions.  As long as these notes are signed, the information given is accepted as legal. However, marginal notes were not always entered at the time the entry was made nor by the same person who originally created the entry. When they are unsigned, they should be used with caution. Entering marginal
notes was a local procedure, and as a general rule they are only occasionally found in civil and parish records.

Example: Civil Entry

houbeaut anne
née le 17 Germinal 11

Anne Houbeaut
born the 17th Germinal 11 (of the French Republican Calendar.)

Date Phrase

Laws dictated that each entry be dated. This is generally one of the first phrases in an entry.  However, because these laws were not strictly followed, the date may appear anywhere in an entry.

A parish entry will contain the date of baptism or christening and possibly the date of birth. A civil entry contains the date of registration which is the date of the entry and may give the actual birth date of the child.

Dates were most often entered in one of two formats. Usually the day, month, and year appear together in an entry. However, in a few localities the year was separated from the day and month.


The date is easily recognized for two reasons:

  1. The date phrase contains words or numeralswhich are easily recognized.
  2. The French words for the months of the Gregorian calendar are very similar to the English equivalents, and the months of the Republican calendar are very distinctive.

The keywords used to identify the date phrase are:
Jour             mois                  an                        année
Day              month                year                       year

Days of the week, months, and numbers for the years, which are also keywords, are covered in chapter eight.

Example: Parish Entry (Day, Month, Year)

Monday 11th day of September of One Thousand Six Hundred Eighty-Four. (11 SEP 1684)

Example: Civil Entry (Year, Day, Month)

Year nine of the French republic, the twenty-second day of Germinal. (22 GERM 9)

Locality or Residence Phrase

The registration laws also required the officiating agent to define the locality where the register was created and where the people involved were from. The department, commune, canton, town hall, and city were all recorded at different times, leaving no doubt as to the locality.

The locality phrase generally follows the date phrase. However, many times the locality is divided in the entry.

There are occasions when the place of birth and even the residence of the parents differs from the locality of the records. This could be because they were residents of a smaller unit within the jurisdiction of the town hall and came there to
register a birth.


Example: Parish Entry

de Bouquelon

The keyworks used for localities in a parish entry are:

   Paroisse:  Authorité ecclésiastique: ecclesiastical authority
   (de) I'église: (of) the church
   Ville: town
   Village: village
   Cité: city

   De la localité:

The residence of the parents is given as well as the place of birth of the child-Housséville, department of Meurthe. In this entry the child was born in the same locality where the record was created.

Example: Civil Entry

This example gives:

  1. Mayoral of Housséville
  2. Communal district of Lunéville
  3. Born at Housséville
  4. Department of Meurthe

The keywords useOfoi locaiities-in a civil entry are:

   Mairie, maison commune or hôtel de ville: town hall
   Arrondissement: county (district) --
   Canton: canton
   Commune: community
   Département: state

   Les autorités: the authorities
   Citoyen: citizen
   Citoyenne: citizen (female)

   Droits de: rights of
   L'Etat: the state

   La République: the republic

Ceremony Phrase

Somewhere in the entry is a phrase that indicates what is being done. This is important because a birth or christening differs radically from a marriage or a death.

Example: Parish Entry
   a esté baptisé
   has been baptized

The following keywords appear in parish entries, indicating a christening:

   présentation: presentation
   présenté un enfant: presented a child

   baptisé: baptized
   nommé par: named by

Example: Civil Entry

   Acte De Naissance
   Birth Certificate


The keywords used in civil records indicating a birth entry are:

   acte de naissance: birth certificate
   né:  born (male)
  née: born (female)
   né(e) au domicile: born at home

   faire naitre: to give birth
   accouchée: gave birth
  jour de naissance: day of birth
   jour natal de: birthday of

   enfant naturel: illegitimate child
   fils or fille (de): son or daughter (of)
  accompagné de: accompanied by

   est comparu: was presented
   sont comparus: were presented

  (a) eté nommé: was named or has been named
   donné Ie prénom (de): given the name (of)

Officiating Agent Phrase

The Council of Trent and subsequent laws enacted by the state, required that whoever officiated in the events recorded, be named in both parish and civil records along with a description of his position and authority. The title or position and name of the agent was always listed in some part of the entry, either at the front or, as in the example below, at the end.

In a parish register the officiating agent will hold some ecclesiastical office instead of a civil position.

Example: Parish Entry

ptre .. (prêtre) curé de Bouquelon L. Perier

Head priest of Bouquelon  L. Perier

The following keywords are used to identify officiating agents in parish entries:

   Curé: head priest
   Callotin: priest
   Prêtre: priest
  Diacre: deacon

  Juge Ecclésiastique: ecclesiastical judt3

Example: Civil Entry

Constate par rnoi
Jean Dominique Jeandel
Maire De la Commune De housséville
faisant les fonctions D'officier public
de I' état Civil.

Verified by me
Jean Dominique Jeandel,
mayor of the city of Housséville,
performing the functions of public officer of the civil government.

The following keywords indicate officiating agent in civil entries:
   Officier Public: public officer
  Greffier: Registrar or recorder
   Conservateur de Registre: keeper of the register
   Garde: keeper
   Maire: Mayor

Child Phrase

In a christening or birth entry, only the given name of the child normally appears. The surname is usually given with the parents' names.

At times the date of the child's birth is given as well as the hour of the day. The child's name may appear in several locations in the record. It may

precede: fils or fille de
              [son or daughter of]
precede: né(e)
follow: a eté nommé
              [has been or was named]
follow: donne Ie prenom de
[given the name of]
follow: acte de naissance de

Example: Parish Entry


Francois fils de ...

Fransois, son of ...

Example: Civil Entry

Acte de Naissance De
anne houbeaut, nee ...
Birth certificate of
Anne Houbeaut, born ...

Notice that the children are exactly where they should be, before fils de in the parish example, and after the acte de naissance in the civil example. Many times, however, the child (fils or fille) may be in another position in the entry; therefore, you need to be flexible and search the entire record until you find the child's name. On rare occasions
the name has been omitted entirely. In these cases, it is still possible to determine the sex so that the entry can be extracted.

Sex and Legitimacy Phrase

At times a phrase is inserted which precisely states the child's gender.

For example, the civil entry reads:

Ie Sex Delenfant a Etéz Reconue
Etre la fiUe Dudit francois
Houbeaut et De Son Epouse.

[The sex of the child has been recognized to be the daughter of the said Francois Houbeaut and of his wife.]

In French, nouns and pronouns carry gender, and from these words you can establish the gender of the child or principal.

However, as a general rule, you can determine the sex from the name itself. Names such as Pierrette, Fransçoise, and Nicollette denote a female, while names such as Pierre, François, and Nicolas denote a male.

Words denoting gender for either civil or parish entries are:

   un enfant: child (male)
   une enfant: child (female)

   né: born (male)
   nee: born (female)
   fils: son (male)
   fille: daughter (female)

Using these three guides, the sex of the child is relatively simple to determine. For further information on determining sex, see chapter seven.

Phrases which denote legitimacy appear with the nouns and pronouns denoting sex. Although legitimacy is not extracted, the adjectives carry gender and can be used to determine the sex.

The keywords denoting legitimacy or illegitimacy are:

   enfant légitime: legitimate child
   fils légitime: legitimate son
   fille legitime: legitimate daughter
   enfant naturel: illegitimate child
   fils batard: bastard son
   fille naturelle: illegitimate daughter
   fille adulterine: illegitimate daughter
   un batard: a bastard
  Déclaré batard: declared bastard

   Ma legitime: my legitimate (wife)

Parents' Phrase

One of the outstanding features of French records, and especially the civil records, is the detail taken in recording the parents. The husband or father is usually listed first, then his occupation, his age, and origin. The the name of the wife, her age, and origin. This order may change due to such circumstances as illegitimacies or deaths.

Parents' names are usually found after such phrases for either parish or civil entries:

   fils (or) fille de ...
   son (or)daughter-of-

  du mariage legitime de .. .
   of the legitimate marriage of .. .

  un(e) enfant né(e) ...
  a child born to . . .

Also the parents' names will be found in front of such phrases as:
· son père . .. sa mère:
· his father . . . his mother

· ..mère legitime de
legitimate mother of

 .. père legitime de
legitimate father of

The father's given names are recorded first, followed by the surname if it is given.

The mother's given names are recorded first, followed by her maiden name.

In this entry below, the ages ofthe parents are not given; however, their names, François Houbeaut and Elizabeth Nagent, and his occupation, day laborer, do appear.

Example: Civil Entry

fille Defrancois houbeaut
Journallier ahousseéville et
De Elizabeth Nagent Son Epouse.

Daughter of Francois Houbeaut,
day laborer from Housséville, and
of Elizabeth Nagent, his wife.


Occupations were usually entered directly after the father's name or, on very rare occasions, after the
mother's name. In the example below, Francois Houbeaut is a day laborer. For a list of occupations,
please refer to Appendix A.

Example: Civil Entry


fille Defrancois houbeaut
journallier ahousséville.

daughter of Francois Houbeaut
day laborer from Housséville.

Godparents or Grandparents and Warning Phrase in Parish Entries

The custom of having godparents has long been traditional among Catholic parishioners. The duty of the godparents was to take the place of the parents if the need arose. This duty could be temporarily caring for the child in their home or
spiritually overseeing the child, ensuring that the proper acts and ordinances were performed for and by the child. When grandparents were named instead of godparents, they were placed under the same obligation as the godparents.

When the priest makes reference to these obligations in a record, it is known as the warning phrase and is identified by phrases such as:

Les a avisé de leurs obligations spirituelles: Having advised them of their spiritual obligations.
L'a avisé de son obligation spirituelle: Having advised him of his spiritual obligation                                                Les a conseillé de leurs obligations paternelles:Having counseled them of their parental obligations.
L'a conseillé de son obligation paternelle: Having counseled him of his parental obligation.

These phrases bound the child and the godparents religiously together.

The keywords indicating godparents are:
   parrain: godfather
   marraine: godmother
   Ie filleul de . .. the godson of . . .
   la filleule de . .. the goddaughter of . . .

The keywords indicating grandparents are:
   aïeul or grand-pere: grandfather
   aïeule or grand-mere: grandmother
   aïeules or aïeux: grandparents

   père de la mariée: father of the wife
  père du marie: father of the husband

  mère de la mariée: mother of the wife
  mère du marié: mother of the husband

Witness Phrase in Civil Entries

In civil registers, at least two witnesses testified to the action. At times these witnesses were the grandparents or the godparents of the child.

By law, their names and places of residence had to be recorded. Other information was also given, such as age, occupation, and relationship to the child.

The keywords indicating witnesses are:

   témoin: witness
  certificateur: certifier
   citadin: townsman
   citoyen: citizen
   attester: to attest
   certifier: to certify
   constater: to confirm, verify


In this sample entry, Joseph Nagent is the first witness. He is 21 years old, single, living at home, and is second cousin to the child. The second witness is Anne Houbeaut, 23, maiden, lacemaker in Housséville. She is 23 years old and the second cousin of Anne Houbeaut.

Example: Civil Entry
Certification Phrase ===

To certify that the acts or events were legal, the officiating agent had to sign each entry. This signature was preceded by a phrase setting it apart from the entry by citing the office and authority of the officiating agent.

In parish registers the priest created a separate certification which also served as the certification phrase. He then signed his name at the end of each entry. Common certification phrases in parish entries are:

   devant moi, ... Ie curé de: before me ... the priest of
   fait par moi, ... Ie prêtre de: made by me ...the priest of

or a Latin phrase such as:
   ex (con) Iicencia parrochi: by (with) permission of the priest.

The keywords indicating authorization or certification in a parish entry are:

   a ésté baptisé par moi  was baptized by me
   soussigné: (the) undersigned
   abbé: abbot
   vicaire: vicar
   abbé vicaire: abbot vicar

In civil entries the officiating agent and the certification phrase are one and the same:

Example: Civil Entry

Constaté par moi
Jean Dominique Jeandel
Maire de ...

Verified by me
Jean Dominique Jeandel
mayor of ...

The certification phrase ends with the officiating agent's signature. As you can see above, the signatures themselves were very embellished and decorative. They served as an official seal.
The keywords indicating authorization or certification in a civil entry are:

   constaté: confirmed, verified
   par moi: by me
   Maire de: Mayor of
   officier de l'état civil: officer of the civil state
   officier public: public officer
   secrétaire: secretary
   greffier: registrar
   citoyen: citizen
   registre: register


Both christening and birth entries contain some information that should be extracted. The type of information and the order in which it appears will vary from entry to entry. The critical parts of the entry to look for are listed and briefly described

Marginal Notation

This is a short notation found in the margin of the register which gives the name of the child and possibly the date of the entry.  It served as an index to the record.

Date Phrase

Indicates the date, month, and year of the birth or christening. There can be more than one date given, such as the actual birth date, as opposed to the christening date or registration date.

Locality or Residence Phrase

States the locality of the event. In parish registers, it lists the parish and city; and in civil registers, the commune, canton, and arrondissement.

Ceremony Phrase

Identifies which type of ceremony is being performed. Names the officiating agent, whether priest or registrar, along with his position of authority.
Child Phrase

Gives the name of the child or principal(s) the recipient(s) of the ceremony or ordinance.

Sex and Legitimacy Phrase

Indicates the sex of an individual and is very important in both christening and birth entries.

The other parts of a birth and christening entry serve as reference material to aid in identifying the surname or irregularities in the entry, such as
twins, or stillborn.

There are those occasions when a declaration of illegitimacy is used to extract needed information. For example, when establishing the reason the father's name was never given, or when establishing the sex of the child or principal from the gender carried by the wordnaturel or naturelle.

Parents' Phrase

Gives the name of the father and the mother. In some cases of illegitimacy, only the mother's name is given.


Occupation appears after the father's surname or godfather's (witness's) surname. It is very useful to be able to distinguish the occupations and not confuse them with the surnames.

Godparents and Grandparents and Warning Phrase in Parish Entries

The godparents' names are not extracted. Once the godparents are mentioned in the text, it serves as a key indicating that the entry is ending, and no more vital information will be found.

Grandparents' names are very useful in establishing the surnames and given names (and their spellings) of the parents and children.

The warning phrase explains the obligations of the godparents.

Witness Phrase in Civil Entries
This phrase appears in civil records in lieu of the godparents phrase. The function is the same in both registers.
Certification Phrase
Contains the signature of the officiating agent and the position he held. It makes the entry a legal document.

On a separate sheet of paper, translate the following keywords:
Exercise 1                                                           Exercise 2
1. baptisé                                                            1. est comparu(s)
2. jour                                                                 2.donner Ie prénom de ...
3. curé                                                                3.acte de naissance
4. mère                                                               4.officier public
5. nom                                                                5. Maire de la commune
6. naissance                                                        6. Au mois de ...
7. fils                                                                   7. an 11 de la République Françase
8. né                                                                   8. de Bouquelon
9. enfant                                                              9. un enfant du sexe masculin                                                         10. père                                                               10. fille dudit citoyen

Please check your responses with the answers in A C.


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