Le travail de traduction

Sooo many issues when working with documents from previous centuries. The biggest issue is if the writing is legible, strongly influenced by the condition of the document, the author’s skill and clarity, the quality of the ink, and the technique used to digitize the document.

Scaled example of a 1950s microfilmed page in a book
Digitization of a microfilm…

If you can read it well enough to transcribe it the task is greatly simplified. Then all you need to do is figure out the language and exact dialect and context

Today I have spent four hours transcribing and translating a single document, a marriage record from 1876. Really, that is not so long ago! This should be easy!

The original image is digitized from a microfilm from the 1950s. Any time you are working from a copy of a copy… well, let’s just say errors will probably creep in. This particular example has been heavily filtered, digitally, to improve its readability. ‘Cleaning up’ digitized images can really improve them for a specific purpose but in the process you permanently alter the image, quite probably damaging its ability to do other things – like being used to show the differences if the image is rescanned at a later date.

But, as I said, this should be reasonably readable, so then I needed to transcribe the text. Transcribing, though, is inextricably linked to translation because if you do not know how a word should be spelt you will have great difficulty guessing what word the author might have been attempting to write.

Go back to that first image at the top, the first three words are “Le vingt août“. Seeing the definite article Le followed by a number is a very good clue that you are looking at a date, and the third word should be a month, but the fading of the ink has made the circumflex almost just a dot, and the lighter joins in the script are pretty hard to pick up. At first glance it looks like “acict” to me. There are two months of the year in the modern Gregorian calendar which start with ‘a’, so it likely has to be avril or août, so I can quickly guess this month.

But this is where context comes into play. Because my document is from 1876 I can rule out Old Style Gregorian[en.wp] and Julian calendar months, because they were not in use anywhere French was spoken by that time. (Important side note: many genealogy softwares use proleptic calendaring for dates before the adoption of the of the Gregorian Calendar.) Moreover, because the location was Canada I can generally assume the French Republican Calendar is not in use, because Canada was ceded to the United Kingdoms prior to the French Republic. But one might find the occasional “aoust” because early immigrants spoke a continuum of Old French and Middle French, and were insulated from the evolution of modern French by distance.

Sometimes you can guess the meaning of a blob, or a sentence, by knowing what type of event document you are working and what the usual way of recording that kind of event. For a wedding in the Roman Catholic church there were certain variables recorded, a template followed, and many of the phrases are the same from one parish to another. But not always, like in the one below – someone was filling in for the Curé, and tried to explain that.

So here is the text I transcribed, and its translation, and a copy of the scanned page:

Le quinze Aout, mil huit cent soixante seize
aprés la publication d’un ban faite au prône
de la messe paroissiale la dispence des [something]
tres ayant été accordé par ma pére Hypalite [something]
reçu vicaire Général et Monsigneur Ignace Bourget
Evêque de Montréal, en deta du onze causant[on?]
entre Henri Cartier, cultivateur fils majeur de Regis
Cartier cultivateur, et de Marceline Dupuis, de cette
paroisse, d’une part et Angèle Quenneville, fille
majeure de Bénonie Quenneville, cultivateur et
de feme Marguerite Saucier, de cette paroisse, d’au
tre part, ne s’etant découverent aucun empêchment
et du consentement des parents, nous pritre
soussigné vicaire de Saint ??lycorpe ??éligent
ad hoc por ma pére Joseph Jannin Arsene Provost
curé de Saint Aniset, nous reçu leur mutual
consentement et leurs donné la bene
diction nuptiale en presénce de
Regis Cartier, pére de l’epous, de Beno
nie Quenneville, pére de l’epouse, de
Joseph Cartier frêre de l’epous et
d’Anne Quenneville qui ont signé
ave les epouse. Regis Cartier, pére de
l’epous et Bénonie Quenneville
pére de l’epouse ont declaré ne sa
voir signer
[H Cartier] [J Cartier] [A Provost Ptre]
[A Quenneville] [A Quenneville]
The fifteenth of August, 1876, after the publication of a ban made during parish mass the dispensation of [something] having been granted by my Father Hypalite [something] Vicar General and Monsignor Ignace Bourget Bishop of Montréal, [untranslated] between Henri Cartier, farmer and eldest son of Regis Cartier, farmer, and of Marceline Dupuis, of this parish, on the first part, and Angel Quenneville, oldest daughter of Bénonie Quenneville, farmer, and of his wife Marguerite Saucier, of this parish, on the other part, not discovering any impediment and with consent of the parent, our priest the undersigned vicar of Saint ??lycorpe – covering the duties for my Father Joseph Jannin Arsene Provost curé of Saint Aniset, we recieved their mutual consent and gave them the nuptial benediction in the presence of Regis Cartier, father of the groom, of Bénonie Quenneville, father of the bride, of Joseph Cartier brother of the groom and of Anne Quenneville who has signed with the bride. Regis Cartier, father of the groom, and Bénonie Quenneville, father of the bride, have declared they do not know to sign.
[signatures]