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January 24, 2011

Finding an Ancestor in Belgium (Part 3): The French Records

In Part 1 of my series on Belgium Research, I talked about finding my husband's great-grandfather Archie De Meulenaere's birth registration in 1884 in Tielt. It was written in Flemish but it wasn't too difficult to pick out and translate the key points. Having found Archie's parents' names, approximate years of birth and places of birth, we moved on to Step 2 - finding their marriage record and birth records.

Many of the records we found up to this point were in Flemish. Luckily it is seemed similar to Dutch. Since I can read standard Dutch phrases found in Church Records we could figure out the main points of each record.

We were ready to move on to Step 3 - continuing to look for birth and marriage (or death) records of the new ancestors we were finding.

This is when we began to encounter church records written in French. I began to feel quite confident, after all reading basic French is pretty easy for me, so no worries.... It turns out I was a little too optimistic and overly confident but more on that later.

Each record we had found so far had given us much new detail - places of births, exact birth dates and so on. So continuing backwards was quite easy. The challenge was in the various languages used in different records!

A search in the Civil Records of Ooghem found the marriage registration of two of the new names we found in searching birth records - Jan Baptiste Veroughstraete and Victoire van den Bulcke. The text was in French but it was very lengthy and very faded. My translation skills were far too limited to understand (or even see!) more than the basic details.

27 August 1820. Jean Baptiste Veroughstraete & Victoire Van den Bulcke, [...] age 26 years, born in Ooghem 27 November 1794.

Other names in the document were Anne Marie Grinonprier (it was difficult to make out) and Collette van Brabant who I had learned was Jan Baptiste's first wife. Here is what the French document looked like.

Another document we found written in French was a birth registration in the Civil Records of Kanegem for 1812.

Key facts from document:

* 4 March 1812
* Child Amelie Grootaert born at 4 o'clock in the afternoon
* Parents Colette Blomme, 28 years old, spouse of Joseph Grootaert, 31 years old. Joseph's occupation was given as journalier
*Witnesses Augustin Blomme, 22 years old and Ignace [...] 64 years old.

This 1812 document was very clear and legible, such a treat to be able to read it without resorting to magnifiers, pastel paper and other methods to enlarge or make the image more legible.
We found and translated a few more French documents, growing more confident with each one. Then came a puzzler. I found a record for another ancestor - Wyland Emmanuel Blomme.

It was in French and it started with the date, which I read and translated as

      "18th of Frimaire in the 8th year of the French Republic"

I sat back at the microfilm reader and I'm sure my mouth dropped open. I had no idea what "Frimaire" meant and no clue what was meant for the "8th year of the French Republic!" I had just entered the rather confusing realm of the French Republican Calendar, something i had never heard of before.

More on the French Republican Calendar and how it affects your research in Belgium records in my next post.

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