Michel Becker’s birth record: Why hiring a translator to help with French language civil registration is worth your time…

Michel Becker was  born 8 fructidor to Jean Becker and Elisabeth Groos at Sennigen Luxembourg.

If you’re working with a family from Luxembourg, you should be prepared to interpret three languages: French, German, and Latin. Early church records – used to substitute for vital records before civil registration – will be in Latin. Civil registration alternates between French and German.

It seems like an easy solution to use a genealogical word list to translate a document – or even better, run it through Google Translate. And with a simple, pre-created document with only a few fill ins, it might actually work.

But a birth registration from 1796 like Michel Becker’s? Not so fast…  These records are handwritten in their entirety. A correct reading requires interpreting the handwriting before identifying the words. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to pick out name and dates.

Or what about a record that lists more than name and date? Some civil registrations have provided key details about a parent’s death; others indicate that a child was not in fact legitimate. A software translation won’t tell you that – unless you happen to have correctly identified the words that providethat information in the correct order

Working with a translator makes the process much easier.  Since I read French fluently,  I know what the records should look like. That I can interpret the form much more quickly and accurately. I can also identify any uniquenesses – such as an illegitimate birth – that will make your research more complicated. It’s much more effective then spending months looking for Michel’s mother as Elisabeth Goos.

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