Breakthrough baptismal certificate

Second in a series about my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

Starting at the beginning of an ancestor’s life is always a good idea, especially when a birth or baptismal record exists — as it does for my French-Canadian great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau.

Finding this landmark record in a Montréal archive launched my heritage quest, as described in Charbonneau breakthrough: Hooked on family history. However, words cannot fully capture how difficult it was to read this pivotal document — which was handwritten in French in quill pen in 1832. You just have to see it for yourself!

My certified copy of Laurent Charbonneau’s 1832 baptismal record, which I found in the Drouin Collection on microfilm in a Montréal archive. The collection has since been digitized. Photo by Molly Charboneau

A rough translation

I asked the Montréal archivist to read out the document to me so I could legibly transcribe the French. When I returned home, I made the following rough translation and shared it with my parents and siblings:

The eleventh of October, eighteen hundred and thirty two, our undersigned priest, curate of St. Geneviéve parish, has baptized Laurent born today of the legitimate marriage of Louis Charbonneau, blacksmith, and Suzanne Marcille of this parish. Godfather François Barbeau, merchant, and godmother Lady Eléonore Rapin were present and undersigned with us along with the father.”

New to genealogy research then and excited by my find, I filed the document away and took off at a mad dash to look for other ancestors — not taking the time I should have to carefully examine the document and write an appropriate citation. (Haven’t we all done this at some point in our research?)

But now that I am beginning to tell Laurent Charbonneau’s story, the time has come to take a closer look at what this document tells us.

A record reveals its secrets

The baptismal record shows that Laurent was baptized the same day he was born — on 11 October 1832 — and his was the 83rd baptism in the parish that year. His parents were Louis and Suzanne (Marcille) Charbonneau, they were united in a “legitimate marriage,” and they worshiped at the Roman Catholic St. Geneviéve parish in Montréal.

My great, great, great grandfather Louis Charbonneau was working as a blacksmith at the time of Laurent’s birth/baptism — and he signed the document, so I have a copy of his signature!

I assume my great, great, great grandmother Suzanne was at home — having just given birth that day — as she is not listed as present in the record, nor is she among the signers.

The archivist advised me to pay careful attention to all the names that appear on Québec records because they might include family members. So Laurent’s godfather François Barbeau, a merchant, and godmother Lady Eléonore Rapin could be related — though further research would be needed to confirm this.

Contrasting Laurent’s baptismal record with others on the same page, I take some pride in the size of the priest’s signature on my ancestor’s record — much larger than on all of the others. And the fact that Laurent’s father and godparents’ also signed the document — rather than just being named, as is the case with adjacet records — implies their ability to read and write French as well as speak it.

Thus was my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau ushered into the world — to the welcoming arms of his parents and godparents. What more can we learn about his background and early life?

To be continued.

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4 thoughts on “Breakthrough baptismal certificate”

  1. How great to have an ancestor’s signature. I’ve just started some French-Canadian research and adding the challenge of French to the search is certainly interesting, but oh so gratifying once you figure it out. Hopefully, the other names will lead you to other great finds.

    1. Good luck with your French-Canadian research! Like you, I am enjoying reading and searching in French, which seems to deepen my connection to my ancestors.

  2. Molly, as great and interesting as the other side of your family has proven to be, I am very happy to be reading your posts about the French-Canadian side!

    Terrific research! And lovely writing–you are a model and an inspiration.

    1. Thanks, Jane. I knew you’d be happy when I started on the Charbonneau family, since — who knows — we may even be distantly related! And stay tuned because these ancestors, too, were touched by heroic battles that pre-date the U.S. Civil War.

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