Canadian Resources

Resources for translating records from French to English – and why you probably should hire a translator

I’m grabbing dictionaries for a translation event (I translate French to English), and it got me thinking. I can read most of the records I work with, even though many are written in French instead of English. Not everyone is that lucky. How should you handle a record in a language in a language you don’t read?

First of all, I don’t recommend just using a word list or translator when you’re studying a record. If all you need to do is confirm the date of the event, it will work fine. Beyond that, you will miss things. 

I recently paid a genealogist to translate a record in a language I don’t read. I don’t regret it. Before asking for the translator, I used a word list and was able to confirm that it was my ancestor’s record. But I missed the fact that the record also listed the date and location of death for my ancestor’s father. With that, I was able to find his death record in less than an hour – and now have the father’s birth year and location as well. The translator’s work saved me hours of work.

Yet, I realize not everyone can afford a translator, which means online resources may be your best option. What are the best resources for translating genealogy records from French to English?

FamilySearch is probably your best starting point. The genealogical word list acts like a dictionary – but is limited to the words you would find in a record.

Translate.google.com Google‘s translation site will provide you with a very simplistic translation. Be aware, it is often inaccurate.

The online dictionary Word Reference is my favorite online resource. It requires you understanding word order, but it will offer the many possible meanings for your word.

Do you have other online resources?

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