As we have written many times before and will recapitulate here, the non-professional and local genealogy associations, or cercles, of France have been enormously helpful to any and all researching their family history. Primarily, and long before the Internet, members of the cercles have indexed the parish and civil registrations held in their local Departmental Archives. Sitting in the archives, with the original registers or peering at microfilm, page by page, hamlet by hamlet, great city by great city, they have written down all of the names and dates mentioned in the births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials. The results, known as the relevés, were published in booklets for each town. They were then labouriously entered into and made available as databases on Minitel, a defunct French precursor to the Internet. The relevés are now available via Geneabank and/or Bigenet. Even so, many of the cercles have more complete collections of relevés in their own offices and so, if possible, it is worth visiting them.
We had set our hearts on visiting the Cercle Généalogique de l'Aunis, which rather recently and amicably had divorced the Cercle Généalogique d'Aunis et Saintonge. It was not easy. For some days, we had been battling a clearly demented satellite navigation system that thought we were not in La Rochelle but, perhaps, in outer Rangoon or maybe Oslo. Her tinny, robotic voice would go into a panic and sputter "go left go right go left go right go left" at such speed that it was clear she had lost her electronic semblance of reason and we knew it would have meant death to follow her instructions. She would not be hushed. The address of the Cercle was on the outskirts of town. Smothering as best we could the mad voice -- which was still begging us to "go left go right go left go right" at a breakneck pace -- we got out a map and wended our way through some very dodgy neighbourhoods to arrive at what looked to be an abandoned school, its paint peeling and its walls graffiti-festooned.
Up the stairs and down the corridor, we entered spacious and somewhat minimalist offices, filled with cheerful members quick to jump to our research aid. As suspected, their own, ferociously protected database of relevés had much more detail than on Geneabank, and could be searched across many different kinds of detail. We frantically took notes of the results, for prints were not possible and photographs were forbidden. We complimented them on their work and expressed our admiration for their members' paleographic capabilities.
"Ah" Madame President smiled wisely. "We use software."
"There is software to read sixteenth century parish registers?" We asked, unaware and astonished and, we add with shame, also with a burst of uncontrollable desire for proof and possession. "Show us, please!"
"We use 'Snippy'. Just snip a few lines from the document, paste it into Word, then put the resultant text into Google translate and voilá." The computers were already being shut down. It was too late for her to show us, but she wrote down the procedure for us. Dear Readers, we did everything but turn our computer upside down, but there was no voilá moment for us. We do not doubt Madame President's veracity, but we cannot reproduce her results. Please, could any of you give it a try and let us all know the secret to this particular magic trick?
UPDATE: Many thanks to all of our Dear Readers who have written to explain to us how to use Google Translate or how to use Snippy. Forgive us; we have not been clear. The mystery surrounds neither the one nor the other, but how Madame President was able to get the two to work together, via Word. Essentially, she said that, by capturing an image of writing with Snippy and putting it into Word, the programme was able to transcribe the handwriting from an image which then could be put through Google Translate for refinement.
©2013 Anne Morddel