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Does a Baptism Date Imply a Date of Birth?

Baptism

We recently received an e-mail from Madame L asking:

"As I’ve been searching through Filae and Geneanet for records, there are times when I’ve found a baptism record but not a birth record for an ancestor. ...  My past practice has been to use the month and year of the baptism for the month and year of the birth. However, ... I’m not so sure if that's the right course to take.

I searched through the country of France section on the FamilySearch Wiki and found under the Church Records topic that infants whose families were of the Catholic faith were typically baptized two days after they were born.

My question is this: If I’m only able to find a baptism record for one of my ancestors, would it be best to put the word “about” followed by the baptism year for the birth year or to continue putting the month and year of the baptism for the month and year of the birth?"

We feel that this reveals the curse of genealogy software that is deeply ethnocentric. Ideally, one would like to be able to simply put the baptism date without have to guess as to the birth date. Usually, with such software, it is also not easy to enter an explanatory note about religious customs or ceremonies that can take place quite a bit later than a birth. For example:

  1. Anabaptists/Mennonites, of which there were and still are, many in Alsace, did not baptize their children until the children could understand and consent; this was often at about the age of 15 years.
  2. Catholics in small parishes typically baptized the child on the day of birth or the next day but many things could have caused that to be different: people on remote farms had to wait for an itinerant priest to pass by to baptize the children; wealthy families sometimes postponed the baptism (or performed a second baptism) until all could gather for a large celebration; and there were many other such situations that varied from FamilySearch's "typical" Catholics, baptized two days after birth.
  3. Some Protestants baptized in secret in their own religion, at times, and then, at a later date, had their children baptized as Catholics to ensure their full rights.
  4. Jewish people did not regularly baptize their children, of course, but boys were circumcised, normally within ten days of birth but, again, people in remote places had to wait for an itinerant rabbi to appear. Again, like Protestants, some Jewish people, especially in Bordeaux, had their children baptized in the Catholic Church, often years after birth, to ensure their full rights.
  5. Families that had left France and whose children were born outside of the country (such as émigrés, or colonials) often would have them all baptized anew in the French parish when they returned, and all entered into the civil registers as well, just to be sure. This could have been years after their births.
 
All of these examples could show a baptism date quite different from a birth date.
 
It is worthwhile to remember that, from 1792, with the advent of civil registration, Church registers of baptism ceased to have legal validity. Additionally, while civil registration of a birth became obligatory, baptism ceased to be so. Thus, after 1792,  the one replaced the other as legal records of identity. People could and did, of course, continue with religious ceremonies, but as France no longer had a state religion, those religious records were considered purely private and of no legal value.  On the whole, it is not necessary for the purpose of identity to search for baptism records where  civil birth records can be found. We explain more about the difference in an earlier blog post here.
 
Coming back to the original question of how to note a date of birth based on a baptism, we repeat one of the many golden rules of genealogy: Never Assume. If you do not have a birth date, you must not invent or guess one. If you have a baptism date, note it as what it is: a date of baptism only. Do not try to make a baptism equal a birth.
 
We have spoken.
 
©2022 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy

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