Genealogists love FamilySearch. I have spent many enjoyable hours searching for my ancestors on their free databases. As a way of giving back, I enjoy transcribing historical documents so that others can search for their ancestors. This is called indexing and projects are always available on the FamilySearch web site for volunteers to transcribe.
Not too long ago I chose an intermediate French indexing project on FamilySearch, to transcribe Belgium birth registrations. I now know that an intermediate level of difficulty may mean very difficult. I was able to decipher the names fairly easily, even the uncommon ones, such as Dieudonné. But I ran into difficulties with the dates.
The records I were transcribing were registered in 1798, smack in the middle of French Republican calendar and therefore the dates needed to be converted to the Gregorian calendar. The French Republican calendar, also known as the French Revolutionary calendar, was used by the French government for twelve years from late 1793 to 1805, and for 18 days by the Paris Commune in 1871. It was used in government records in France and other areas under French rule, including Belgium. The Republican calendar was one of the ways that the French government wanted to do away with the ancien regime after the French Revolution. The new calendar was created by a commission whose members were French intellectuals. Year I (roman numeral) was the first year of the Republic and each new year was set at midnight beginning on the day the autumnal equinox falls at the Paris Observatory. There were twelve months, each divided into three ten-day weeks called décades. The five or six additional days needed to complete the solar year were called complementary days. This calendar closely resembled the one developed by the ancient Egyptians. 1
Luckily, Family Search has a wiki page that explains how to convert the date on the French Republican calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The twelve months in the French Republican calendar are based the natural events that occur during the year. For example, vendémiaire is the grape harvest month. The Family Search wiki gives an example of how the date would be written out: The 13th of Pluviose in the seventh year. This means that this date is the 13th day of the rainy month in year seven of the French Republican calendar. Family Search then provides four calendars that provides the conversion into the Gregorian calendar depending on the French Republican calendar year.2
I had ten birth registrations to transcribe and it took me two and a half hours to complete. I spent quite a bit of time trying to understand the French Republican calendar. Looking on the Family Search site, I see that there are more civil registrations to transcribe in French but I will wait until I have a few hours ahead of me as once I start, I like to finish the batch.
Even though it is difficult and painstaking to convert the French Republican calendar dates to the Gregorian calendar, I enjoyed learning about this calendar. And, of course, it is always a thrill to know that you have connected the individuals in the historical records a little closer to their descendants.
- Wikipedia, French Republican Calendar, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Republican_calendar, accessed 8 September 2022.
- Family Search, French Republican Calendar, https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/French_Republican_Calendar, accessed 8 September 2022