Tips and Resources for Transcribing 18C Colonial Records in French

Notaries in colonial Louisiana made their records intentionally hard to read! They wrote for the small group of people in the colony who could read French, and they often used shorthand, abbreviations, and codes of their own invention. If you are new to paleography, these tips and resources might come in handy.

For an example of a complete and verified transcription and translation of a French record on From the Page, click HERE to see a 1728 record where Melun is accused of stealing bacon.

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View of a French record about a man called Melun, who was accused of stealing pieces of bacon in 1728, and its transcription on From the Page.


For step-by-step instructions on using From the Page and getting started transcribing French records, click HERE to see a PowerPoint tutorial.

Common words and phrases:

supplie humblement X: X humbly addresses his/her petition
greffier: (court-­‐)clerk
huissier: court-­‐bailiff
audiencier: usher
habitation: plantation
et ferez justice: and thus justice will be done
suppliant: petitioner
demandeur: plaintiff
deffendeur: defendant
partyes ouyes: having heard the parties
avec dépens: with the costs
ou il a esleu son domicille: where he is dwelling
habitant: settled in, dweller, settler
cy devant: heretofore, former
donner assignation: give writ of the summons
soussigné, signifié et baillé copie: undersigned, notified and delivered copy
ès mains/dans les mains de: in the hands of
permis d’assigner: license to assign
jour prefix: appointed date
procureur aux biens vacants: procurator of vacant estates
comme fondé de procuration de X: in his capacity as attorney for X
ce considéré: now that you know this
en la Chambre: in Court
les fins de la requête: the aims of the request
dont acte: duly noted

The following words are often found abbreviated:

livres (£)
par devant
dudit, de ladite, etc.

Choices made:

Texts are nearly unpuctuated: restitution of punctuation in the translation
No  separation  between  some  words  (quil,  lhabitation,  etc): restitution  in  the  transcription (qu’il,  l’habitation, etc)
Accents and hyphons rarely written in French: no restitution, except for the names (e.g. Nouvelle-­‐Orléans) Word missing or illegible: (( ))
A portion of text missing or illegible: ((…))
Some texts are very similar to each other, in particular the judicial records (judgments and court decisions), probably written by the clerk, and the returns on Council of notice to the parties written by the court-­bailiff, which often show the same phrases.

Call for Volunteers

The New Orleans Jazz Museum is looking for volunteers to help run its Colonial Documents Transcribathon on October 13, 2018 from 10AM to 10PM. The transcribathon has several interrelated goals and seeks volunteers with different skill sets.


1. INTRODUCE students and community members who are new to French and Spanish paleography, translation, or archival work to these activities.

2. PRODUCE open access transcriptions and translations of the records to help more people search, access, and use this collection for a wide range of research and teaching projects.

3. ENJOY a fun day that includes tours of the collections, invited speakers, music and other activities.


1. Volunteers who can help introduce participants to the collection, to transcription, and to From the Page, the transcription and translation platform we’ll use. These volunteers will need to have some experience or interest in French or Spanish paleography and will need to familiarize themselves with From the Page, the online platform we’ll use to transcribe and translate. The project page (which is in progress) is here: Volunteers with some experience in teaching or tutoring are especially welcome!

2. Volunteers who have some level of expertise or prior experience with French or Spanish paleography. These volunteers will help us transcribe and translate the records. They will also partner with new transcribers to share their knowledge and expertise.

3. Volunteers who can help welcome participants and direct them to activities of interest. These volunteers will sign in participants, help them with questions, and orient them toward the different transcribathon activity stations.

If you are interested in learning more about this event or in volunteering, please email to tell us more. We will be delighted to hear from you!