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Numbers

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Numbers


In French records, there are two main types of numbers used to express figures and dates. The most relevant one is the set of Arabic numbers, which are the ones most widely used today. These are usually easy to read, but some of them are sometimes confusing because their shape could be similar to other numbers, such as: 1 and 7, and 5 and 9.

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1

number1.png

2

number2.png

3

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4

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5

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6

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7

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8

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9

number9.png

The second group of numbers used in French records is the set of roman numerals. Even though they may show some variations from the ones still used today, they are also usually easy to read. The researcher must be aware of the common used of some lower case letters to represent the roman numerals, for example iii instead of III.

We recommend that the researcher check other records written by the same scribe to ensure the correct reading of a particular number. Check the chart of roman numerals below.

 
 
Currency
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From the time of Charlemagne until the French Revolution, currency was fluid in value but
consistent in names used. Two names appear most frequently: livres and francs. These came in
and out of use, and even existed concurrently with one another and with the ecu. They changed
in the standards on which they were based (gold or silver), in the values or weights by which
they were measured, and in their base of counting (dozen, then twenty, and finally a decimal
system in later centuries). Originally one livre was equal to one pound of silver. There were two
main different types of livres: the Parisis and the Tournois. Minted in multiple places, the livre
that was most consistent and of the highest quality in craftsmanship was the one made in Tours,
France, which became known as the livre tournois. The livre was generally the standard used
for accounting in all contracts in France but was abolished briefly from 1577 to 1602 when the
standard unit became a gold coin, the ecu.
 
The franc originated as ransom raised to free King Jean II from the English in 1360 A.D during
the Hundred Years War. The franc was the first coin minted that was worth one livre tournois.
Originally gold, it became silver from 1577 until 1641. The silver ecu, the franc, and livre
tournois all existed after 1641 and were used interchangeably. These were subdivided into 20
sous or sois for one franc or 240 denier tournois, hence 1 sous equalled 12 deniers tournois.
The monetary system based on a dozen existed up to the French Republic when in 1795 it was
switched to a decimal system with one franc equal to 10 decimes or 100 centimes. The Franc
was again revived in 1803 by the Empire as a gold coin with Napoleon on it, giving it the
nickname d’or Napoleon or gold Napoleon. With Napoleon’s fall in 1815, the system returned to
the decimal franc previously adopted by the Government of the Revolution.
 
For tables of various values for French currency over time and locality, see Memoire sur les
variations de la livre tournois depuis le regne de Saint-Louis by Natalis de Wailly (Paris:
Imprimerie Imperiale,1856.).
For further information:
About the franc, consult: Wikipedia French and Wikipedia Fench Franc
About the livre tournois, consult: Wikipedia Livre Tournois 
About the ecu, consult: Wikipedia Ecu
For assistance in converting values in French historical currencies found in documents, see: Historical Statistics Currency Converter
 
 
Calendar
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The French Republican Calendar

The calendar system in France has been changed several times. However, of those used in the last three hundred years, the French Republican Calendar is the most challenging for the researcher. You may also see it referred to as the French Revolutionary Calendar. When it was created and implemented by the Republic some records were backdated to the beginning of the French Republic on 22 September 1792, which was designated as the start of year 1 of the Republican Calendar.

The revolutionaries divided the year into twelve thirty-day months and named those months for occurrences in nature within those time frames. They then added five days at the end of the year that were made into feast days for the Republic. A leap year was supposed to occur every four years that had six end-of-the-year feast days. The first year beginning September 22, 1792 was designated as An 1, the next An 2, and so forth. This calendar only lasted for 13 years, from 1792 to 1806 when France, under Napoleon, returned to the Gregorian calendar used elsewhere in Europe. (For the month of May 1871 the Commune in Paris readopted the Republican Calendar.)

Months of the year in the Republican Calendar were:

Months of the year in the Republican Calendar
Months of Fall Months of Spring
Vendemiaire Grape Harvest  Germinal Germination (Seed, sprout, bud)
Brumaire Fog Floréal Flowering (Flowery)
Frimaire Hoarfrost Prairial Pasture (Prairie/Meadow)
Months of Winter Months of Summer
Nivôse Snowy  Messidor Harvest (Crop watcher)
Pluviôse
Rainy Thermidor (Fervidor) Heat (Thermal)
Ventôse
Windy Fructidor Fruit (Fruitful)

*The endings of the months group themselves into seasons, colored above for visualization.

Complémentaire Days

Complémentaire (complimentary) these are the extra five (or six in a leap year) feast days added to the end of the calendar. Each had its own name.


Complimentary Feast Days French Title English Translation
Premier - 1er Jour de la Vertu Day of Virtue
Deuxième – 2ème Jour du Génie Day of Genius
Troisième – 3ème Jour du Travail Day of Work
Quatrième – 4ème Jour de l'Opinion Day of Opinion
Cinquième – 5ème Jour des Récompenses Day of Recompense
*Sixième – 6ème Jour de la Révolution Day of Revolution

*This day was only seen on leap years.

Days of the Week

The revolutionaries also adopted names for the ten days of the week:

French Title English Translation
Primidi day one
Duodi day two
Tridi day three
Quartidi day four
Quintidi day five
Sextidi day six
Septidi day seven
Octidi day eight
Nonidi day nine
Decadi day ten

 

A researcher will need to know how dates were recorded under the Republican Calendar. They were usually written out in French or the local language in Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, as well as other areas ruled by the French government, such as Egypt, Malta, Reunion, Louisiana, Guiana, and some Caribbean islands. For example:

  • Le treizième jour du mois de Pluviôse l’an sept de la République Française (The 13th of Pluviose in the seventh year of the French Republic).

The years of the Republic were often designated by Roman numerals. For example:

  • 13 Pluviôse VII (13 Pluviose, seventh year of the Republic).

The jours complémentaires (complementary feast days) were recorded in two ways:

  • By the name of the feast.
    • Example: the feast day of Labor in the ninth year of the French Republic.
  • By the number (first, second, third, and so on) of the day.
    • Example: the third complementary day of the ninth year of the French Republic.

For information about the Republican Calendar go to The Republican calendar - napoleon.org and French Republican Calendar • FamilySearch. These sites contain conversion tables from the Republican Calendar to the Gregorian, valuable for genealogical data entry.