More than a century after Augustin Giroir and his wife, Elizabeth Montet, welcomed the first of their two sons named Augustin into the world, the birth record can be downloaded with a click of a computer mouse.
Little Augustin Andre Edouard Giroir was born on Aug. 3, 1904 — most likely at home — in a rural part of south Louisiana. He was a day old when his godparents, Moderant Montet and Louise Giroir, took him to the Catholic church in Plattenville to be baptized.
It would be another 14 years before the state required the registration of births. A record of Augustin Andre Edouard’s birth exists only because a Catholic priest dutifully scrawled the information into a church register.
The register eventually found its way into a temperature-controlled vault in Baton Rouge. Now it’s on Amazon — in abstract form with the parents’ and babies’ names, birth and baptism dates and godparents’ names — and available for download onto a Kindle.
After years of publishing sacramental records in hardbound volumes, the Diocese of Baton Rouge is turning to technology. The goals are to cut costs, reach modern day genealogists and grapple with the population boom of the 1900s.
“Most people are after the information. That’s why you’re buying (the books). You’re not buying them because they’re beautiful books you want to put on the shelf,” said Ann T. Boltin, archivist at the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
The hardbound, red-covered volumes cover the years 1707 to 1900. They include baptisms, marriages and burials. The earliest records are in Volume 1A. In that slim volume, the church printed the fragile Grand Pre registers that the Acadians scooped up when the British expelled them from Nova Scotia in the 1700s.
The Acadian records are an exception. Most of the volumes simply cover the parishes within the diocese’s footprint — including Ascension, Assumption, Pointe Coupee, Iberville and East Baton Rouge — not church records created centuries ago in another country.
Volunteers decipher the handwriting, which often was bad. Through their research, they get a glimpse into the village scandal sheets. Priests noted which babies were born outside of wedlock and which parishioners fell off their horses and died.
Nearly a handful of the old hardbound volumes now are out of print. Volume 4, covering the years 1820 to 1829, contains 4,328 baptisms, 1,003 marriages and 2,401 burials from Ascension, Assumption, Pointe Coupee, Iberville, St. James and East Baton Rouge parishes. It’s now available through Kindle or in paperback.
Once the diocese’s archives division cracked open the registers for the 1900s, it became apparent that more records would have to migrate to electronic books or paperbacks. Immigration boomed in America in the early 1900s, and Louisiana wasn’t immune.
Italians and Sicilians settled in southeast Louisiana. Among them were Rosario Alello and his wife, Carmela Castiglia. Both were born in Italy and settled in Louisiana. Between 1901 and 1905, the couple welcomed three children: Domenico, Gaspare and Rosalia. The births were recorded in the diocese registers.
Boltin’s mother-in-law, Billie, believes her great-grandfather Luigi Bisi or Bizi emigrated to Louisiana from Sicily or northern Italy. Luigi was ahead of the 1900s-era wave of immigrants. He left his native country about 1860.
“He couldn’t read or write, but he spoke French and Italian. He came here on a schooner,” Billie Boltin said.
Billie Boltin started tracing her family through the diocese records and later became a volunteer. Two to three times a week, she opens a register and takes notes that will become an electronic record. “I’ve been doing it eight years, at least, because the bishop gave me a five-year pin,” she said.
Volume 22 took the diocese records to 1900. Between 1899 and 1900, the diocese celebrated 5,295 baptisms, a thousand more births than over the 9-year span between 1820 and 1829 in Volume 4.
“We finished Volume 22 a couple years ago, and that was going to be the end of the series. We knew when we hit 1900 that was going to be the end of the series because of the population explosion,” Ann Boltin said.
One of the baptisms recorded in Volume 22 was that of Lucille Grace in 1899. She was born to Frederick Grace and his wife, Mary. Lucille would grow up to become the first woman to win statewide office in Louisiana. Some records show her birth year as 1900, but the baptismal, passport and census records mark it as 1899.
Publishing a hardbound book of records costs between $8,000 and $10,000. The diocese wasn’t recouping its costs. Profits are needed to help preserve irreplaceable records. Another problem was that births, marriages and burials no longer could fit into one volume. There were just too many records after 1900.
Then Ann Boltin and her staff discovered they could publish an e-book for a couple hundred dollars.
“It was a no-brainer,” Ann Boltin said. “If we’re going to continue to publish, this is the way we’re going to have to get the information out.”
The diocese is offering two options for new publications and out-of-print hardbound books: Researchers can buy a Kindle version for about $9.99, or a paperback version, which costs roughly $20. Both versions are available through amazon.com.
Diocese records from 1820 to 1829 and baptisms from 1901 to 1905 as well as Pointe Coupee Parish records for individuals without surnames — mostly slaves — now are available on Kindle. With a Kindle application, the books can be downloaded onto iPads.