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NATCHITOCHES: Abstracts of the Catholic Church Registers of the French and Spanish Post of St. Jean Baptiste des Natchitoches in Louisiana: 1729-1803. Elizabeth Shown Mills 1977, 6 x 9, paper, Index, 507pp.
The Catholic registers of the parish of St. Francois are more than a mere list of births, marriages, and deaths. On their tattered and ink-blotched pages are chronicled the kaleidoscopic lives of the men and women who built this oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Whole families are followed through the decades as they extended themselves into the fringes of North Louisiana, yet remained within the jurisdiction of this vast parish. From the offspring settlements of Rapides, Bayou Pierre, and St. Louis des Caddodoches (near modern Shreveport) and from points as distant as Ouachita and Attakapas, the straying families returned to Natchitoches in quest of the sacraments.
As in most Catholic registers, the Natchitoches entries follow a basic form, hut within the confines of that form an infinite variety of information is to be found. Points of origin and parental information abound. More punctilious priests recorded occupations, nicknames, and more distant relationships. Principals and witnesses frequently penned their signatures or made their marks, leaving behind a silent but certain testimony on the state of literacy at the little post. Occasional Protestants renounced the religions of their births and made a Catholic Profession of Faith. Peons cited their ancestral origins as proudly as the rare noblesse. Alligators and assassins, treacherous currents and bolts of lightning appear as villains in the burial registers. Slaves and free nonwhites received the sacraments with regularity, illustrating the marked degree to which Catholic America treated nonwhites as spiritual equals.
The entries that are reproduced in this volume represent all known extant records from 1729 to 1803. They are edited translations, rather than complete translations, of the original French, Spanish, and Latin entries, but considerable care has been taken to include all information that might be of use to historians and genealogists. For the sake of brevity and preciseness, a few French or Spanish terms have been retained —— for example, those denoting exact racial composition and, of course, the standard dit and alias. For those readers not familiar with the terms used, a glossary is provided in the Appendix.
For the most part, the baptismal and marriage records seem to be complete for this colonial period, although a few chronological gaps do exist -- most notably the baptisms from 1770 to 1775, inclusive. Burial entries are far from complete. As the reader will soon discover, the chronological arrangement of the entries leaves much to be desired. Partly this results from the varied systems used by the priests who made these entries, and partly from the fact that the original books have been rebound in the past without proper reassimilation of loose pages. Individual pages and entries are not systematically numbered in the original; therefore the editor has chosen not to reproduce them. The numbering system used in these abstracts are numbers assigned by the editor. The order of the original entries and the separation of the volumes have been retained.