French-Canadians and their Franco-American descendants interested in
genealogy are very lucky indeed. The records of Québec are among the best in the
world. With the exception of minor rebellions, no major war has been fought on
Québec soil since the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in the mid-eighteenth
century. Because of diligent reporting practices, most parish registers have
survived. And major genealogical research has been conducted for over a
Civil registration of vital records in the province
of Québec did not begin until 1994. Prior to that time, the churches were
required to keep duplicate copies of their registers and send them to the civil
authorities as the official record of births, marriages, and deaths in the
province. The Catholic Church was the first denomination to record these events.
After the English took control of Canada, other denominations were added
incrementally starting with the Anglican Church. The great majority of
French-Canadians, however, were Catholic.
While these records were supposed to be indexed every year, not every parish
followed this procedure. Some of the indexes were prepared in order by page
number, rather than alphabetically. Thus it is necessary to go through the
entire index name by name to find individuals you are looking for. Page numbers
in Québec refer to the front and back of a page, rather than facing pages as
they might in the United States. When scrolling through microfilm images, you
will often need to look at two consecutive images to view the entire page.
Québecois naming patterns are important in utilizing these records. Men were
often baptized as Joseph and women as Marie. In addition, French-Canadian women
by tradition kept their maiden names throughout their lives. Even on their death
records, women were recorded by the name they carried at birth.
The copy of the parish registers that the churches sent to the provincial
government is known as the Registre d'État Civile. Those registers prior
to 1900 are available at the branches of the Archives Nationales de Québec or at
the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (and also, of course, through your
local Family History Center or NEHGS).
It is important when you are researching in microfilms of parish registers to
note whether you are looking at the original parish register or the Registre
d'État Civile. The original parish records were kept for tracking sacraments
in the Catholic Church, and nearly all followed the same format. The names of
the individuals were written on the left side of the page with the details of
the sacrament on the right, which again included the name of the individual. In
the margin under the person's name are often notes written by the parish priest.
These marginal notes can contain extremely valuable information for your
research. For example, a marginal note recorded prior to my grandmother's
baptismal record in the parish of St. Norbert d'Arthabaska stated that the
infant's grandmother, my great-great grandmother, was at Sanford, Maine. This
was the first indication in the history of my research that placed her at
Sanford, and it allowed me to find a marriage record that had eluded me for over
seven years! These marginal notes, which are in the original parish registers,
are only rarely transferred to the Registre d'État Civile.
The Drouin Institute
The Drouin Institute
in Montréal began conducting genealogical research in 1899 and continued
collecting, transcribing, and selling records and family genealogies for many
years. In the 1940s they microfilmed the registers of every parish in the
province, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. The Drouin Institute folded
in the late 1990s and their holdings were sold to the American-French Genealogical Society
in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. In 1999, AFGS agreed to sell copies of these
microfilms to NEHGS, and they remain the only two repositories in the United
States where the entire collection is available.
After microfilming of the parish registers was completed, the Drouin
Institute abstracted the marriage records from all of the Catholic churches.
These records include the names of the individuals who were to be married, as
well as the names of their parents. If one of the parties was married
previously, the name of the previous spouse appears instead of the names of the
parents. Drouin created two master indexes of marriages; one by groom and one by
bride. They are indexed by surname, then by first name, then by surname of
spouse. The names of the parents and/or previous spouse, and the date and place
of marriage are also included in the index. These indexes are in three series
and cover the period 1608-1930. The first series covers 1608-1760 and is
available in book form. The second series covers 1760-1880, and the third
1881-1930. These are now available on microfilm in the NEHGS microtext
Pére Cyprien Tanguay and the Dictionnaire Généalogique des Familles
Canadiennes depuis la Fondation de la Colonie Jusqu'à nos
Father Tanguay (1819-1902) was a Catholic priest who studied
the parish records of early families in Québec. He compiled genealogies of the
early families through the mid-eighteenth century. He published the first volume
of Dictionnaire Généalogique des Familles Canadiennes depuis la Fondation de
la Colonie Jusqu'à nos Jours in 1871, and published six additional volumes
over the next twenty years.
Father Tanguay's work separates individuals
by generation into family groups. The information includes dates and places of
marriage as well as names of children, including their dates and places of birth
and baptism. The families are in alphabetical order by surname of the
husband/father. Because there may be more than one individual with the same name
in the same generation, it is often necessary to scrutinize the entries of
several families before finding the correct ones.
In addition to these several volumes, Arthur LeBeouf published a volume of
additions and corrections to Tanguay in his Complément au Dictionnaire
Généalogique Tanguay (1957). In addition to re-examining the parish records
published by Tanguay, LeBeouf researched additional sources to supplement the
René Jetté and the Programme de Récherche en Demographie
René Jetté is often considered the father of modern
French-Canadian genealogy. With a grant from the Québec government, this
professor at the University of Montréal started the Programme de Récherche in
Demographie Historique (PRDH). The PRDH examined original parish registers,
early census records, hospital records, abjuration records, marriage contracts,
and other records to create a picture of the early immigrants of New France.
Over the course of time, the PRDH published abstracts of these records in a
series of volumes covering the years 1608-1765. These books are separated into
different time periods and the records of each place examined are kept together
and indexed individually. There is also a master index for each time period. In
1999, the PRDH published a CD-ROM covering the time period 1766-1799, and
subsequently released a second CD-ROM containing all of the earlier materials.
In 1983, Jetté published the most important book in French-Canadian
genealogical research since Tanguay's work a century earlier. The
Dictionnaire généalogique des familles du Québec des origines à 1730,
published by the University of Montréal, contains biographies of all families in
New France through about 1730. In addition to the primary sources mentioned
above, Jetté utilized over thirty previously published works to add to the
biographies. The work is published entirely in French, but most records are very
easily translated. Jetté also suggests over a hundred other secondary sources to
use for additional research.
These are the basics you will need to begin researching your French-Canadian
ancestors. While many of the sources are in French, most can be translated with
little difficulty. Once you have started and get used to the intricacies of the
various resources, you should easily be able to work your way through them.