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  • Advanced Sources for French-Canadian Research

    Michael J. Leclerc

    Québec is a goldmine of genealogical records. A previous column, titled " Introduction to French-Canadian Research ," covered the basic sources - the Drouin indexes, Tanguay's Dictionnaire Généalogique des Familles Canadiennes, and Jetté's Dictionnaire Généalogique du Québec. Once you have mastered these essential materials it is time to look at additional resources. Church records, census records, periodicals, and websites all contain extensive information to assist you in your research. While many of these sources are in the original French, knowing a basic list of words is often enough to help you decipher the information of value to you.

    Church Records
    Civil registration of church records in the province of Québec did not begin until the 1920s. Prior to that time the churches in the province were required to maintain books of baptisms (births), marriages, and burials (deaths), and send copies of each book to the government. The books were kept as a record of the vital statistics in the province. Fortunately, the records for most Roman Catholic parishes survive from their beginnings. Many of the churches in the Protestant denominations did not start keeping records immediately, making it more difficult to trace those individuals.

    The first census to be taken in Québec was done by the Intendant Jean Talon in 1666. Other censuses were taken in 1825, 1831, and 1842, but it was not until 1851 that the pattern of decennial censuses was established. The first dominion census was taken in 1871 after Confederation in 1867. The census has been taken every ten years since. Records through 1901 are open to the public. They are available at NEHGS or through interlibrary loan from the National Archives of Canada.

    While certain individuals and organizations have begun indexing the Canadian censuses, they are for the most part unindexed. Fortunately, most towns outside of the major cities of Québec, Montréal, and Trois-Rivières are not very large and it does not take long to go through the entire town page by page.

    Notarial Records
    The records of Québec's notaries are perhaps the richest source of material on your French-Canadian ancestors outside of the parish registers. Notaries in Québec are different from notaries in the United States. In Québec they handle all aspects of contract law, including marriage contracts, which were a requirement for marriage in the province until the 1960s. Employment contracts, land sales, wills, inventories, donations, and sales contracts are among the more valuable records.

    Another important reference is the Répertoire des Actes de Baptême, Mariage, Sépulture, et des Recensements du Québec Ancien published by the Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique. This forty-seven volume set, commonly referred to as the PRDH, abstracts information from early parish registers (including the names of godparents, witnesses, clergy, and others) as well as early census and hospital records.

    The PRDH has been produced on CD-ROM for the period 1621-1799. It can be viewed at the NEHGS Research Library in Boston. It is also available for purchase from the PRDH for $935 Canadian (which is approximately $580 U.S.). Their sales department can be reached at (450) 449-7886. An online subscription can also be purchased through their websitefor a rolling fee.

    Archives Nationales de Québec Publications
    In the first half of the twentieth century, archivist Pierre-Georges Roy oversaw the publication of several series of books on historical documents of Québec. The Inventaire des Contrats de Mariages du Regime Français Conservés aux Archives Judiciaires de Québec. This book abstracts many of the early marriage contracts in Québec, providing valuable information on parents' names that may have been left out of the parish registers.

    Inventaire des Jugements et Deliberations du Conseil Superieur de la Nouvelle France de 1717 a 1760 contains records of many who went before the Sovereign Council in the colony. The Inventaire des Proces-Verbaux des Grands Voyers Conserves aux Archives de la Province de Québec has records of a number of legal depositions and other testimony. The Inventaire des Concessions en Fief et Seigneurie Fois et Hommages et Aveux et Denombrementsconserves aux Archives de la Province de Québec has records of many land transfers.


    The following periodicals also contain a great deal of useful genealogical information:

    The French Canadian and Acadian Genealogical Review published by the Centre Canadiens des Recherches Généalogiques is an English language publication. It was published from 1968 through 1981.

    The Mémoires de la Societé Généalogique Canadienne-Française from the Societe Genealogique Canadienne-Francaise has been published since 1944. This publication is written in French.

    Je Me Souviens is the publication of the American French Genealogical Society in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. It contains many articles on French-Canadians and their Franco-American descendants, specializing in those who came to New England.

    Lost in Canada was published from 1973 to 1994 by Joy Reisinger of Sparta, Wisconsin. It includes many valuable articles on French-Canadians in North America. One of the most interesting is a series of articles on French-Canadians who supported the rebels in the American Revolution. Proof of descent from one of these individuals may allow one to join the Daughters of the American Revolution or Sons of the American Revolution lineage societies, even though one has no ancestors from the English colonies!

    Lifelines is the journal of the Northern New York American-Canadian Genealogical Society in Plattsburgh, New York. Articles include genealogies, queries, and the latest websites for French-Canadian research.

    Miscellaneous Published Sources

    Nos Ancetres is a series of volumes published by Gerard Lebel, C.S.R. and Thomas La Forest. Currently up to twenty-eight volumes, each contains a brief profile of the life of an early colonist, a list of family members, known dit names (nicknames that differentiated individuals with the same last name) and other name variations, and (most importantly) end notes with citations to the sources used to produce each profile.

    Normand Robert and the Societe de Recherche Historique Archiv-Histo are publishing a series of volumes entitled Nos Origines en France des debuts a 1825. Twelve volumes have so far been published in this series, with each book focusing on a particular region of France. Within each regions are brief descriptions of the hometown followed by a list of all immigrants from that particular town.

    Marcel Fournier's Les Europeens au Canada des Origines a 1765 (Québec: Editions du Fleuve, 1989) is a fascinating title dealing with immigration from many different countries in Europe. The first part contains historical and statistical information on immigration, while the second part contains brief biographies of these immigrants.


    Cyndi's List
    Archives National de Québec
    National Archives of Canada
    National Library of Canada
    Project Genweb de Québec

    Word Lists
    The following word lists will assist you in your research. These are basic words that appear in many different types of records. Knowledge of these, along with a French-English dictionary, will greatly assist you in your research.


    French French Abbreviation English
    Janvier Janv January
    Fevrier Fev February
    Mars Mar March
    Avril Avr April
    Mai Mai May
    Juin Juin June
    Juillet Juill July
    Aôut Aôut August
    Septembre Sept or 7bre September
    Octobre Oct or 8bre October
    Novembre Nov or 9bre November
    Decembre Dec or 10bre December

    Common Terms in French-Canadian Records

    French English French English
    an(s) year(s) mariage marriage
    baptisé baptised marrain godmother
    cette this mére mother
    cimetière cemetery m or mineur minor
    corps body moi(s) month(s)
    de of né or née born
    décédé died ne savoir signer did not know how to sign their name
    def or defunt deceased oncle uncle
    et and parrain godfather
    feu late (deceased) paroisse parish
    fille daughter pére father
    fils son sauvage savage (Indian)
    hier yesterday sauvagesse savagess (Indian)
    illégitime illegitimate sépulture burial
    inconnue forgotten sic as shown in original
    indien(ne) Indian St or Saint Saint (male)
    inhumé buried Ste or Sainte Saint (female)
    jour(s) day(s) la veille the day before
    legitime legitimate vf or veuf widower
    M or majeur of age vve or veuve widow


    French English French English French English
    un one onze eleven trente thirty
    deux two douze twelve quarante forty
    trois three treize thirteen cinquante fifty
    quatre four quatorze fourteen soixante sixty
    cinq five quinze fifteen soixante-dix seventy
    six six seize sixteen quatre-vingt eighty
    sept seven dix-sept seventeen quatre-vingt-dix ninety
    huit eight dix-huit eighteen cent one hundred
    neuf nine dix-neuf nineteen mil one thousand
    dix ten vingt twenty    

    Note: Dates are often written out in long form e.g.: Mil Huit Cent Soixante Dix-Huit = One Thousand Eight Hundred Seventy-Eight = 1878

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