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  • Québec Resources at NEHGS

    Published Date : April-May 1991
    All along the northern boundary of New England, from the tip of Maine to Grand Isle, Vermont, stretches Québec - a land as immense, ancient and complex as it is beautiful.  Many northern New Englanders find it easier to shop in Montréal, Sherbrooke or Québec City than in Boston.  New England beaches are preferred summer vacation spots for Québecers, while winter months find many in Santa Monica, California, or along Florida’s gulf coast.  Our northern neighbor has a rich and diverse history as well as a surprisingly varied population.

    While the original base of Québec’s current population of nearly 6,000,000 people were a few thousand habitants, flues du roi, premiers colons, and soldiers, other etlmic groups have joined French-Canadians from the start to produce their part of the “Canadian mosaic.”  Ancient Irish colonists, New England captives and Acadians in the early period were soon followed by Mantimers and more Acadians, Hebridean Scots and English settlers, plus Loyalists of various ethnic backgrounds from different American states.  The large migration to the Eastern Townships, Montréal, and the Ottawa River Valley of New England farmers and businessmen has given “L’Estrie” a Yankee flavor.  More recently, the cities have attracted people from all over the world, producing large Italian, Egyptian and Greek communities in Montréal, which is now (after Paris) the world’s second-largest French-speaking city), though only some 80% of Montreal’s population is French-Canadian.

    While modern and sophisticated, Québec province preserves many of its old ways, especially outside large cities.  A trip to Québec is incomplete without a stay in Québec City, its capital, where massive restoration of historic buildings and sites has made this most ancient city in North America possibly the most picturesque as well.  After a day’s research in the Archives nationales du Québec, what better way to spend an evening than to take a leisurely horse-drawn calèche through the narrow streets of the Old Town and then rest for the night at the Château Frontenac, which dominates the landscape, or in a quiet tourist pension?  Regional branches of the Archives are located around the province, and hold records for local areas.  Typically your research will take you to more than one repository.  Nevertheless, the trip should start here at NEHGS.

    As is true for all of Canada, we have in print or on microform the surviving censuses for all Québec from the beginning through 1891 (the 1901 census will be released in 1993), as well as the rare List of Lands Granted by the Crown in the Province of Québec from 1763 to 31st December 1890(1891), arranged both alphabetically and geographically.  Those of Acadian descent will be interested in Bona Arsenault, Histoire et Genealogie des Acadiens (6 vols. plus index), and in Adrien Bergeron, Le Grand Arrangement des Acadiens au Québec (8 vols, 1981), as well as the now-defunct periodical French Canadian and Acadian Genealogical Review.

    Descendants of French-Canadian families known to have come from a particular area may want to check F.L. Desaulniers, Les Vieilles Familles d’Yamachiche (2 vols., 1898), as well as Frère Eloi-Gerard Talbot’s monumental Recueil de Genealogies des Comtés de Beauce-Dorchester-Frontenac, 1628-1946 (11 vols., nd.), and Généalogie des Families Originaires des Comtés de Montmagny - L’lslet-Bellechasse (16 vols., n.d.).

    Added to the classic work of Msgr. Cyprien Tanguay, Dictionnaire des Families Canadiennes (7 vols., 1871-90 repr. 1982) is the excellent work of René Jetté, Dictionnaire Généaiogique des Families du Québec (abstracts, arranged by family, of parish register information and other primary source material, 1983), and the outstanding Repertoire des Actes de Baptême, Mariage, Sépulture et des Reccnsements du Québec Ancien (1980-), now in 47 volumes, by Hubert Charbonneau and Jacques Légare.  Since these works often end in the mid-eighteenth century, the task of an American of French-Canadian descent is often to bridge the gap from what he or she now knows to records abstracted in the above works.

    To this end, the very large number of published marriage “répertoires” may be of use; there are many more than what we have in our collection, and we hope soon to acquire these hard-to-find and/or expensive works.  Any assistance in this regard will be greatly appreciated. In making the connection between America and Canada, the Fichier Loiselle (or Loiselle Marriage Index, on microfiche) may lead you to the correct parish.  Though not complete, it covers some 540 Roman Catholic parishes, most in Québec (others are in New Brunswick, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts).

    Numerous printed sources, long available but rarely used, contain much useful data.  The indefatigable Pierre Georges Roy combed through the Archives of Québec compiling and publishing many classes of records.  Among his many works at NEHGS are Inventaire des Contrats de Mariage du Régime Français Conservés aux Archives Judiciaires de Québec (6 vols., 1937-38); Inventaire des Procès Verbaux des Grands Voyers (6 vols., 1923), the very informative surveyors’ records for early Québec; and Inventaire des Concessions en Fief et Seigneunie (6 vols., 1927-29). It is [55] also worthwhile to check the multi-volume Rapport de l’Anchiviste de la Province de Québec; references may be found to government documents, marriage contracts, etc.  Your ancestor may also appear in Leonard Bouchard, Morts Tragiques et Violentes au Canada -  17e et 18e Siècles (2 vols., 1982), or in one of 59 remarkable colonial court cases transcribed and published in a series known familiarly as the “Procès.”

    In Québec, which follows the French legal system, deeds, probate records, marriage contracts, depositions, and other matters were recorded by the notary who drew up the documents and noted them in his books. Such books contain original signatures. and for the most part have been made available in recent years on many thousands of microfilm reels.  These microfilmed notarial books are generally not indexed; consequently you should have at least a rough idea of the geographical area and period of the in which a search is required.  You must also know which notaries operated in that the and place.  For the early period, many such documents have been published in the series Inventaine des Gneffes des Notaires du Régimes Français (21 vols., 1942-64).  There are also the fine books by Hélène Lafortune and Norman Robert, Inventaine des Minutes Notariales de Thomas Bédand 1808-1858 (1982); Jacques-Eugene Daguilhe 1749-1783 et de Regis Loisel 1772-1774 (2 vols., 1984).  NEHGS has many microfilmed notarial records, particularly for the Eastern Townships and other areas with significant New England connections.

    We are constantly adding single-family genealogies to the library collection.  Many rare, out-of-print volumes appear on the market, and we purchase such books as we hear of them.  This collection is growing quickly, as are our holdings of Québec local histories (many also long out of print).  Periodicals of interest at NEHGS include Je me souviens (journal of the American French Genealogical Society), and the Mémoires de la Société généalogique Canadienne-Française.  Note also the eleven volumes to date of Thomas J. Laforest, Our French Canadian Ancestors, (1983-) as well as Joy Reisinger’s magazine Lost in Canada?

    If you wish to pinpoint European origins of French-Canadian ancestors, check Normand Robert, Nos Origines en Frances des Débuts à 1825 (4 vols., 1984-88), the works by Charbonneau and Légaré noted above, the classic Les Filles du Roi en Nouvelle-France by Silvio Dumas (1972), and Elmer Courteau and Joy Reisinger, The King’s Daughters, rev. ed. (1988).

    Descendants of Irish immigrants in Québec (of whom there were more than one might think) must read the excellent chapter in volume I of The Untold Story: The Irish in Canada (2 vols., 1988) by Robert O’Driscoll and Lorna Reynolds.  Chapter IV, “The Irish in Québec,” has several truly indispensable articles.  Even those who don’t think they have Irish ancestors in Québec should read this material.

    After the Peace of 1763, the British Crown deliberately kept the Eastern Townships region unpopulated as a sort of “buffer zone” between British North America and populous New England, which tended to cast covetous glances at open territory in any direction.  But with a tremendous increase in the French-Canadian Catholic population (to some extent due to the Church’s quiet policy known unofficially as “La revenge du berceau” [The Revenge of the Cradle], the British government decided it would be prudent to have English-speaking Protestants in the area.  Thus in 1791 the whole Eastern Townships region was thrown open to settlement by New Englanders, who flocked into the area from all six states.  Many of them, or their children or grand-children, moved to present-day Ontario, then known as Upper Canada or Canada West (to distinguish it from Lower Canada or Canada East, now called Québec), to western New York, Ohio, Michigan, etc.  For many Americans with origins on the East Coast, the “missing link” may in fact be found in Québec!  Ancestors with New England names are often hard to trace beyond Ohio or New York State, but may actually be found in records in the Eastern Townships.  While the majority of “American” settlers came into Québec between 1791 and 1820, many earlier people from New York and Pennsylvania moved through the Mohawk Valley into the area around Lake Champlain’s northern tip; a settlement was there by 1784.  Some data on these people survive in the records of various Montréal notaries and in church registers of the Anglican church in Sorel on the St. Lawrence River - as well as those registers called “La Baie Missiskuoi” filed with records of the District of Bedford.

    Since the beginning, each religious denomination in Québec was supposed to keep a register of baptisms, marriages and burials; each year a copy was to be sent to Québec City.  While Catholic registers are relatively complete, the early years of Protestant congregations in Québec seem to be missing in almost every case.  Surviving registers have been arranged alphabetically (by denomination) for each judicial district, and microfilmed.  We have most of the first series (through the end of 1879) and will add a newly released series covering the years 1880-1899 when filming of these latter is complete.

    let is important in Québec, as elsewhere, to know the judicial boundaries and district names for different periods, as boundaries often changed.  A good map at the beginning of the first reel of the 1825 Québec census shows then-extant township and judicial-district boundaries.  One surprising feature of both church registers (which frequently carry original signatures) and notarial records is the use throughout life on legal documents of a married woman’s maiden name.  And in the case of land records, researchers will customarily find the name of the notary involved in the previous deed of the property, the date of last sale, and the document number - allowing one to trace the chain of title.  The hard part is finding at least one deed for the person in question; after that, use of these records becomes easier.  A two-volume index for marriages in the District of Saint-François (1815-1879) was compiled by La Société de généalogie des cantons de l’Est, Inc., but other Protestant records are unindexed.  Leon Lalanne, one of the earliest notaries in the Eastern Townships, left very detailed records from [56] the 1790s to the mid-nineteenth century, plus an index. Checking there first could save much the.

    The Eastern Townships have several active local historical societies, with numerous ongoing projects.  Stanstead County has copied all its cemetery records, while the Stanstead, Brome and Missisquoi Historical Societies publish annual local-history journals, all at NEHGS.

    A relatively unused source is the “Declarations of Aliens,” on one reel of microfilm.  In 1794 all alien persons in the Townships, most of whom lived around the northern tip of Lake Champlain, were required to file depositions stating their age, place of birth, place of previous residence, current place and length of residence (and reason), and occupation.  Such documents are a gold mine.  A last, under-used source of great importance are the Lower Canada Land Papers, on 79 reels of film, with an every-name index on 18 more reels.  While these papers are concerned (in one way or another) with land grants and applications, they include many depositions giving lineages and biographical data.  Checking the index for names is easy; records are keyed to a document number, marked on the microfilm box.  On your next visit to the library, be sure to use this source, as you may find some surprises.

    Many of us are connected to Québec only through descent from a New England captive (many of whom remained in Québec and married there, leaving descendants, while others such as Esther Wheelwright, grand-daughter of the famous Rev. John Wheelwright and herself Mother Superior of the Ursulines in Trois-Riv-ères. entered the religious life).  This colorful period in New England history is splendidly covered by such classics as True Stories of New England Captives by C. Alice Bakem (1897) and Emma Lewis Coleman, New England Captives Carried to Canada (2 vols., 1925, repr. 1989).  For a glimpse of primary sources on captives, see Jetté, as above.

    Whether your Québec forebears were French, Acadian, Irish, Scottish, New England Yankee, Loyalist or other, our collection has much to offer.  On your next visit to NEHGS, please consult either Jerome Anderson in the Reading Room, or George Sanborn on the fourth floor, about your research.  We will be glad to help. -GFS

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