Once in a great while, a genealogist will make a contribution to the field so
valuable that his or her name becomes synonymous with quality research and
resources. French-Canadian genealogists are lucky to have several individuals of
this caliber, such as Jetté, Tanguay, and Loiselle. One of the greatest
twentieth-century genealogists left a legacy that is still one of the basic
foundations for French-Canadian research: Joseph Drouin. Mention the name of
Drouin to genealogists with French-Canadian ancestors and they will invariably
be able to spout several major contributions without blinking an eye. However,
many people are probably unaware of the story of how this legacy came to be.
Joseph Drouin was born November 15, 1875, at Ste. Roch, the second child and
eldest son of Ferdinand Drouin and Marie _____. Ferdinand was an engineer and
sent his eldest son to the Seminary of St. Thérèse for his education. Young
Joseph was an outstanding student, receiving top marks in every class and
gaining a reputation for excellence that remained at the school for decades.
Joseph then moved on to McGill University where he studied law. He quickly
became a prominent lawyer, which allowed him to indulge his private
In 1899, Drouin began researching and selling compiled genealogies as a side
business in Montréal, which he named Les Généalogies Drouin enr. The
business was renamed L’Institut Généalogique Drouin in 1913. In
1912, his son, Gabriel, was born, and eventually joined his father in the family
Joseph Drouin worked at his passion for thirty-eight years, until his death
on October 6, 1937. During the course of his work, Joseph sold over fifteen
hundred family genealogies and compiled over five hundred thousand reference
sheets for French-Canadian genealogical research.
Gabriel continued his father’s work, and upon completion of his law education
at the University of Montréal, opened a headquarters for the Insitut at
4184 rue St. Denis in Montréal. Pictures of the headquarters can be seen below.
Gabriel soon set his sights on undertaking one of the largest French-Canadian
genealogical projects ever.
The Drouin Institute
In 1938, L’Institut Généalogique Drouin set about microfilming church
and civil records to document the history of French-Canadians. The Drouin
microfilm collection contains approximately sixty-one million records on over
twenty-three hundred reels of microfilm. These records represent information
from over three thousand parishes in Québec, Ontario, Acadia, Maine, New York,
Once filmed, workers at the institute abstracted the information in Roman
Catholic marriage records to create giant indexes. Microfilms were projected
onto screens where workers read each record and abstracted the information.
Below is a picture of the workers in the process of abstracting records.
Institute workers abstracting records
Records were grouped together in specific time frames. The earliest records
were published as a group in the Dictionnaire National des Canadiens Français
1608-1760. The marriage abstractions comprised two volumes. Below is an
example from the first volume concerning the marriage of Jean Boucher and Marie
Roy. On the left is the surname Boucher, followed by the first name of the
groom, Jean. Just beneath this are the names of his parents, Noêl and Anne
Deblois. In contrast to English women, French-Canadian females kept their maiden
names throughout their lives without taking their husbands’ names. Because
fathers are assumed to have the same surname as their sons, the groom’s surname
is not listed in the record.
Next is the bride’s name, Marie Roy. Beneath are her parents’ names, Augustin
and Marie Agathe Aubé. Beneath the bride’s parents’ names is a reference to
page 1195. This refers to the page number where the marriage of Augustin Roy and
Marie-Agathe Aubé is found.
Finally, on the right side of the page, the date and place of the marriage of
Jean Boucher and Marie Roy is listed. They were married 19 Janvier 1770 at St.
Vallier. The books are all written in French, but it is easy to understand the
Occasionally a second name will appear in the left column containing the
surname. The example below for Vincent Franche shows the name Laframboise. This
is a “dit” name. Vincent was known as “Vincent Franche dit Laframboise.” For
more information about dit names, refer to a previous article in this series,
“The Name Game – Tips for Finding the Real Names of French-Canadian Ancestors.”
The entries can also include titles, such as “Sieur” or “Seigneur.” Double
quotation marks are used to indicate the same surname as the previous entry. A
second set of double quotations will sometimes appear in the column, which
indicates that a dit name should be repeated from its previous entry (even if
the dit name appeared several names earlier). The example below from Joseph
Francoeur and Marie Geneviève Desrosier dit Lafrenière shows that the dit name
Brulé, which last appeared several entries earlier for Jacques Francoeur, also
applied to Joseph. He was Joseph Francoeur dit Brulé. The entry also shows that
dit names for females are hyphenated in the entries. Joseph Francoeur dit
Brulee’s wife is listed as M.-Geneviève Desrosiers-Lafrenière. M. is the
abbreviation for Marie. The hyphenated last name is a dit name. Her name would
be read as Marie-Geneviève Desrosier dit Lafrenière.
A third volume was compiled to complement the first two with historical
information about prominent individuals and families. At the end of the volume
are maps of the provinces of ancient France, as well as the departmentes
of modern-day France. Maps of Québec are also included, as well as several
paintings of life in old Québec. There are also dozens of facsimiles of original
signatures of individuals whose prodies are included in the book. At the very
end are blank pages to include notes, souvenirs, and other family information.
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.