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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: French Canadian Ancestors by Louise St Denis. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Registration Of Births, Marriages And Deaths
Until the middle of the 20th century, births, marriages and deaths were recorded exclusively in parish registers through baptism, marriage and burial records.
From 1960, births and marriages were also recorded in civil registers.
The church records exist from the first half of the 17th century, the very beginning of the European (French) settlements in the St. Lawrence Valley. They were never interrupted by wars or by the transition from the French Regime to the English Regime in 1763.
The task of researching has been simplified because Catholic Church records were meticulously kept.
A few original records were destroyed by fire. In 1679 churches were required to record two original copies of all baptisms, marriages or burials.
Once a year, one copy was to be deposited in a regional Archive Centre. The other was to be kept at the church. Unfortunately not all churches followed this safeguard and some registers were again destroyed by fire.
A few of the church registers destroyed by fire include:
- Notre Dame in Québec from 1621 to 1640
- Contrecoeur including Verchères, Saint-Ours, Fort Saint-Louis and Chambly from 1687 to 1699
- Oka from 1721 to 1786
- Notre Dame in Hull prior to 1887
Church records prior to 1900 are housed at the regional National Archive Centres (Archives nationales du Québec). See their website.
The baptismal record for each child contains information about the birth of the child. The following information is included:
- the name of the child
- the date of birth and baptism
- the name of the godfather and godmother and their relationships to…
- the names of the parents
Marriage records include:
- the date of marriage
- the names of the bride and the groom, profession, age, previous spouse
- the names of the parents for both the bride and groom, parents place of residence
- names of witnesses to the marriage
Death records included:
- the name of the deceased, profession, age
- the date and location of the death
- the date and location of burial
- the names of either the spouse or parents
In Québec two important points should be remembered. First, death records for women are listed by their maiden names. Second, death records are usually recorded in the parish where the funeral has taken place.
A major change occurred on January 1st 1994 in Québec. Because of the law of privacy, researchers could no longer search the registers containing the information needed about events after 1900.
In anticipation of this change in the law, many volunteers indexed as much information as possible before the January 1st, 1994 deadline. Although they ran out of time, many indexes containing valuable information for researchers were compiled. These indexes, called répertoires de mariages, can be found in public and genealogical society libraries or in the Archive Centres.
The most important resource materials were compiled by many dedicated genealogists, the clergy and genealogical or historical societies. A large percentage of church records have been indexed and compiled in book form. There are also many large genealogical dictionaries that enable one to find French-Canadian ancestors quickly and easily.
Again thanks to many volunteers, some cemeteries have been indexed. You should enquire through a local library or society if an index exists for the cemetery of interest to you.
Registers of Civil Registration for the period prior to 1900 can be accessed on microfilm or by using the original registers if they have not been microfilmed. These can be found at the nine Archive Centres. Certain libraries also have the microfilms in their collections.
Those researching French-Canadian ancestors are thankful to the numerous individuals, volunteer and genealogical societies who have, through the years, systematically compiled Les Répertoires de mariages. It is through these books that most of our research information is found.
Individuals or societies would approach the priest of the parish to request permission to transcribe their church register to book format. After lengthy hours of transcribing all the entries from the church records, the information was usually filed alphabetically and then typed. The next step was to duplicate the material and then bind it into books.
The first events to be transcribed were the marriage records. Some compiled the baptismal and burial records at the same time. But you will find a much greater number of marriage répertoires than baptismal and burial répertoires. Now that most marriage records are compiled, volunteers are returning to complete the baptismal and burial records.
Consider the following when using these registers:
- You are not looking at a duplicate copy of the actual document. You are looking at a record that has been transcribed. It is important to remember that errors occur. Omissions also happen. You must use your detective skills to determine certain problem areas and then choose a different resource tool to confirm your findings.
- Individuals doing the transcribing were often faced with handwriting that was hard to read. Sometimes they had to use their own judgment to determine what was written.
- Some priests, recording the information in the first place, did not know how to spell, so they would write the information as it sounded.
- Since these books were compiled by many individuals and societies, consistency is simply not there. It is necessary to look at the index for abbreviations in each book and not assume that every book will be the same
- Some registers will have a separate section with alphabetical listings of men’s names and information and women’s names and information, while others will have the alphabetical listing of both listed together. Other registers will list in alphabetical order only the men’s names and information, the women’s names are then index at the back with a reference number taking them to the men’s name.
- Some registers, but very few, are in chronological order. Sometimes indexes are included.
- Some répertoires are just for one church. Others are for one city with several churches. And others have the information for the entire county. And occasionally a county répertoire will also have a parish just outside the county. So when you can’t find a specific church or town, check neighbouring counties.
An excellent book containing a list of all churches in Québec towns and cities, and indicating whether their baptismal, marriage or death registers have been transcribed, has been compiled. If a register exists, the author indicates the type of register and also which major library in Québec this register can be found in. The years included in the register are also indicated:
Fortin, Francine, and Micheline DaPrato, Guide des registres d’état civil du Québec, 1621-1993: catholiques protestants et autres dénominations / Guide to Québec’s parishes and civil registers, 1621-1993: catholic, protestant and other denominations (Montreal. Québec: Québec Family History Society, 1993).
Marriage Register - Sample page
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Research: French Canadian Ancestors offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
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