Because the past is a foreign country, you will need maps. Not just modern road maps, but maps of the period you are researching, ones that show the political divisions (townships, counties, judicial districts) and at least one relief map that shows the hills, lakes and river valleys that divide Québec into its geographic regions.
Because someone was born or spent some years in one of the above regions does not mean they remained there. The “English” moved for many reasons: to avoid seigneurial land, to find a better farm, nicer apartment, cheaper flat, lower taxes, better access to schools, or jobs. Half the battle is in tracking the family you are researching from one census to the next.
- 1 Topographical
- 2 Historic
- 3 Useful Reference Works
- 4 Books and Bibliography
- 5 County Boundary Maps
A particularly useful set of maps for Canada are the National Topographical Series of 1:50,000 (approximately 1.25 inches to a mile) prepared in the 1950s. Based on Military Surveys of 1909-1917, they were revised after World War II using an R.C.A.F. Aerial Survey of 1950. Every building is shown, churches, schools, sawmills and cemeteries are identified, every road passable or otherwise, railroads, and quite a few abandoned rail tracks. When they were prepared at the end of World War II, one-room schools and old farms were still standing and it is possible to locate things on these maps that have now been swallowed by highway bypasses and vacation developments.
This series of maps is no longer available from the government, but you should find them in most University Map Collections or Geography Departments. There are other topographical maps available for many specific area, similar to these maps. Look for a scale at least 1:250 000 (1 cm = 2.5 km/1 inch to approx. 4 miles); better yet 1: 50 000 (2 cm = 1 km/ 1¼ inch to 1 mile).
Another useful series of maps is that issued by the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives. Their “Historic facsimile maps” range from those of the earliest explorations (e.g. Champlain in 1653), to early 20th century. For genealogists, some early Québec maps will prove useful in census research.
| Map’s #
|| A New Map of Upper and Lower Canada, from the Latest Authorities (John Cary) 1808.|
|| Montréal (Waterlow and Sons, Lith.) 1859.|
|| Parish Montréal (H.W. Hopkins) .|
|| A New Map of the Province of Lower Canada (Samuel Holland) 1802.|
|| Map of Québec and its Environs, from Actual Survey 1822. John Adams. [London], 1826. |
|| Map of the Township of Ascot A.H. Whitcher. Montréal, 1864.|
|| A Map of the Province of Upper Canada, James Wyld. London, 1835.* |
*Note: This map shows Québec Townships along the Ottawa River.
On the Association’s website you can see the full range of available maps and download small replicas.
Useful Reference Works
The following reference works should be available in larger libraries:
Historical Atlas of Canada, Designer/cartographer Geoffrey J. Matthews (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press) 3 volumes.
- Volume I: From the Beginning to 1800, ed. R. Cole Harris (1987)
- Volume II: The Land Transformed 1800-1891, ed. R. Louis Gentilcore et al. (1993)
- Volume III: Addressing the Twentieth Century 1891-1961, ed. Donald Kerr (1990).
While fascinating, the Atlas is not light reading. The Volumes are “atlas” size, and heavy. Look for it in larger reference or university libraries. There is now a one volume version:
Concise Historical Atlas of Canada, ed. William G. Dean et al. Cartography Geoffrey J. Matthew and Byron Moldofsky (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1998).
Using plates and text from the original three-volume set, but with a thematic arrangement that groups related plates from all three, in some ways the atlas is easier to use. Plates for the wars and invasions, settlement, or transportation are brought together. Of course it only contains about one-third of the plates, and the missing ones are those with all the odd-ball data like the locations of the British Garrisons. Two other books you should know about are:
Andreae, Christopher, Lines of Country: An Atlas of Railway and Waterway History in Canada, cartography Geoffrey Matthews (Erin, Ontario: The Boston Mills Press, 1997).
Geoffrey Matthews has also brought his cartographic skills to this helpful book that shows you where, and when, every rail line and waterway in Canada was built, operated, and abandoned. The maps are detailed, the text absolutely packed with information, the illustrations fascinating, and with a bibliography and index. Indispensable for tracking migrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.
As well, look for a set of “picture” books - Charles P. de Volpi’s “Pictorial Records” of The Eastern Townships (Montréal: Dev-Sco Pub., 1962), Montréal, in 2 volumes. (Montréal: Dev-Sco Pub., 1963), and Québec (Don Mills, Ontario: Longman, Canada, 1971). The de Volpi books are probably unknown to many genealogists, but contain both early maps and engravings of views and buildings, as well as vast amounts of uncommon historical information on the 18th and 19th centuries. Clients may appreciate it if you can provide a picture of the street their ancestor lived on or the church (destroyed decades ago) they attended.
Mann, Thomas. The Oxford Guide to Library Research (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Those who want to refine their library research skills should consult, or even buy a copy (available in paperback at about $25 Canadian). It is filled with handy hints, shortcuts and reference tools you have probably never thought of using before unless you are a trained librarian.
Books and Bibliography
A general bibliography lists books you may find helpful, under a number of subject headings. However, many books are mentioned and annotated in the footnotes, or itemized in the text. These publications relate specifically to the subject being discussed and may not be included in the bibliography, so check both text and footnotes as well. Keep your own lists.
On 20 October 2001 the Canadian Council of Archives launched the Canadian Archival Information Network (CAIN)This provides searchable access to descriptions of most of the holdings of archival institutions across Canada, with regular updates on new accessions.
County Boundary Maps
Counties of the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada—1795
Counties of the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada—1795
by Althea Douglas, based, in part, on the Gale and Duberger map.
Townships, Counties and Judicial Districts
The Township borders have remained more or less constant (though some have been split into North and South or East and West segments), but their arrangement into counties, the size of the counties, and the names of the counties, all being political, have changed more than once. As well, the Judicial Districts been divided and subdivided as the population grew. Check your dates with care, a good sequence of historic maps, gazetteers and directories will be essential.
In 1791 authorization was finally given for a survey of the lands behind the seigneuries. About a hundred Townships were surveyed, generally around ten miles square. Each township was subdivided into lots of about two hundred acres, and a portion set aside for the Crown and for support of the Protestant Clergy. For administrative purposes, townships were grouped together into Counties. For legal matters, they were assigned to one of the Judicial Districts.
The 1794-1795 Gale and Duberger map of southern Québec shows three counties south of the St. Lawrence and west of the Richelieu: Huntingdon, Kent and Surrey; and five east of the Richelieu: Bedford, Richelieu, Buckinghamshire, Dorchester and Hertford . The county borders run perpendicular to the St. Lawrence, in the same way as those of the Judicial districts, but are on a diagonal to the 45th parallel which became the border with the United States.
Huntingdon, Kent, Surrey, Bedford and Richelieu are in the Judicial District of Montréal, much of Buckinghamshire is in the District of Three Rivers, but its eastern section extends into the District of Québec. Dorchester includes Québec City and the populous area east and west of the Chaudière River, while Hertford runs to the east of Dorchester. Also in the Judicial District of Montréal, and north of the Saint Lawrence are, from east to west: Warwick, Leinster, Effingham and York. Yes, there once was a York County in Québec and it took in all the “New Townships on the Grand or Ottawa River”, namely Onslow, Eardley, Hull, Templeton, Buckingham, Lochaber, as well as the Seigneury of La Petite Nation.
Counties of the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada—1833
Counties of the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada—1833, by Althea Douglas.
The Ever—Changing Counties
About 1830 a more logical county structure was established and the Townships were apportioned out to six counties: Missisquoi, Stanstead, Shefford, Drummond, Megantic, and Sherbrooke (see J.W. Duffy’s map of 1833 ). In 1855 Brome County was erected, taking over Bolton and Potton from Stanstead, Sutton from Missisquoi, and Brome and East Farnham from Shefford. Similarly, the other large counties were gradually subdivided. Richmond, Wolfe and Compton were carved out of Sherbrooke County, which, in the process was absorbed into Compton. This did not last and in 1871 the County of Sherbrooke was reconstituted, though consisting of only two townships. It had a large population and was a centre of commerce and industry. Arthabaska was separated from Drummond, and Megantic lost ten “French” townships to a greatly enlarged Beauce. In the 20th century, Frontenac was formed from the southern portion of Beauce and the eastern part of Compton County.
North of the St. Lawrence and along the Ottawa River, by 1867, York County disappeared, largely into Ottawa County, with Pontiac to the north-west and Argenteuil and Two Mountains closer to Montréal.
The Judicial Districts, important to those seeking Court and land records, are almost as confusing as the County divisions. When townships were established, their counties were assigned to one of the original three districts. There was such great discontent because of the great distances settlers had to travel (over very bad roads) that in 1823, the Inferior Judicial District of St. Francis was erected, a judge appointed to reside in the district, and a court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace established. Only appeals had to go to Three Rivers or Montréal.
During the Session of 1830 an act established Registry Offices in the counties of Drummond, Sherbrooke, Stanstead, Shefford and Missisquoi, “for the enregistration of all acts or deeds in law, and instruments in writing, by which immovable property should be transferred, disposed of, or encumbered in any way”.
By 1867 the Judicial district of Bedford served Missisquoi, Brome and Shefford; the District of St. Francis embraced Richmond, Sherbrooke, Wolfe, Compton and Stanstead and the Arthabaska District included Megantic, Arthabaska and Drummond. These divisions make relative geographic sense, but administrative districts continue to change with population and politics. The regional branch of the ANQ is probably the best place to enquire about such matters, because they can also advise on the accessibility of Notarial records.
- Archives cartographiques et architecturales (Quebec City: Archives Nationales du Quebec, 1990) lists the maps and plans held at the ANQ. A useful source of what exists.
- Douglas, Althea. "Québec Maps (National Institute)," National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Qu%C3%A9bec_Maps_%28National_Institute%29.
- Charles, P. de Volpi and P.H. Scowan, The Eastern Townships A Pictorial Record (Montréal: Dev-Sco Pub. 1962) Endpapers.
- Bouchette, Joseph, "A Plan of the New Townships on the Grand or Ottawa River in which LANDS have been granted", A Topographical Description...of Lower Canada (London, 1815) engraved by J. Walker. See Plate 2 in Charles de Volpi, Ottawa A Pictorial Record/Recueil Iconographique (Montréal: Dev-Sco Publications Ltd., 1974)
- Charles P. de Volpi and P.H. Scowan, The Eastern Townships A Pictorial Record (Montréal: Dev-Sco Pub. 1962) Plate 1.
- For several maps, and a more detailed discussion, see Douglas, Althea, "The Eastern Townships: A geographical introduction" and "Settlement, Canadian Genealogist, Vol 10, No. 2 (June, 1988) pages 92-115.
- These divisions and sub-divisions are given in detail by Joseph Bouchette, The British Dominions in North America..., 2 volumes (London, 1832) Vol 1 pages 175-181.
- For details, see Bouchette, Vol 1 pages 179-180.
- The Eastern Townships Gazetteer and General Business Directory..., Smith and Co., St. Johns, 1867, reprinted Page-Sangster Inc., 1967
- See map and listings in Smith and Co.'s The Eastern Townships Gazetteer, Registrars are listed on page 45.
- Douglas, Althea. "Québec Counties of the Eastern Townships (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Qu%C3%A9bec_Counties_of_the_Eastern_Townships_%28National_Institute%29.