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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in April 2013. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Vital Statistic Records - Part 1 by Sharon L. Murphy. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Québec is the oldest and largest Canadian province. Québec’s first permanent settlement (New France) was established by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. The first colonist family arrived in 1617 and for the next 46 years there were conflicts between fur traders and colonists and New France and the British colonies to the south.
Québec was created by the Proclamation of 1763 and extended west to include land that is now known as Ontario. British merchants arrived after the Conquest and demanded British law. In 1774 the Québec Act adopted both British criminal law and French civil law.
The Constitutional Act of 1791 was passed in order to meet the demands of the Loyalists. The land east of the Ottawa River became the province of Lower Canada. The rebellions of 1837 resulted in the Act of Union in 1841 changing the province of Lower Canada to Canada East in the province of Canada. Confederation in 1867 saw Canada East become the province of Québec in the Dominion of Canada.
This capsule of history provides a background for you to be able to understand when and how people arrived and settled in Québec. Vital statistics research in Québec begins by finding the marriage records. In order to do this you must determine if your ancestors were Catholic or non-Catholic. The records kept by the Catholic church were quite complete and therefore are straightforward to find and search.
Until the middle of the 20th century, births, marriages and deaths were recorded predominantly in parish registers through baptism, marriage and burial records (baptême, mariage et sépulture).
In 1960 births and marriages were also recorded in civil registers.
The church registers exist from the first decade of the 17th century, the very beginning of the European (French) settlements in the St. Lawrence Valley. The recording in these registers continued without interruption through wars and the transition from the French Regime to the English Regime in 1763.
The Roman Catholic method of registration in Québec was handled differently than any other province. Under the old French civil system, two copies of each register were required. The local church held one register and the other register was sent to the local protonotaire (registrar).
As a researcher in Québec records today, you should check with the appropriate regional archive center for these registers. Many have been microfilmed or transcribed and published. Unfortunately not all churches followed this safeguard and some registers were destroyed by fire such as:
- Notre-Dame in Québec from 1621 to 1650
- Contrecoeur including Verchères, Saint-Ours, Fort Saint-Louis or Chambly from 1687 to 1699
- Oka from 1721 to 1786
- Notre-Dame in Hull prior to 1887
Throughout Québec, nine regional Québec National Archives Centres (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec) exist housing the provincial parish records.
Centre d’archives de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue et du Nord-du-Québec
27, rue du Terminus Ouest
Rouyn-Noranda, Québec J9X 2P3
Centre d’archives du Bas-Saint-Laurent et de la Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine
337, rue Moreault
Rimouski, Québec G5L 1P4
Centre d’archives de la Côte-Nord
700, boulevard Laure, Bureau 190
Sept-Îles, Québec G4R 1Y1
Centre d’archives de l'Estrie
225, rue Frontenac, bureau 401
Sherbrooke, Québec J1H 1K1
Centre d’archives de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec
225, rue des Forges, bureau 208
Trois-Rivières, Québec G9A 2G7
Centre d’archives de Montréal
535, avenue Viger Est
Montréal, Québec H2L 2P3
Centre d’archives de l'Outaouais
855, boulevard de la Gappe
Gatineau, Québec J8T 8H9
Centre d’archives de Québec
Campus de l’Université Laval
1055, avenue du Séminaire
Case postale 10450, succursale Sainte-Foy
Québec, Québec G1V 4N1
Centre d’archives du Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean
930, rue Jacques-Cartier Est
Chicoutimi, Québec G7H 7K9
In 1994 the system of the church being responsible for the registration of vital records was changed. The government took over the procedure of registering births and deaths. Marriage records are still considered a legal document however. After 1994 the post-1899 records were moved into government facilities in Quebec City and Montreal and are closed to researchers.
There is an excellent book on the subject by Francoise Noel, Competing For Souls: Missionary Activity and Settlement in The Eastern Townships, 1784-1851 ([Sherbrooke, Québec]: Dép. d'histoire, Université de Sherbrooke, 1988) ISBN 2-920812-13-0 that would give you more insight into this area and time period in Quebec.
Prior to 1796 the church registers were not indexed; however, after that date they were required to do so. As in every other situation, some did and some did not. By the mid 19th century, the baptismal record for each child contained not only information about the birth of the child but also the marriage information of the parents of each child.
A baptismal record would include:
- The name of the child
- The date of birth and baptism
- The name of the godfather and godmother and relationship to the child
- The names of the parents
- The date of the marriage
- The parish name and location of the marriage
Most marriage records include:
- The date of the marriage
- The names of the bride and groom
- The names of the parents for both the bride and the groom
- The location of the marriage of the parents of both the bride and groom if the location was different than the marriage of their children
Death records included:
- The name of the deceased
- The date and location of the death
- The date and location of the burial
- The names of either the spouse or the 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 1 January 1994 in Québec. Because of the law of privacy, researchers could no longer verify the registers containing the information needed after 1900.
In anticipation of this change in the law, many volunteers indexed as much information as possible before the deadline of 1 January 1994. Although they ran out of time, many registers were compiled containing valuable information for the researchers. These registers can be found in public and genealogical society libraries or in the Archival Centers. Important resource materials were compiled, thanks to the work of many dedicated genealogists, the clergy and genealogical or historical societies. A large percentage of church registers have been indexed and compiled in book form. There are also many large genealogical dictionaries that enable the finding of French-Canadian ancestors quickly and easily.
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 Archives Centers above. Certain libraries also have the microfilms in their collection.
The Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH) is an important project that is making available over 700,000 baptismal, marriages, and burial certificates registered in the Catholic parishes of Quebec 1621-1799. Certificates of other types are also included when available—marriage contracts, confirmations, lists of immigrants, parish lists, etc. Produced in CD-ROM versions, it is available in Quebec libraries and archives, or other centres with major French Canadian collections. It is also searchable on the PRDH website. It is a searchable database by name of a person, name of a parish, by date or by type of event. Their website gives more description of the program.
The National Archives of Canada holds a small collection of marriage bonds for Lower Canada (Québec), 1818-1841, with a few scattered items for 1779, 1841 and 1860 and for Upper Canada (Ontario), 1803-1845.
Microfilm can be borrowed through the inter-institutional loan arrangement containing copies of the nominal card index as well as microfilmed copies of the bonds. The nominal card index appears on the following microfilm reels:
Index to Lower Canada Marriage Bonds (RG 4 B 28)
H-1125 ABBOTT, Benjamin to WOODHEAD, William
H-1126 WOOD, Mathew to ZELL, Philip
This index gives the name, date, place, collection number (RG 4 B 28), volume number and bond number. With those reference numbers, you can consult the shelf-list to determine which microfilm reel to request to see the actual bond.
Through the years, resources known as Répertoires des mariages have been created. These ‘Répertoires’ are transcriptions of church registers. They were compiled by individuals or volunteers from various genealogical and historical societies. Most are indexed and bound in book form, some are on microfilm.
The first events to be transcribed were the marriage records. Some baptismal and burial records were also transcribed at the same time but were fewer in numbers. Now that most of the marriage registers are compiled, volunteers are returning to complete the baptismal and burial registers.
Consider the following when using these registers:
- You are not looking at a duplicate copy of the actual documentation but instead at a hand copied version of the original register. It is important to remember that errors and omissions occur. You must use your detective skills to determine certain problem areas and then verify 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 did not know how to spell and would write the information in the register the way it sounded to them.
- Since these books were compiled by many individuals, there is no consistency; 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 order of only the men’s names and information with the women’s names indexed in the back with a reference number taking them to the man’s name.
- Some registers, but very few, are in chronological order, sometimes indexes are included.
- Some registers are just for one church. Others are for one city with several churches and others have the information for the entire county. Occasionally a county register will also have a parish just outside the county included. When you can’t find a specific church or town, check neighboring counties.
- Women in Quebec retain their birth surnames after marriage.
- Some marriage records will indicate where the parents were married if the marriage did not occur at the same church as their child.
There is an excellent book, The Guide to Québec’s Parishes and Civil Registers - Catholic, Protestant and Other Denominations, by Francine Fortin and Micheline Da Prato, that has a list of the churches and towns or cities in Québec indicating if a baptismal, marriage or death register has been completed. If a register exists, the authors indicated the type of register and also at which major library in Québec this register can be found. The years included in the register are also indicated. Many new registers have been compiled since, but this book is a good beginning.
Another useful guide has been completed for the Société franco-ontarienne d’histoire et de généalogie’s book collection. This guide indexes the collection for each church register by county, city name, parish name and by the years of events. More information about this guide or the society is available on the societies website.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Vital Statistic Records - Part 1 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.