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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: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors by Althea Douglas M.A., CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
In Québec, before 1926, all registration of vital records was done by the church. Each Parish of whatever denomination, sent a copy of their registers to the local Prothonotary Court where it served as the Civil Registration of baptisms (normally giving date of birth), marriages and burials (usually giving date of death). Most church registers and/or official copies have some sort of annual index, but not all. The individual courts were expected to index their register holdings.
By 1978 there were 32 judicial districts and to find vital records, one first had to determine what district held them. These records have now been consolidated by the ANQ, but indexing will depend on what was done by the Prothonotary Courts where records were originally held. Prothonotary court indexes to church registers are microfilmed.
1992—1993 “All Change”
Until 1992 the individual Prothonotary Courts held the actual parish registers the various churches deposited with them, and organized their indexing (usually on file-cards in countless drawers) and microfilming. In some jurisdictions, members of genealogical societies were permitted to search the card indexes and then go to the original books to find the entries. Photocopies were not allowed (though I am told some were permitted in Montréal at one time). One could even purchase official certificates with most of the information, so the “early-bird” researchers were able to fully document their family trees well into the 20th century, and now have an infuriating tendency to gloat.
Just because someone, at some time, obtained a document, copy or certificate, does not mean such material is available now. The boom was lowered on researchers in 1993.
The Dark Ages—After 1993
In 1992-93 the much-needed, but locally resented consolidation began, bringing regional indexes together in Montréal and Québec City. There were several years of confusion, if not chaos; records from 1900 onwards were closed to individual researchers; fees for official “Certificates of Civil Status” were increased, (and these certificates give only the basic information, names, date of event and residence). However, personal privacy and the index cards were preserved.
Civil Registers: 1926—1985+
Despair not — the Index Consolidé des Marriages du Québec and Index Consolidé des Décès du Québec are province-wide printouts of the computerized alphabetical indexes, for all marriages and deaths registered from 1926 to 1998. These were microfilmed and to 1985 are available at some regional repositories. However, in Montréal and Québec City you can also access the more recent indexes. These indexes do not refer to the parish registers but to official forms sent to the government, and give the registration number and microfilm number, as well as the individual’s name, the place and date of the event, name of spouse and sometimes even the date of birth. Using this data, you might also try to contact the appropriate church or burial ground.
The actual forms, the Provincial Statistical Returns of Marriages, are accessible from 1926 to 1998 on microfilm in Montréal (ANQ and Salle Gagnon) and Québec City (ANQ), as records of the Ministère des affaires sociales, Registre de la population, but the information given varies depending on the date.
Births are not available. Deaths are indexed separately for each year from 1926 to 1930, then in consolidated lists for 1931-1970 and 1971-1985, but revert to annual indexes for 1986 on. Marriages are consolidated for 1926-1974 and 1975-1985, then annually to present. Given place and date, newspaper obituaries or announcements of weddings may provide more information.
As official records are closed, open published data including online sources are growing so never overlook material in Directories, Voters Lists, School and University Directories of graduates, Who’s Who in assorted professions and industries, and newspaper accounts of all sorts. One will lead to another.
Searching these records has recently been simplified. The Société de généalogie de Québec has consolidated all the data and issued two Compact Disks:
- Index consolidé des décès du Québec, 1926-1996 -- Version 1.2
- Index consolidé des mariages du Québec, 1926-1996 -- Version 1.2
The Library and Archives of Canada has a set; I found them easy to use and was able to bring up various family marriages and deaths; just remember that in Québec, women’s deaths are normally registered under their maiden name. You will still want to find newspaper notices or obituaries for fuller information.
Québec church records, because of their role in civil registration and the fact that two copies were kept, are exceptionally complete; those predating 1900 are open and easy to access if you can get to a branch of the ANQ.
Just remember they are split into Catholic and “Others”
Until the last two to three decades of the 20th century, Québecers, whatever language they spoke; if they were Roman Catholic, they were born in a Roman Catholic Parish, where the priest baptized them a day or so after they were born. They were educated in the Roman Catholic School System; nuns taught the young children, and continued to teach the girls, while priests taught the older boys. Their medical needs were dealt with by church-run hospitals (nurses were nuns); orphans were cared for in church-run orphanages. Families were large, but a couple of children usually found they had a religious vocation, joined a religious order, and provided unpaid labour in the many church-run social and educational institutions. Those who married, did so in their parish, the priest wrote down the names of their parents, and the marriage is almost certainly indexed in one of the countless Répertoire des mariages de ... When they died, the parish priest recorded their burial, usually with day of death, and they are buried in a Roman Catholic cemetery.
Because the Church ran just about everything outside of the government and judiciary, the records of most events are church-generated and will be found in church archives. Thus, the process of finding Roman Catholic ancestors (English or German, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Creole or Vietnamese-speaking) in Québec is essentially the same as finding Francophone ancestors. The only thing to watch for would be to determine the “English”, or Italian or German, etc. church, e.g. St. Patrick’s in Montréal, which served the Irish congregation, or the schools, like St. Leo’s in Westmount and Loyola College.
Everyone else may be Adventist or Anglican, Baptist or Buddhist, Confucian or Congregationalist—carry on through the alphabet to Unitarian and Wesleyan.
They did not fall under the care of the Church of Rome and so organized their own social services; some were church sponsored, many were not. When these “Others” were born, some religious authority had to take note of this; infant baptism was not mandated but a record of a birth was required to be made, sooner or later. Only after 1926 was there any legal provision for Civil registration of a birth, and even much later, church baptism was encouraged.
The child would be educated in the Protestant school system. There were a few private Jewish schools where Hebrew was taught, but most school records are with the Protestant Boards. Marriages were performed and recorded by some clergyman; Unitarian ministers sometimes obliged those with no religious affiliations.
Until legally required in 1866, you rarely find the names of parents, however be aware that parents may have signed the register as witnesses. Hospitals, orphanages, and other social services were organized, built, supported and managed by a variety of English-speaking groups, as were the Universities.
Some institutions were established by religious organizations, while education and health and welfare services were often associated, for example McGill University, Royal Victoria Hospital, and the Montréal Neurological Institute.
Burials had to be recorded by some religious official and will be in a non-catholic cemetery, perhaps beside the church, or in a multidenominational community graveyard. As a result, except for vital records, things are somewhat scattered and you will have to hunt in various places.
Vital Records—Religious to 1926
Québec vital records divide rather neatly into three groups: 1621 to 1763 (Roman Catholic, written in French or Latin); 1763 to 1899 (Catholic and “Others”, in English or French, open to researchers); and records of the 20th century, which although the religious records are ostensibly closed, some civil registrations after 1926 can be searched.
Some Defining Dates
|| Catholic church requires that in marriage records each spouse be identified by naming their parents. |
|| Notre-Dame-de-l’Immaculée-Conception-de-Québec, the earliest surviving parish register in Québec dates from 1621.|
|| Two copies of registers begin to be kept, one remaining in the parish, one turned over to the civil archives, thus providing a “safety copy”. |
|| Christ Church, Montréal, surviving Anglican registers date from 1766. Protestant clergy do not usually include parents’ names in marriage records at this time.|
|| Holy Trinity Cathedral (Anglican), Québec City, registers begin in 1768.|
|| Québec Civil Law requires for identification purposes that the name of anyone baptized, married or buried, be accompanied by their parents’ names, or that of their spouse.|
|| First legal provisions made for Civil registration in Québec.|
|| Changes made in these years to Québec Civil Laws may affect records.|
|| Consolidation of Prothonotary Indexes and registers at Montréal and Québec City. Records closed to researchers after 1899. |
As we have said, from the eighteenth century onwards, each Québec parish, or church of whatever denomination, sent a copy of their registers to the Prothonotary Court of the local Judicial District where it served as the Civil Registration of baptisms, marriages and burials. These are available on microfilm and open to researchers through 1899.
- Broadhurts, R. Neil, A checklist of registers of Protestant and Jewish congregations in Quebec (Calgary: Kintracers, c. 1994).
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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