Catholics have kept excellent records. A high percentage of Americans with French-Canadian ancestry can trace each of their ancestors in Quebec back to immigrants from France. Because the majority of individuals in Quebec descend from French Catholic immigrants, Catholic parish registers are the key sources for genealogists to use.
Samuel de Champlain established Quebec as a trading post on the St. Lawrence River in 1608. An influx of immigrants began to organize a French colony in North America following Cardinal Richelieu's granting of a monopoly over the fur trade to the Company of One Hundred Associates in 1627. The agreement required each member of the company to transport 200 to 300 settlers a year to New France for 15 years. The fur trade provided the means to support the French's principal objective • to stage massive missionary efforts amongst the American Indians. About 10,000 Frenchmen immigrated to the French-Canadian colonies. France ceded their North American colony to Great Britain following defeat in the French and Indian War1.
The first parish registers in Quebec date from the early 1600s. Priests usually recorded the entries in French, with Latin occurring less frequently2. For a free French word list, go to www.familysearch.org, and follow the following path: Search>Research Helps>France>French Genealogical Word List. As in other Catholic nations, priests kept baptismal, confirmation, marriage and burial records regarding parishioners living within their ecclesiastical boundaries. Therefore, it is essential to know the parish where your ancestors lived in order to successfully locate them in the records. Multiple parishes may share the same name, requiring knowledge of the county to which it pertains to pinpoint the parish of interest. The records are formulaic and can be mastered by non-French speakers with minimal effort. Marriages usually identify the parents of both bride and groom, providing
genealogists with the link to previous generations.
Several idiosyncrasies exist in French-Canadian Catholic parish registers. Scribes identified women by their maiden name, when they are listed as mothers, wives, and widows. Note the names of godparents and witnesses, as members of the family often served in these capacities. In order to distinguish unrelated families with common surnames, the French developed what is called the "dit" surname, which is a second last name. Individuals often switched back and forth between their double surnames, using either one or the other, generating problems for genealogists. Always check both options. Dates also are recorded in a unique manner. They often spelled out the dates word for word. A typical year entry, translated to English, would read, One thousand seven hundred sixty eighteen (1778).
The University of Montreal has made finding ancestors in Catholic parish registers easy. Its Web site, Programme de recherche en démographie historique, available in both French and English, provides a repertory (index) to 690,000 baptism, marriage, and burial entries from Catholic parish registers in Quebec. You can visit its Web site at www.genealogie.umontreal.ca/. Using the free index, you can then select to either view the completely transcribed entry, by paying a small fee ($17.95 Canadian for 150 hits), or note the citation in order to request a microfilm copy of the original parish register to be sent to your local LDS Family History Center. If you choose to follow the latter route, write down the year, record type (baptism, marriage, or burial) and parish. You can find these records in the Family History Library Catalog in the following location: CANADA>QUEBEC>COUNTY>PARISH> CHURCH RECORDS.
Another useful aid for finding marriages is The Loiselle Quebec Marriage Index. This database, also available from the Family History Library, indexes Catholic marriages in Quebec. Conduct a place search on the catalog for Loiselle Card Index to Many Marriages of the Province of Quebec and Adjacent Areas, to identify the desired microfilm. This finding aid can tremendously speed up your search, as it not only lists the bride, groom, marriage date and place, but also the parents of both parties. This collection aided my own family research by identifying the origins of my U.S. immigrant ancestor, Joseph Turpin, Voyageur. Loiselle cites Joseph's marriage to Angelique Makwa, an American Indian, in 1819, in St. Benoit Parish, Deux-Montagnes, Quebec. Prior to receiving the marriage sacrament, the priest baptized Angelique. Identifying Joseph's previous residence in Quebec allowed me to find the connection needed to trace his ancestry back to Alexandre Turpin (1641-1709), immigrant from Normandy, France.
The Internet, a limited French vocabulary, a French word list and a dictionary will equip Americans with the tools needed to begin hunting for their ancestral roots in Quebec.
1Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004, s.v. "New France, history of," "French Canadians," "Canada," "Quebec (province)."
2 Patricia Keeney Geyh, "French-Canadian Church Records," French-Canadian Sources: A Guide for Genealogists. (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2002), 140.