Semaine nationale de la généalogie: An Annual Genealogy Event in Quebec

Did you know that today marks the start of National Genealogy Week [Semaine nationale de la généalogie] in Quebec? From November 18 to November 25 inclusively, newbies and buffs will, according to this year's theme, show their passion for their favourite pastime.

Created in 2012, the purpose of this event is the following: promote the practice of genealogy; introduce people to the various genealogical societies, their resources and their achievements; and building excitement about family research and history among Quebecers, most particularly children and teenagers.

Archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, and libraries have joined forces to set up activities so their passion for genealogy may be shared with you. And luckily enough these are not limited to major cities—there is something for you wherever you live throughout Quebec!

Here are a few examples: events are scheduled at the Société de généalogie des Cantons-de-l'Est, in Sherbrooke, as well as in Mont-Laurier, and most of BAnQ Archives Centres in Drummondville, Gatineau, Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Saguenay, Rimouski, Sept-Îles, Québec City, Rouyn-Noranda, and Sherbrooke. For those looking ahead, DNA will be featured in a conference in Asbestos.

Newbies will especially appreciate Open House Day offered by various genealogical societies such as SGCF, in Montréal; the Société de généalogie du Grand Trois-Rivières; or the Centre d'histoire de Saint-Hyacinthe.

Should you be seeking for your French Canadian ancestors and wish to attend some of these events, GenSpotters invites you to consult the complete agenda here.

Show your passion!

Gems from the Notarial Records in Quebec: The Inventory After Death

Of all Quebec notarial documents that can be reviewed in the archives, the inventory after death is by far my favourite. Imagine being able to get a list of all the valuables in your ancestor's house! Too good to be true? Not necessarily.

While browsing through Quebec Notaries Index, I have unearthed an inventory after death for some of my ancestors. Despite most of them were humble daily labourers or shoemakers, others—while not being rich per se—, enjoyed some properties and hence, left such an inventory of assets of the community that then prevailed between the surviving spouse and the deceased one.

An inventory usually starts with an enumeration of all valuable goods, namely furniture (living room, kitchen, bedroom); kitchenware; cookware; carriages; animals; tools; and so on. Setting eyes on a sentence which reads as follows is priceless: "All the parties agreed that the brass music instruments belonging to the tutor and minor will remain their property." However, there is more to an inventory than pots and pans. I am referring here to the unsettled debts payable to, and by the couple.

Indeed, you will find out if your ancestor was owed money from either relatives—a brother, brother-in-law or cousin —, friends or neighbours. Just think about the next chapter you could write featuring your ancestor's extended family. Amounts due to him might be related to his work. This was the case for the grocer Honoré Tourville. He was owed some unpaid grocery bills and late rents. Here is a first hint: the man owned multiple rental units.

Conversely, you will find the list of sums owed by your ancestor to a financial institution or an individual (an annuity or a loan obtained from his son-in-law for instance). It is under this category that you will likewise learn about the funeral's cost—maybe even the doctor's fees.

If you failed to locate a notary record proving that your ancestor actually owned some real estate, here is your chance to get another shot at it. As a general rule, the heading "Deeds and Papers" provides a summary of deeds with respect to your ancestor's land or immoveables, taking into account the document date and number as well as the notary's name. Some inventories often give a detailed description of the land or lot—a nugget, considering that the notary's copy might have been lost or destroyed. The couple's marriage contract might be listed too. While on the subject, the undersigned particularly despises all those lazy notaries who merely noted down: "A bunch of deeds and papers".

Your French Canadian ancestor settled in the United States? Can you believe I came across an inventory after death in Quebec notarial records for a couple living in New York State where the wife died? The widower did not remarry but wanted to sell the land he still owned in Richelieu County, Quebec. Not only the inventory did reveal where children of full age established (in Vermont), but also that the land was abandoned for a long time, confirming that the family emigrated to the United States a few years back.

From the beginnings of New France until 1897 in the province of Quebec, an inventory after death was mandatory further to the death of the first spouse married under the community of property and leaving behind at least one minor child in order to properly distribute the legacy among the minor children and the surviving spouse.1

The Parchemin database—available in various genealogical societies in Canada and the United States and major libraries in Quebec—offers the complete list of notary acts from 1626 to 1799 (including the type of record, parties' names, as well as an abstract). You may, moreover, consult the 19th century notaries index—as well as the records for some—on BAnQ Website.

1 Jetté, René, Traité de généalogie, Montréal, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 1991, p. 472-475

Quebec’s Civil Copy of Parish Registers

In Quebec, from the time the first act was recorded in a Parish Register in 1621 until the reform of the code of civil procedures in 1994, civil registration through baptismal, marriage and burial records was the Church's responsibility. Mainly following what was done in France at the time, the registers recording events were thus kept in duplicate, the first one, known as the "minute", would be kept at the parish while the second one, called the "grosse" (i.e., the engrossed one), would be filed at the court serving the territory. Therefore, there is very few missing information for that period and these books were generally well preserved.

Record keeping has not always been mandatory. In fact, the Edict of Villers-Cotterets, signed by King François I of France in 1539, stipulated that a baptismal register must be kept and that the French language be used in all official records. The recording of marriages and burials became mandatory in 1579 under the Edict of Blois, only about 40 years before the first act was recorded in Quebec.

In 1667, the Edict of Saint-Germain-en-Laye or "Code Louis" made it mandatory that registers be henceforward kept in duplicate in order to avoid any irretrievable destruction or loss of information caused by wars, fires, or even rodents. This rule will rapidly be complied with in Quebec as opposed to France where it was only after the Declaration of April 9, 1736, reminding and complementing the Edict of 1667, that the keeping of duplicate will be widespread.

While doing research on your French Canadian ancestors, should you be asked to indicate whether you have used your ancestor's marriage record issued from the "minute" or from the engrossed one, would you be able to? In a future post, we will look at how we can identify one from the other.

Quebec's Church records on FamilySearch

Your European Ancestor: A Visit to Halifax’s Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21


One might find my family tree somewhat boring. My ancestors were French Canadians with early immigrants being all of France, except for two who were from the 17th century's England. Well, that didn't prevent me from appreciating my visit to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax!

The museum is relevantly located in the original Pier 21 building wherein one in five Canadians who immigrated to the country from 1928 to 1971 was required to visit in the process. The Pier 21 Story permanent exhibition illustrates the trip that your ancestor embarked on, from the replica of a ship cabin to the Customs hall—where people were anxiously waiting for their name to be called—, to the one of a train car leaving for Quebec, Ontario, and Western Canada.

If for some of them, entering the country was merely a formality—their papers were in order and they had a medical certificate from their country of origin—for others, the medical exam was mandatory and, eventually, a quarantine was next. For candidates with tuberculosis, it meant a return trip to their home country.

The guided tour is quite informative. As our group was composed of European tourists or people of early French Canadian ancestry like me, we were told moving stories—some rather funny—previously shared by immigrant visitors with our guide. Did you know that Italian immigrants nickname us Mangia-cake because Canadian bread was far too sweet for their taste?

Going through customs was similar to today's routine. All these wonderful sausages ended up in the premises garbage can and so was wine exceeding the quantity limit permitted. There was hope though, immigrants could buy some food before taking the train. A replica of a small counter with food for sale included cans from Chef Boyardee's Beefaroni and Franco-American's Spaghetti. What a cultural shock it must have been for them!

And what about your ancestors? Have they gone through Pier 21? They may include Canadian soldiers' wives, known as the "war brides", who arrived between 1941 and 1947, displaced people uprooted by the war, and political refugees escaping Eastern Europe's oppressive regimes, who came to Canada between 1947 and 1954.

Behind the museum showcases were numerous suitcases and trunks, revealing thereby where people came from during these major immigration waves. These artifacts, donated by those who passed through Pier 21, tell the story of what they had to leave behind and start their life all over again.

The most touching thing I saw that day was not from the exhibition itself but actually when I noticed a young family exiting the Scotiabank Family History Centre from Library and Archives Canada at the entrance of the museum—where you may get a copy of your pre-1935 ancestor's immigration record. They were looking at a piece of paper, maybe from their grandparents'. They were clearly—speaking from my own genealogist's experience here—learning some exciting new family facts there!

Fichier Origine — An Overlooked Database


Fichier Origine is a database—only available in French—containing mentions of records from pioneers born outside the St. Lawrence Valley who settled in the territory known today as the province of Québec from the origins up to 1865. Included therein are, of course, immigrants who came from Europe but also those who were born elsewhere on the North American continent.

To find your ancestor in the Fichier Origine, his baptismal act or birth certificate—or even his parents’ marriage act—must have been found and validated. Although a team of dedicated researchers is busy working on tracing your ancestors in the archives, it is possible to collaborate by providing the acts you have found yourself.

You can search this database by entering the proper information in one of the four fields, i.e. Nom de famille (Surname), Département, État ou pays (Department, State, or Country), Localité ou paroisse d’origine (Town or parish of origin), and Lieu du marriage (Marriage Place). You can search the Surname field by entering the "dit" name, the latter having in most cases taken over the original surname.

Furthermore, this database singles out immigrants who shared a common socio-historical background. It is possible to identify all those who were part of the Carignan-Salières Regiment, women known as Filles du Roy [King’s Daughters], or even the Montcalm Soldiers for whom the origin has been found. Should you wish to make a more targeted enquiry, you may then restrict your search exclusively to immigrants for whom a baptismal act or birth certificate has been scanned and can be downloaded.

This database is of great use, but there is still room for improvement. It would be convenient to be able to limit the search by setting up a date range field (between … and …). Finally, place standardization would be desirable for any country other than France. As an example, for Italy, entering the word Toscane (for Tuscany) in the Department, State or country field shows no matches, even though immigrants originated therefrom. Using a province’s name would even be more accurate and would be far more comparable to French departments, the former being the archives’ depository.

Fiche Origine remains the sole genealogy database to properly establish a link between an immigrant who came to Québec and its actual place of origin. This database is generally regarded as reliable.

On the Trail of Your Acadian Ancestors: A Visit to Grand-Pré National Historic Site


Already, when I planned on going to Grand-Pré National Historic Site in Nova Scotia, I could bet my visit would prove quite significant. I must admit I never expected that I would be moved the way I was though.

My paternal great-grandmother Philomène Leblanc was of Acadian ancestry. The whole time I was there, I couldn't help thinking of her great-grandfather Joseph Leblanc deported from Acadia when he was barely 15 years old. I suddenly realized my family had more than fun facts to disclose: it also made history.

In Grand-Pré, you are at the centre of the Acadian Settlement of the area of Les Mines on the Mines Basin. It is besides wherefrom approximately six thousand Acadians were deported and deprived of their land in 1755.

When you enter the Interpretation Centre, you can watch a 20-minute film on the deportation as well as attend an exhibition on the history of Acadians. Despite that all along the deportation, the British had burned the church and the houses, numerous artifacts were retrieved (such as a 1720 pair of shoes, tools and dishes) and are on display, telling about the daily lives of Acadians. Two iron pots were discovered inserted into one another, stuffed with bark and moss to protect the glass bottles with their expensive French tin-glazed earthenware holders. It is heartbreaking to see that some owners were hiding their valuables, actually hoping to return.

Exiting the main building at the rear end, you then walk towards the statue of Evangeline and the commemorative church (more or less on the site of former Catholic Church Saint-Charles-les-Mines), the former parish cemetery, and the wonderful landscape of the grand pré or large meadow. As mentioned on an informative panel,"it was one of the largest reclamation enterprises of its type. Recent research suggests that the Acadians dyked hundreds of hectares there before their deportation in 1755".

Grand-Pré—no wonder—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The vast panorama before your eyes from the View Park, on Old Post Road, lets your imagination run wild and go back in time.

Clearly, my visit paid off owing to Joseph and his family's destiny as they will be the topic of a new chapter in the family history. Indeed, I had only one thought in mind: set myself to work on my tree and document the lives of my Acadian ancestors. If these five families were all living in Saint-Jacques-de-l'Achigan (Quebec) around 1768, they went through different experiences. Following the deportation, the first one was sent to England and to Saint-Servan in France later on; the second and the third were deported to Massachusetts; the fourth, to Connecticut; and finally the fifth was in Acadia and then in Saint-Jacques-de-l'Achigan, but where they were in-between, I still have to find out.

Shortly after my return, I was able to establish that Joseph Leblanc, his siblings and parents were in Nova Scotia's Isle Royale (Cap Breton Island) in 1752. I guess I will have to pack my suitcase once again—genealogy makes you travel, that's for sure!

GenSpotters’ Book Review: Beyond Brutal Passions. Prostitution in Early Nineteenth-Century Montreal by Mary Anne Poutanen

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At the outset of the nineteenth century in Montreal, the elites were wondering about the objectives of sending prostitutes to prison. Was it about dissuasion or rehabilitation? According to the prisoners themselves, jail fulfilled a need. First of all, it provided social welfare to destitute and homeless people which, most of the time, were elderly, mothers and their children, as well as prostitutes. For women of this era, running a brothel or living off the avails of prostitution were means to have access to the basics: food, clothing, and a roof. Several historians have studied prostitution—either for Québec or for the rest of Canada—but few actually covered the first half of the nineteenth century.

Poutanen's essay is divided in two parts. The first one discusses women accused of prostitution, the second one emphasizes on the judicial system's procedures related to the lodging of a complaint against the presumed prostitutes.

The first three chapters are about the places where women lived and worked. The author addresses prostitution's social geography, prostitution at home and in brothels, and street prostitution.

As for chapters four to seven, they focus on the relation between the plaintiff, the accused and several authorities from the justice system. Poutanen outlines the administrative complexity related to the filing of a complaint against a presumed prostitute or a brothel keeper. She studies the complicated relationships between policemen, watchmen, and prostitutes, concentrating on court cases. Finally, the author explains punishments and the way they evolved during this period.

This essay sheds light on the complex relationships between the women accused of prostitution and the society in which they were living and working. Beyond Brutal Passions portrays the unknown social environment, yet very real, that was prostitution in Montreal in the early nineteenth century. A relevant essay that is now essential on the subject.

Poutanen, Mary Anne. Beyond Brutal Passions. Prostitution in Early Nineteenth Century Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 409 pages.

A Visit to Pointe-à-Callière Museum: Montréal Beneath Your Feet


Since Pointe-à-Callière Museum opened in 1992, I was there for several visits. The latest one occurred very recently as I was eager to see the new pavilion that was inaugurated last May featuring the Fort Ville-Marie.

I like this museum—I must admit I have always admired the work of archeologists, which requires great attention to detail and patience. To read about the history of Montréal from the beginnings is a must, indeed, but seeing the actual site is quite an experience.

While strolling through the Fort Ville-Marie pavilion, you are literally—thanks to a glass floor—walking over the fort remains. One of my earliest Montréal ancestors, Marin Janot dit Lachapelle, arrived in Ville-Marie in 1653, 11 years after its foundation, among a group later known as the Grande recrue de 1653 (117 engagés and 14 women). Marin was a carpenter. I like to think that he was maybe one of the men who took care of the narrow posts for the palisade.

And it is easy to imagine the lives of women and men on the site while looking at artifacts which were gathered such as the remains of tools that have been used to build the fort as well as the terrine, dish and jar unearthed by archeologists. Most of the livestock bones found were pigs', revealing how important this animal was for the settlers. It was also noticed that the Amerindians were recycling French copper pot pieces into either arrow heads or tinkling cones (the latter being used as garment and hair decorations).

In addition to the foundations of Fort Ville-Marie, the site features those of Château Callière which will be built later (it was destroyed around 1760), as well as a fire pit dating back from the period when Amerindians occupied the territory before the arrival of the first Europeans.

Just outside the museum, on Place d'Youville, be sure not to miss the Pioneers' monument as you'll maybe be among those whose Montréal ancestor's name has been engraved in the stone.

The 2017 Montréal's summer was certainly one for history buffs to relish, but fortunately some exhibitions will remain for all of us to enjoy.

“Dit” Names: And What If Your Surname Was Not the Original One?

Your surname is Languedoc, Sanschagrin, Laframboise or Saint-Jean? There is a good chance your ancestor's name was completely different.

In Québec, a lot of people do not share their surname with their ancestor. They are rather known by their ancestor's or one of his descendants' "dit" name. Some pioneers' surnames are actually not used anymore, having been replaced by the "dit" name associated therewith.

Much of these "dit" names were borne by militaries which then represent the third most important group of immigrants after the "engagés" and the King's Daughters (or Filles du roi). In the army, each recruit was given a nickname by an officer. The soldiers who settled in Canada, a colony of New France at the time, were mostly from the Carignan-Salières Regiment which came in 1665, from the Compagnies franches de la Marine which were responsible for the colony's protection as early as 1683, as well as infantry's regiments who came to fight the British during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).

For other families, "dit" names appeared later on in order to distinguish the different branches. Hence, descendants of the Lefebvre family of Baie-du-Febvre also bear the name Descôteaux, Labbé or Laciseraie. As for Paul Hus' descendants, they had for a surname Beauchemin, Capistran, Cournoyer, Latraverse, Lemoine, Millet, Paul, Paulet, or even Paulhus. Be careful though, those with the "dit" name Lemoine are not all descendants of Paul Hus and those named Laframboise do not have all the same ancestor.

It is not easy to explain why a specific surname was given to an ancestor. In a few cases, the "dit" name comes from the pioneers' wife maiden name, such as Bélisle dit Levasseur, Lemire dit Marsolet and Morand dit Grimard. In other cases, it is a contraction of the first name and of the surname: Castonguay (Gaston Guay), Louiseize (Louis Seize) or Paulhus (Paul Hus). For seigniorial families, the "dit" name represents the fief or the seigniory's name: Boucher of Montbrun or Noël of Tilly.

The most common "dit" names often simply derive from the ancestor's first name: Germain Gauthier dit St-Germain. The "dit" name may also reveal more or less precisely the origin of an ancestor like L'allemand (translation: from Germany), Langevin (from Anjou), Lyonnais (from Lyon) or Montauban. The "dit" name could tell you about your ancestor's occupation like Lalancette, for a surgeon, or Lalime, for a founder or a locksmith. Wondering what your ancestor looked or was like? Legros (large), Latendresse (gentleness), Sansregret (no regret), Lespérance (hope). In the army, "dit" names were often a flower or plant name such as Latulipe (tulip), Larose (rose), Lafleur (flower), and so on.

To conclude, what about some funny nicknames from our military ancestors? Baisela (sorry, this one will be translated as "xxx"), Vivelamour (viva love), Prêtàboire (ready to drink), Vadeboncoeur (goes with a happy heart), Tranchemontagne (mountain splitter), Passepartout (goes anywhere or master key) or Laterreur (terror).

Jetté, René et Micheline Lécuyer. Répertoire des noms de famille du Québec des origines à 1825, éd. SGCF, Montréal, 201 p.

Jetté, René. Traité de généalogie, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal, Montréal, 1991. 716 p. (out-of-print)

French Canadian Surname Mutations in the United States


If you are from the United States and are looking for French Canadian ancestors, you know for sure how difficult it can be to find them.

You probably heard about "dit" names—my colleague Suzanne will discuss these in a future post—but besides that, something else can be fairly challenging, and that is the mutation of French Canadian surnames in the United States.

I have encountered many cases where people had no clue that a French Canadian was actually in their tree. Often barely two or three generations back, and they had no idea that this Jane Wood was in fact Geneviève Dubois. Or they were stunned to learn that Nelson Little went by the name of Narcisse Petit north of the border.

I am doing quite extensive research in Vermont records and I have come across some interesting surnames' variations! If the literal translation from the French might appear easy to figure out—I cannot help thinking of Shortsleeve, for Courtemanche—some others are not that obvious. Just think of German: might be either for Lallemand or Saint-Germain.

Sometimes, I just need to say it out loud to tell what the French Canadian name might be. I am thinking of Browshaw, for Branchaud; Gorrow, for Gareau; Sears, for Cyr; or Tromblei, for Tremblay. In these cases, the surnames were not translated but rather anglicized. But when I read Fosha, I quickly thought of Foucher while it was for Forcier (which I ended up with after intensive work). And what about the Blanchettes who decided to use Blanchard instead?

Others may seem straightforward like Rock. Oh, yes, it must be for Laroche or Larocque! No, Desrochers or Durocher… wait, what about Lapierre? The same pattern occurs for the name Stone. You are typically up for many hours of research.

Some surname variations simply cannot be explained. How did Arpajou became Parish? And what about Daniels used for Beauchemin? Without the parish repertoires from Vermont, I would be at a loss!

Finally, my favourites are, and by far, John "French" and Martin "Frenchman". Great idea, guys! Thanks for the help!

Are you sure, you do not have French Canadian ancestors? If you have hit a brick wall in the Northeastern States, or even in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin or Michigan, there is a real possibility. As you can see, you need to think outside the box if you hope to find that needle in the haystack.