If you drive into Montreal from the Laurentians on a sunny day, you’ll see a wonderful skyline, complete with a church spire as the tallest building for miles around. Such views are still typical throughout Quebec, although that’s likely to change as the iconic buildings get torn down to be replaced with skyscrapers, auditoriums and other modern structures.
These are remnants of the period from 1621 until 1964, when the Catholic Church operated as Church and State in this province. As genealogists, it’s important to remember this history as we look for traces of our ancestors. Traces of anyone in North American, even Protestant, Jewish and secular ancestors, might be found within documents held by religious organizations in Quebec.
In 1996, David Seljak described the Catholic Church’s influence in Quebec in an article. He wrote:
“Before 1960, the Church exercised a virtual monopoly over education, health care, and the social services offered to French Quebeckers who formed the majority of the population. During his years as premier from 1944 to 1959, Maurice Duplessis had declared Quebec a Catholic province and actively promoted the Church’s welfare. In 1958, more than eighty-five percent of the population identified themselves as Catholic and more than eighty-eight percent of those Catholics attended mass every Sunday. A virtual army of nuns, priests, and brothers, which by 1962 numbered more than 50,000, oversaw the Church’s massive bureaucracy.”
(Seljak, David. “Why the Quiet Revolution Was ‘Quiet’: The Catholic Church’s Reaction to the Secularization of Nationalism in Quebec after 1960,” CCHA, Historical Studies, 62 (1996), 109-124, n.d., 16.)
He argues that the Church took its loss of status with relative serenity because Quebec had so many Catholic residents at the time. The influence of Vatican II meant that most activists in favour of a secular reform in Quebec came from within the Church itself. If he’s right, the Church in Quebec decided itself to remove itself from a position as an instrument of the State to ensure that secularism spread throughout the Province.
Whether that’s true or not, given that many North Americans passed through Quebec during at least one generation, almost everyone has an ancestor whose experience may be highlighted within the records of the Catholic Church in Quebec. If you’re looking for traces of your ancestors, it’s worth exploring these documents.
Records that exist include:
- private and public engagement contracts (especially with Marriageable and King’s daughters’ contracts)
- parish records (black cross)
- migration records
- death records
- burial records
- orphan records
- land records
- construction records
- fundraising records
Abjuration: Recantation of faith, often associated with Huguenots (Protestant people from France)
Acquet: Goods inherited or otherwise obtained prior to marriage
Communauté de biens: commonly-held goods
Déclaration de fiançailles: oral promise to marry
def, defunt or feu: deceased
Douaire: dower or widow rights to be paid by a future husband to his future bride in the case of his death; this amount could not be taken by creditors in the case of bankruptcy
Fiançialles: marriage bonds, oral promise of marriage, engagement
Mandements: clergical administrative orders
Propres: Items legally owned by a man and women when they married that would not be jointly owned after marriage
Société Notre-Dame de Montréal: a religious organization founded in 1639 in Paris. It recruited people to go to New France, including Jeanne Mance, who wanted to found a hospital, and Marguerite Bourgeoys, who wanted to found a school. The company was dissolved in 1663 and the Seigneurie de l’Ile de Montreal was turned over to the Compagnie des prêtres de Saint-Sulpice. Members started supporting the public program, with Bourgeoys founding the Maison Saint Gabriel farm house in 1668 to house the King’s wards.
Primary Religious Sources in Canada
Archdiocese of Montreal Archives
30 volumes of mandements, pastoral letters, circular letters and other documents published by the Diocese of Montreal since its beginnings. Also available via: https://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine/details/52327/2751780
Archdiocese of Quebec Archives
Note: The Archdiocese Archives operate on Monday to Friday, from 9 to 11:45 am and from 1 to 3:45 pm, by appointment only.
Appointments are made via email in which the researcher must provide the archivists with the following information: research subject and context, period and dates, places, people (first and last names, titles and dates) concerned, a summary statement of existing research, and the researcher’s personal information: first and last name, title, institution, and city.
- Adjurations Index
- Certificates of freedom of marriage, 1757-
- Confirmation registers
- Parish, Mission and Centre Archives
- Archives from the first missions and the Native American missions (manuscripts in Native American languages)
- Archives from the apostolic vicariate of New France (1658-1674)
- Archives from the archdiocese of Quebec (1674), with collections pertaining to the government of the diocese, the cathedral chapter, diocesan councils and committees, the chancellery, church authorities, pastoral work, human resources, communications and communications.
- Archives from the provincial councils of Quebec (1851-1886) and from the Plenary Council of Québec (1909)
- Archives from the Québec Interdiocesan Tribunal (1946)
- Archives from parishes and communities
- Archives from diocesan seminaries and colleges
- Archives from institutes of consecrated life
- Archives from ecclesiastic organizations, associations and movements
- Archives from religious events at the diocesan, provincial, national and international levels
- Personal and familial archives, including personal archives of bishops and archbishops of Québec
The historical archives of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) in Canada (documents going back to 1841); manuscripts; volumes; microfilms; photographs (going back to 1816); collections pertaining to Oblate Missions, Aboriginal and Western history.
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BanQ)
- Canada, Québec, registres paroissiaux catholiques, 1621-1979.” Database with images. FamilySearch. https://FamilySearch.org : 14 June 2021. Archives Nationales du Quebec (National Archives of Quebec), Montreal
- Canada, Québec Index de copie civil de registres paroissiaux, 1642-1902.” Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 14 June 2021. Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales Du Québec (National Library and Archives of Quebec).
- Marriage Contracts of Quebec: Contrats de mariage des districts judiciaires de Québec, de Beauce, de Charlevoix, de Montmagny et de Thetford Mines, 1636-1953
- Superior court records: Fonds Cour supérieure. District judiciaire de Québec. Insinuations, registres des insinuations de la Prévôté de Québec, vol. 1 (Anciennement registres 1, 2 et 3) (1er mars 1667 – 25 septembre 1696), folios 109-109v.
- Parish Records:Fonds Paroisse Notre-Dame-de-Foy, 1662-1976, Cote : P48, Id 298582
- Parish Records: Paroisse Sainte-Famille, Ile d’Orléans – registres d’état civil, 1666-1790, ZQ1,S28 #184 : 12 avril 1666 au 7 octobre 1727.
- Parish Records: Paroisse Notre-Dame-de-Montréal, 1657-[vers 1850], Cote : P1000,D1277 Id 696688 et Registres d’état civil, 1642-1948, Cote : ZQ106, Id 420864 et Index alphabétique des confirmés de Notre-Dame-de-Montréal, de 1676 et 1678 – s.d. 11 pages Numéro : 301330
- Notarial records: Montréal (Québec : district judiciaire). Notariat, 008127867_003_M99W-KP4, Jan 1, 1657–May 14, 1669; notary Claude Aubert, 1652-1692; notary Bénigne Basset, 1658-1672; notary Pierre Raimbault, 1698-1727; notary Antoine Adhémar, 1673-1712.
Library and Archives Canada
- New France Archive Collection: https://nouvelle-france.org/eng/Pages/new-france-archives.aspx, including the correspondence and memoirs of Jean Talon
- Collection Jacques Henri Fabien (MG 25 G231), La collection sur microfilm se compose de renseignements généalogiques pour la période de 1657 à 1974.
- Cases of indentured servants who left their masters (extraits d’arrêts du Conseil supérieur concernant les engagés qui quittent le service de leurs maîtres) 00003916294, fol. 56-57v sur microfilm Centre des archives MG1-C11A, 1663-1702 Microfilm reel number: F-2.
- Rules, arrests and declarations made in Paris (Recueils de réglements, édits, déclarations, et arrêts : concernant le commerce, l’administration de la justice, & la police des colonies françaises de l’Amérique, & les engagés : avec le Code noir, et l’addition audit code, France, Chez les Libraires associés, Paris), 1765, MG1-C11A. Microfilm reel number: F-2.
Archived Collections: http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/keys/collections/
History elibrary, http://parkscanadahistory.com/
St. Paul University, Centre for Vatican II and 21st Century Catholicism
Vatican Archives of the Sacred Congregation “de Propaganda Fide” 1622-1846, PFcongressi_1831-1836_p.407-526, https://ustpaul.ca/upload-files/RCRHC/PFcongressi_1831-1836_p.407-526.pdf.
Primary Religious Sources in the United States
Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska
English translation of The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, 1610-1791, http://moses.creighton.edu/kripke/jesuitrelations/, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites, secretary of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, computerized transcription by Thom Mentrak, historical interpreter at Ste. Marie among the Iroquois living history museum, Liverpool, New York, 1898-1901.
Internet Archive, San Francisco, California
The Internet Archive operates as a free catalogue of everything on the Internet since 1996. It also operates as a public library.
Boivin Sommerville, Suzanne. “Marriage Contract in New France according to La Coutume de Paris / The Custom of Paris,” French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan, https://habitantheritage.org/cpage.php?pt=14, May 12, 2018, originally published in Michigan’s Habitant Heritage, Vol. 26, no. 3 (July 2005): 135-137.
Gauvreau, Michael. “From Rechristianization to Contestation: Catholic Values and Quebec Society, 1931–1970.” Church History 69, no. 4 (December 2000): 803–33. https://doi.org/10.2307/3169332.
Seljak, David. “Why the Quiet Revolution Was ‘Quiet’: The Catholic Church’s Reaction to the Secularization of Nationalism in Quebec after 1960,” CCHA, Historical Studies, 62 (1996), 109-124, n.d., 16.
Baum, G. (1991). The Church in Quebec. Canada: Novalis.
Grand’Maison, Jacques. Nationalisme et religion. Tome 2. Religion et 58 idéologies politiques, (Montréal: Beauchemin, 1970)
Jetté, René. Dictionnaire généalogique des familes du Québec. Montréal: Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1983.
Lindsey, Charles. Rome in Canada: The Ultramontane Struggle for Supremacy Over the Civil Authority. Lovell brothers, 1877.
Sulte, Benjamin. Histoire des Canadiens-Français. Wilson & Cie, Editeurs, Montréal, 1882, ISBN 0885450183; Editions Elysse, 1977.
Trudel, Marcel. La population du Canada en 1666. Recensement reconstitué. Québec: Septentrion, 1995.
Valynseele, Joseph et al., La Généalogie, histoire et pratique, Paris, éditions Larousse, 1991.
Vincent, Rodolphe, Notre costume civil et religieux, Montréal, Centre de psychologie et de pédagogie, 1963, B004QP56OA
Genealogy Ensemble: https://genealogyensemble.com/ (particularly
New France, New Horizons, http://www.archivescanadafrance.org/, a bilingual site set up by the Direction des Archives de France (Paris) et les Bibliothèque et Archives Canada (Ottawa) to commemorate the 400th anniversary of New France in 2004. The search function still works.
Southwestern Quebec Genealogical Resources, https://www.swquebec.ca/land_grant/land_grants.html.
Quebec Heritage Repertoire, https://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/