Detail of early Montreal area, 1610-1791
In 1534, the Frenchman, Jacques Cartier, made his first of three voyages to New France, claiming possession in the name of France. The word "Canada", at that time, designated only the region around the city of Quebec.
In 1608, another Frenchman, Samuel de Champlain, founded the city of Quebec, the 2nd permanent French settlement after Port-Royal.
Ft Quebec, 1608
From 1621 continuously to 1993, the vital statistics of Quebec were maintained by the Catholic Church (for the Catholics), and after 1765 (for the non-Catholics) by the Ministers and Rabbis. At first, the parish registers were incomplete, but very soon thereafter they started to list the names of the parents of both spouses at the marriages... enabling Quebec to boast of its excellent old records. Among the principal events of this period, we note the arrival of the Carignan regiment and the `Filles du Roi', as well as the progressive transformation of an economy based mainly on the fur trade to one based more and more on agriculture.
Quebec, the Capital of New France, 1690
In 1759, at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, that which was then called Canada was conquered by the British, and officially became a British possession in 1763. The British then named this region "Government of the Province of Quebec". One can say that, at that time, the Province of Quebec was made up of all the territory along the St. Lawrence River from the Gaspé peninsula to Detroit and Fort Michillimackinac (Michigan).
In 1791, the colony is organized into two provinces, Lower and Upper Canada, roughly corresponding to modern southern Quebec and Ontario. In 1840, the two provinces are re-united to form Canada East and Canada West. In 1867, they are again separated and together with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia form the federation of Canada. Later, other provinces would be added to the fold until, as of 1949, it was made up of 10 provinces and two territories.
Each province has its own method for collating vital statistics. Quebec stands out since, up to 1993, it was left to the priests to register births, deaths and marriages. Moreover, civil marriages have only been permitted since 1969.
Up to 1759, the whole population is Catholic ( no Protestant temples were permitted ) and 94% of its European immigrant population comes from France.
Since then, that part of the population that is considered French or francophone has maintained itself at 80-85%...Catholics for the most part. The other ethnic groups generally kept their religions. This is an important point because up to 1993...Quebec's official vital statistics are classified by religion. On the one hand, we have the Catholic registers where the marriages are almost always extant and complete, and are often to be found indexed in an assortment of repertories; and on the other, the non-Catholic registers where we often discover the names of the parents to be missing, at least up to the 20th. century.
It follows, therefore, that the principal tools used by Quebec genealogists are those of the Catholic Church's marriage records, mostly in repertories that have themselves been classified by county. Some databases, such as the Loiselle and the Drouin contain between 500,000 and one million names.
Last update: March 17th, 1996, PRDH - Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique
Parish registers in Quebec
It would be useful to start from the study of the facts and people and to revive history through the curious and fecund observations presented by the study of populations, of the families themselves, that form the basic fabric of the societies we describe. . . .
We must extensively use the historical source that parish registers offer and learn how to draw out all the data that they contain (Rameau de Saint-Père)
The keeping of baptismal, marriage, and burial registers in Quebec is an institution that goes back to the very origins of the colony. This custom, which was brought from France by the missionaries, spread along the St. Lawrence River right from the seventeenth century. Wherever people went, priests followed, opening registers in each new parish and thus recording the progress of populating the territory. Starting in about 1679, registers were kept in duplicate to respond to the requirements of the state, and this practice has been maintained, with priests keeping one copy in the parish archives and submitting the other copy to the civil authorities each year. Only when the Civil Code was reformed in 1994 was this practice abandoned.
Foremost, these registers have a legal value. Indeed, the certificates that they contain constitute, in the eyes of both the church and the state, proof of the status of individuals. But beyond this function, parish registers have, over time, acquired a value that is scientific, historical, and even sentimental - as many people will attest! Authors of parish monographs have drawn elements of local history from them; demographers have found in them the daily bread that feeds their analyses of births, marriages, fertility and mortality, and genealogists trace marriages and family histories in them.
Baptismal, marriage, and burial certificates are written according to particular rules. Those of the Church, set by the Rituale Romanum (1614), were adapted to the colonial context by Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, who prepared a Ritual in 1703. The civil authorities had already manifested their desire to submit the Canadian clergy to the standards prevailing in France in 1678, when the Conseil Souverain de Québec adopted the regulations promulgated in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1667. The Conseil then completely rewrote the regulations in 1727, with a concern for accuracy that testifies to the importance accorded to this problem by the legislature. Certainly, writers of certificates did not all approach this administrative task with equal attention or skill, so that the form and contents of the certificates vary somewhat; there is no doubt, however, that the general quality of the records in Quebec is excellent.
At the beginning, parish registers were books of pages varied in dimension and volume. From one year to the next, the format of registers could change; small, medium-sized, and large books succeeded each other apparently without logic in a given parish. As well, particularly in the old parishes and, relatively speaking, more in the seventeenth than the eighteenth century, some certificates were written up on loose sheets of paper. Priests sometimes took care to transcribe scattered certificates into the parish register or to attach them to it, but many of these loose sheets of paper were no doubt lost or destroyed. The great majority of certificates, however, were consigned to registers for which the church and the state assumed responsibility of storage and preservation. In spite of some vicissitudes, due usually to negligence, the sets of registers have marked the passage of time incredibly well, thanks in part to their having been kept in duplicate.
Without the high proportion of well-preserved registers, the PRDH's task would not have been possible. Nevertheless, documents written centuries ago had to be read, and often deciphered.
PRDH - Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique
Large New France Map 1610-1791.pdf The 1666 Census of Montreal Brief History of Montreal
BENJAMIN SCHEILLER 1757-1835 Posted by Paul A. Plante, 3/31/2000
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