A paradise for genealogists: Quebec’s civil registers

As any genealogist will tell you, researchers whose ancestors lived in Quebec are fortunate. The sheer volume of surviving civil registers and the manner in which both Catholic and Protestant registers were kept make them a valuable resource. In fact, Quebec has been called “a genealogist’s paradise!”

The careful recording of vital statistics in Quebec is largely due to a series of religious and civil ordinances and regulations originating under French rule.

The historical influence of France

The year 2014 marks the 475th anniversary of the Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts [Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts] (in French only), signed in August 1539 by the King of France, Francis I, in what is now the department of Aisne. Under this edict, priests were required to register baptisms and burials. In 1579, another ordinance signed at Blois required that marriages be registered.

With the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and the publication of the Rituale Romanum de 1614, [Roman Ritual of 1614], the Roman Catholic Church further emphasized the importance of civil registration, specifying how to record the names of the godfather and godmother, witnesses, parents, etc.

Finally, in 1667, the Ordonnance de Saint-Germain-en-Laye [Ordinance of Saint-Germain-en-Laye] introduced the practice of keeping duplicate copies; one copy was kept by the priest and the second was filed with civil authorities at the end of the year. This ensured the preservation of innumerable registers that could have been destroyed or lost forever had only one copy existed.

Applications in New France and modern Quebec

These regulations took effect in New France in 1621 and were enforced by local authorities. Following the Conquest of 1760, the British authorities chose to retain it, recognizing the value of this system.

In Quebec, civil status registers have the following characteristics:

  • There are three types of acts: baptism, marriage and burial.
  • The acts are drawn up by parish priests.
  • They are presented chronologically, usually within a single register.
  • They are subject to two separate regulations: ecclesiastical and civil.

See Vital Statistics: Births, Marriages and Deaths to learn more about these documents and how to consult them.

Happy searching!

Major Update to the 1861 Census of Canada Database

Following the release of the 1861 Census of Canada database in 2013, a number of missing records and misplaced images were reported by Library and Archives Canada clients and staff. We corrected over 133,000 entries! Following is a list of improvements to the database.

Canada West and Canada East Issues

In Canada West, the records for the cities of Hamilton, Kingston, London, Ottawa and Toronto were previously reported missing but the records did exist. The five cities, although enumerated separately in 1861, were tucked away amongst their neighbouring rural districts. For example, the city of Ottawa was listed under the district of Carleton and the city of Kingston was listed under Frontenac. The five cities are now correctly identified as districts and their respective wards are identified as sub-districts.

Additionally in Canada West, the rural districts of Renfrew and Russell were also reported as missing. The records for those two districts and their sub-districts can now be searched. In the rural district of Kent, the sub-districts of Camden and Gore, the town of Chatham, and the district of Chatham have been correctly identified. The images in the districts of Brant and Dundas are now correctly linked.

In Canada East, several image linking errors were corrected, particularly in the districts of Argenteuil, Montcalm and St-Jean.

Census Databases Online

Library and Archives Canada’s website currently contains 15 census databases. While conducting your family research, perhaps you have found an entry for an ancestor whose name was transcribed incorrectly or his/her age was misread by the transcriber. We can fix that!

To request a correction, click on the link, “Suggest a Correction” on the item page and provide your email address and an explanation. Once we have confirmed that the suggestion reflects the content of the original census record, the revised transcription will appear on our website. Remember that spelling variations are common and that a surname may have changed over time. Therefore, playing around with different spellings of a surname increases your chances of finding your ancestor. Using Soundex — a way to find phonetic variations of your name — can also be helpful.

Enjoy your time travels in the last census before Canada’s Confederation!

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

 

The 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Ursulines in Quebec City

Quebec City is celebrating a number of significant anniversaries in 2014, including the 350th anniversary of the founding of the parish of Notre-Dame de Québec, and the 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Ursuline Sisters—pioneers in education in Quebec — and the Augustinian Sisters.

The origins of the Ursulines in Europe

The Company of St. Ursula was founded by Angela Merici in 1535, at Brescia, Italy, to promote Christian values within the family, society and the Church. After the Council of Trent, the Company was restructured to become a cloistered order, devoted primarily to educating young girls. Ursuline convents soon sprang up across Europe, in particular throughout France.

The establishment of the Ursulines in New France

In 1639, Madame de La Peltrie financed the founding of a convent and the first school for girls in New France. She left France aboard the St. Joseph with three nuns from the Ursuline convent at Tours: Marie (Guyart) de l’Incarnation, who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2014, Marie de Saint-Joseph and Cécile de Sainte-Croix. They, along with a group of Augustinian nuns, endured an arduous crossing that took three months.

Earliest Ursuline sisters with Amerindian pupils at Quebec City

Earliest Ursuline sisters with Amerindian pupils at Quebec City. (MIKAN 2895625)

The first Ursuline school, established in Quebec City’s Lower Town, received about 18 French and Amerindian boarders. Like their Augustinian counterparts, the Ursuline Sisters moved to the Upper Town in 1642, to a site their order still occupies today. The Ursulines provided accommodation for the Filles du Roi when they first landed in Quebec City, as well as for English captives in the early 18th century. One of those captives was Esther Wheelwright, who would eventually become the community’s superior. From Quebec City, the Ursulines expanded to found convents and schools around Quebec and New Brunswick, as well as in Japan and Peru.

To learn more

Library and Archives Canada has a number historical documents on the Ursuline community, mainly in the Fonds de la Congrégation de Sainte-Ursule and the Marie de l’Incarnation Fonds. You can also do an archives search to find other documents or images. For a definitive history of the Ursulines (in French only), we recommend Les Ursulines de Québec 1639–1953, by Dom Guy-Marie Oury.

The 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Augustinians in Quebec City

Quebec City is celebrating a number of significant anniversaries in 2014, including the 350th anniversary of the founding of the parish of Notre-Dame de Québec, and the 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Augustinian Sisters (in French only)—pioneers in health care in Quebec—and the Ursuline Sisters.

The establishment of a hospital in New France

In 1637, the Duchess of Aiguillon, niece of Cardinal Richelieu, agreed to finance the founding of a hospital in Quebec City to care for the Aboriginal population and the colonists. On August 1, 1639, the first three Augustinian Hospitaller Sisters arrived in Quebec City after a long and arduous three-month crossing on board the Saint-Joseph. Those three Sisters were Marie Guenet de Saint-Ignace, who was the first superior of the community, Anne Lecointe de Saint-Bernard and Marie Forestier de Saint-Bonaventure-de-Jésus.

They founded a first hospital in Sillery, on the outskirts of Quebec City, near the Jesuits. However, with the Iroquois threat, the Sisters felt it best to remain within the walls of the city, and opened the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec in 1646, in Quebec City’s Upper Town. The Augustinian Sisters not only took care of the sick at the hospital, they also took in abandoned children between 1800 and 1850, and welcomed and cared for immigrants upon their arrival at the port of Quebec City.

Among the women who joined the order was the first nun of Canadian birth, Marie-Françoise Giffard (daughter of seigneur Robert Giffard), and Marie-Catherine de Saint-Augustin (beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1989).

Hôtel-Dieu, Quebec City, ca. 1822–1832

Hôtel-Dieu, Quebec City, ca. 1822–1832. (MIKAN 2898815)

The Augustinians today

The work of the Augustinians forms the basis of today’s health care system in Quebec. The nuns founded a total of 12 monastery hospitals throughout Quebec, acting as administrators, nurses and pharmacists. Today, all of those hospitals form part of Quebec’s public health network and are still in operation.

To learn more

Library and Archives Canada has a number of records relating to the Augustinian community and their first hospital, in particular the Fonds de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. You can also do an archives search to find other documents or images. For a definitive history of the Augustinians, we recommend La croix et le scalpel : histoire des Augustines et de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, 1639–1989 (in French only), by François Rousseau.

William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks

Different approaches have been tried over the years for conserving sketchbooks or bound volumes. For a long time, the works were simply detached in order to remove the binding. Nowadays, the historical and archival value of the binding is widely recognized. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is no exception in this regard, and conservation treatments are now designed to preserve the work in its entirety, including the binding.

In a previous article, we introduced you to the work of soldier William Redver Stark. The sketchbooks that are part of the William Redver Stark fonds were never repaired or preserved, and were beginning to show signs of wear:

  • Tears and holes
  • Pages detached, missing or in the wrong order
  • Broken binding threads
  • Covers weakly bound to pages or completely detached

The sketchbooks therefore are undergoing various conservation treatments, undertaken by a team of LAC’s highly specialized conservators in the field of book conservation and restoration. These conservators worked with the collection managers and archivists to respect the integrity of Stark’s work, and to give him his full moment of glory.

The drawings and watercolours in this collection are in very good condition. Some even look like they might have been completed only a few days ago. It should be noted that the sketchbooks remained closed for nearly a hundred years, and that the pages were rarely exposed to air or light. Thus, to study a Stark work is to travel through time, to see the work of an artist exactly as it was created a hundred years ago, during one of the most deadly and crucial wars of our time.

In sum, the restoration work done by LAC‘s conservation and restoration team will make it possible to stabilize the condition of the sketchbooks in order to ensure that they will withstand the ravages of time, and will allow future generations to have access to an important part of our history.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.

Example of a required restauration treatment: the adhesive tape must be removed.
© Library and Archives Canada

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.

Another example of a required restauration treatment : the cover must be sewn back on.
© Library and Archives Canada

See Also:

William Redver Stark, the Soldier and the Artist

Canada’s experience of the First World War was captured by officially commissioned artists such as A.Y. Jackson and David Milne from 1916 onwards through the Canadian War Memorials Fund. However, many other artists—amateur and professional—captured their experiences of the war while they were busy fighting, building roads, transporting goods or providing care to others, but still creating vivid imagery of the world around them.

The William Redver Stark fonds at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a rare illustrated record of one of these undeclared artists’ lives in the military. Through 14 sketchbooks of remarkably well-preserved drawings and watercolours, we discover the life of a soldier through his eyes, which were closer to the action than those of his official counterparts, and which provide a more spontaneous, intimate perception of how day-to-day activities may have looked.

In these sketchbooks, we find images of soldiers at work and at rest, captured German prisoners and artillery, landscapes through which battalions moved, and sights at the London Zoo where Stark went while on leave. The illustrations serve as a rich and indispensable complement to the artist’s military file, to his battalion’s history, and to our visual understanding of a serviceman’s experience during the First World War.

William Redver Stark with cat. Courtesy of Veterans Affairs Canada.

William Redver Stark with cat. Courtesy of Veterans Affairs Canada.

The William Redver Stark fonds was donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2005 by his nephew, Douglas Mackenzie Davies and his family: his wife, Sheila Margaret Whittemore Davies, and their two sons, Kenneth Gordon Davies and Ian Whittemore Davies.

How to search the sketchbooks

All 14 sketchbooks of the William Redver Stark fonds have been individually described and digitized, making it easier to search for themes or types of scenes. For example, you can search the fonds for all images that contain bridges or construction.

To search the sketchbooks, go to the advanced archives search and in the drop-down menu under “Any Keyword,” enter either the archival reference number (R11307) or the MIKAN number (616998). If you want to narrow down your search even more, enter a keyword such as “bridges” in the second box.

Other related materials:

Be sure to read William Redver Stark: Restoring the Sketchbooks to learn more about the work done by LAC’s conservators to restore the sketchbooks.

What Is Heraldry?

Heraldry has been defined by the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada as the “…study, design, regulation and use of armorial bearings, commonly known as coats of arms.” The first example of heraldry in Canada occurred at Gaspé, on July 24, 1534, when Jacques Cartier raised a cross that bore the arms of Francis I, King of France.

More than 450 years later, on June 4, 1988, Canada’s Governor General was made head of the Canadian Heraldic Authority and was given the power to grant armorial bearings in Canada. The Authority’s mandate is to issue coats of arms, flags and badges to Canadians and to Canadian entities. Before 1988, Canadians wishing to obtain armorial bearings had to petition the College of Arms in London, England, or the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Molson coat of arms

Molson coat of arms. Source

Learn more about heraldry from the following reference works:

  • A Canadian Heraldic Primer, written by Kevin Greaves and illustrated by Bruce Patterson and Gordon Macpherson (AMICUS 22962127)
  • Beddoe’s Canadian Heraldry, by Alan Beddoe (AMICUS 11514059)
  • Granting and Registering Armorial Bearings in Canada: Coats of Arms, Flags and Badges – Procedure Guide, by the Canadian Heraldic Authority (AMICUS 25541152)
  • Heraldry in Canada (AMICUS 120587)
  • Flagscan (AMICUS 6865457)

Library and Archives Canada holds the following fonds that pertain to this fascinating tradition:

  • The Royal Heraldry Society of Canada fonds, 1966–2001, which consists of textual records, photographs, art, and moving images that document the programs and activities of the Society (MIKAN 206959)
  • Alan B. Beddoe fonds, 1869–1979 (MIKAN 104827): Mr. Beddoe became the first president of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada when it was founded in 1966.

Interested in knowing more about Canada’s emblems and symbols?

To learn more about Canada’s emblems and symbols, such as the beaver, the fleur-de-lys and the maple leaf, consult the Canadian Identity pages of the Canadian Heritage website.

Images of heraldry now on Flickr

Heraldry is a form of identification using emblems. It started in 12th-century Europe when knights painted their shields to identify themselves while wearing armour. These coats of arms displayed the individual’s identity on the battlefield. The administration and tracking of coats of arms eventually transitioned to monarchies. The granting of these heraldic identification became an honour or reward for individuals or groups.

The Canadian Heraldic Authority, overseen by the Governor General’s office, grants coats of arms to Canadians. Canada is the first Commonwealth country to patriate the practice of this heraldic authority.

View the heraldry images on Flickr.