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.