Pre-Confederation St. Lawrence maritime pilot certificates at Library and Archives Canada

By Rebecca Murray

The details of when and where our ancestors were born, lived and died are the building blocks of genealogical research. Knowing how they spent their time or were employed can help connect the dots.

By any chance, might one of your ancestors have been a certified maritime pilot on the St. Lawrence River?

This blog post will focus on records specific to Quebec, beginning with the Trinity House fonds (MG8-A-18), which includes a list of certified maritime pilots for the period 1805–1846. Found in MG8-A-18, Volume 5, this list includes the date of certification and any suspensions of that certification along with reasons for the suspensions. The documentation is in French and arranged in chronological order.

A note in the fonds description gives us a clue about where to look next for related records: “Trinity House […] continued in existence until 1875 when its functions were taken over by the Department of Marine and Fisheries.”

This leads us to the Department of Marine fonds (RG42), specifically the “St. Lawrence river pilot’s certificates” series (1762–1840). The certificates are described at the item level in Finding Aid 42-1 and the documents themselves can be found in RG42 volumes 1 through 6, which are open for consultation and reproduction.

You’ll notice, though, that this series covers up until only 1840, which means that if you’ve identified a certified pilot from the Trinity House fonds list you might not be able to identify their certificate in RG42. The series description tells us that “[related] records that serve as a second source of authorization for pilotage are […] found in the Registrar General sous-fonds (RG68, Vols. 210-211, MIKAN 311, R1008-10-1-E). These registers have a different format than the Marine Branch certificates but the information contained is the same.”

To find these related records, first consult the General Index on digitized microfilm reel C-2884 on the Héritage website and look for the name of the individual of interest in the alphabetical key at the beginning of the reel.

A blurry black-and-white table with names, numbers and folio references.

RG68 key to the general index (C-2884), image 30

When you identify the individual you are looking for, there may be several pairs of numbers next to his name. For example, if I am looking for Fabien Caron, I will look under ‘C’ to find his name, and will then see that the pair of numbers next to his name is 5, 309. The second number indicates the page of the index where we will find the relevant entry, and the first number indicates the line number on that page.

We can scroll ahead on the same microfilm reel to find the general index for the same time period. The fifth line of page 309 does indeed refer to Fabien Caron, and provides us with further information that will allow us to identify the actual certificate: liber 2, folio 117, 5th September 1845.

A black-and-white table with numbers, liber number, folio, dates and names.

RG68 general index (C-2884), image 650

We can now perform a search of the archival database for RG68 and file number 2. By filtering our search results for those from the 1840s we can quickly identify RG68 volume 211, file 2, “Commissions – Branch Pilots” (1838 – 1867) as the relevant source. This volume is available on digitized microfilm reel C-3950. Folio (page) 117 is where we will find the entry for Fabien Caron’s certification.

A black-and-white reproduction of the commission that entitled Fabien Caron to be a maritime pilot.

RG68 volume 211, file 2, “Commissions – Branch Pilots” (C-3950), image 475

If you think Library and Archives Canada might hold this type of record for one of your ancestors, give this method a try! You never know what you might find.


Rebecca Murray is an archivist in Reference Services at Library and Archives Canada.

 

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