September 23, 2017

Here’s Why Quebec Church Records are a Great Place to Look for Ancestors

If you have ancestors who lived in the earlier days of Quebec, Catholic church records may prove some of your most consistently helpful resources. 

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, Basse-Ville (Lower Town). Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, Basse-Ville (Lower Town). Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.

Those tracing their ancestors in Quebec can encounter serious frustrations! The same 50 given names appear for 70% of the people before 1800 (and many share the same surnames, too). Almost all passenger lists are missing before 1865. Several early censuses are not easily searchable online.

Thankfully, in Quebec church records are often available back to the 1600s. There are LOTS of them online, and they often contain the distinguishing details–those exact dates, names, relationships and locations–that can help identify an ancestor with greater certainty.

The Catholic church was the dominant religion in Quebec. “Between 1679 and 1993, priests were required to make two copies of all baptisms, marriages, and burials,” explains FamilySearch. “The second copy was sent to civil authorities, and these are found in civil archives. In 1796, churches were required to index their registers.” Records duplication means more chances to find an ancestor. And “while the form and content of the entries vary somewhat, the general quality of the records is excellent.”

Catholic baptisms were performed for newborn babies, often within a day or a few days of birth. It’s often possible to glean the birth date from the baptismal date. This one, for example, states the child was born the day before:

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Baptism of William James Beard, 9 Feb 1856, St. Patrick’s Church parish register, Quebec. Image from “Quebec, Catholic Parish Registers, 1621-1979.” Online at FamilySearch; click to view.

As you can see, in this baptismal record, the parents are identified as lawfully married. The father’s military regiment is named. Two witnesses are named, one who signed the register himself and the other who declared herself illiterate. Catholic marriage and death records can also be rich in genealogical data. Though most Quebec church records are in French, this one happened to be in English.

I learned recently about an interactive map of Quebec’s Catholic parishes (and other churches) up to 1912. Click below to check it out:

Quebec catholic parishes

Once you’ve identified the nearest parish, you will more confidently identify your ancestors in databases of church records, or pursue their listings in offline resources. Start looking in databases like these:

I also recommend exploring this excellent website for Quebec genealogy:
Quebec Records: The Genealogical Website of French America

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About Sunny

Sunny Morton is a genealogy writer whose work is read by thousands in magazines and online. As a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems, she frequently posts on the news, but also loves to share quick research tips, reveal little-known resources or take genealogists for an exhilarating dive into deeper research topics and techniques. She's also the author of My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories.