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The parishes

> Parish registers in Quebec
>The names of the parishes
>Annual number of certificates per parish and map

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. One can appreciate the work involved in processing hundreds of thousands of certificates drawn from old parish registers by viewing some examples:

Page du registre de 1642 Page du registre de 1660 Page du registre de 1707
From the register
of Montréal for 1642
From the register
of Montréal for 1660
From the register
of St-Nicolas for 1707

The names of the parishes

The complete name of a parish includes a patron saint and a place name. Some are quite long, for example: "La-Visitation-de-la-Sainte-Vierge-Marie-de-l'Île-Dupas" or "La-Purification-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie-de-Repentigny". For convenience, the different displays of the site use a short name for the parishes, usually the place name. An  alphabetical list of those short names for parishes with registers opening before 1800, with a reference to the complete name and to different variants, can be viewed.

Annual number of certificates per parish and map

The PRDH database is mainly based on the approximately 690,000 baptismal, marriage, and burial certificates dated prior to 1800 that have come to us from 153 parishes, missions, and institutions. The gathering of data, conducted mainly from 1970 to 1983, consisted of systematically reading registers in ecclesiastical archives, which were manifestly more complete than the civil archives, from microfilms produced by the PRDH for seventeenth-century certificates, and from those produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) in the mid-1970s. When presbytery records were lacking or had gaps, the civil archives were used to fill in the missing information, although both series were not compared certificate by certificate; through this operation, more than 16,000 certificates were added to those provided by the parish registers. It seems that in the last century, Cyprien Tanguay had access to certificates that are no longer in existence, especially for Sorel, Saint-Augustin, and Petite-Rivière-Saint-François, when he was writing his famous Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu'à nos jours (Montreal: E. Sénécal, 1971-90). A search through his dictionary enabled to add 815 more certificates.

In 2004, the PRDH has added some 45 000 burials of the 1800-1850 period (see the presentation of these new data).

All these sources were used to compile the the annual number of certificates per parish in the PRDH data according to the type of certificate. You may also want to locate a specific parish on a map.