In my first article series on this blog ”The omission of women in family trees”1, I talked about the place of women in genealogy, exploring the reasons and the consequences of their exclusion from most research. For this new series, I wanted to reverse the perspective and talk about how women practice genealogy. Why do they do genealogical research? What can they accomplish with their investigations? What place does gender take in their practices? Can genealogy be a source of feminist emancipation for women?
Individual genealogical practices are often related to one’s family. We practice genealogy to find our ancestors, to share our discoveries with our loved ones and to bequeath to future generations a better knowledge of their past. Therefore, it seemed logical to start by trying to see if genealogy could be a part of women’s traditional role in a family : care.
What does ‘’care’’ mean ?
The word ‘’care’’ has first been popularized by Carol Gilligan, who talked more precisely about the ethics of care. Her work put to light the particular bases of the moral and ethical judgement of women and showed it was more contextual and anchored in the maintenance of human relationships as well as in the interdependence of individuals (see Gilligan, 1982). The concept of ‘’care’’ eventually superseded the philosophical and psychological questions of Gilligan. Contemporary feminist theories often refer to ‘’care work’’. Care work is a set of concrete (or material) and less visibles (or more immaterial) tasks which aim to take care of others and the world around us.
Those tasks are usually (at least, in our patriarchal societies) attributed to women. Joan Tronto, a researcher who is interested in care, defines the concept this way : ‘’a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web’’ (Fisher and Tronto, 1990 : 40).
The concept thus includes housework (maintaining the household, planning, preparing meals, purchasing household goods, educating the children, etc (see Robert, 2017 : 15)), but also a way to perceive the world and others and a way to be preoccupied by them, to be aware of the responsibility we have towards them and to care about their wellbeing (Garrau and Le Goff, 2010 : 5). Examples would be listening to and empathizing with our loved ones, adapting to their situations to help them, giving them little marks of affection to maintain our relationship, etc.
Care work is also part of the famous public-private divide that I discussed in my previous articles (particularly here). To prevent women from accessing the public sphere, where the decisions were made and power was held, the patriarchal system has historically relegated them to the private sphere, particularly by assigning them to care work within their families.
Genealogical research and care practice
Genealogy can also be a form of care work. In her doctorate thesis, ‘’ Family webs : the impact of women genealogy research on family communication ’’, Amy M. Smith (2008) interviewed 22 female genealogists to understand how their genealogical practices fit into their family environments as well as in the patriarchal society we live in. Considering the results of her interviews, Smith names care as an important component to women’s genealogical practices. She explains that genealogical research plays a key role in the construction of the individual identities of family members as well as of the identity of the family as a whole. Genealogy can also be very useful in healing intergenerational traumas, and to more serenely live through certain losses, as it can help understand the history of our family. Taking care of our family’s genealogy can therefore be a way to take care of its individual members and the relationships that unite them.
Does this mean that genealogy necessarily confines women? Not at all! Care work is not oppressive in itself : feminists rather criticize the ways in which it is devalued, the absence of recognition for the women who do it, its instrumentalization to keep women away from the public sphere and its uneven distribution between men and women.
Care and emancipation
Care is otherwise revendicated as a part of feminist emancipation. Some theoriticians consider care as fundamentally subversive, because it ”shows the importance of valorizing what women valorize, as opposed to allowing them to access what men valorize”2 (Savard-Laroche, 2020 : 63). Some even go so far as to say that ”care is neither more nor less than a coherent response, both realistic and visionary, to the pitfalls of the dominant paradigms” (Bourgault et Perreault, 2015 : 14). The idea of taking care of our environment and of others, of not stigmatizing dependency and vulnerability but to put forward the interdependence between humans can be a way to counter capitalist and colonial ideologies which destroy our environment and valorize autonomy, individuality and independence to the detriment of solidarity.
A genealogical practice anchored in care could therefore, under certain circumstances, contribute to the valorization of care ethics and to a certain feminist emancipation. In her thesis, Amy M. Smith notes that because they take a particular interest in connections between individuals and between families, genealogists can see the interconnection that exists between all human beings (Smith, 2008 : 107). Between this interconnection and the interdependence put forward by care ethics, there is only a small step!
We also need to remember that care is only one aspect of women’s genealogical practices. There are as many relationships to genealogy as there are women practicing it, and they can be emancipatory in numerous ways : that will be the subject of the second part of this article series.
1 By clicking on the links, you can read part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this series. 2 This quote and the one following have been translated by the author of this article.
Bereni, Laure and Revillard Anne. (2009). « La dichotomie “Public-Privé’’ à l’épreuve des critiques féministes: de la théorie à l’action publique ». In Genre et action publique : la frontière public-privé en questions, Muller, P. and Sénac-Slawinski, R (ed.). Paris : L’Harmattan. p. 27-55.
Bourgault, Sophie and Perreault, Julie. (2015). « Introduction. Le féminisme du care, d’hier à aujourd’hui ». In L’éthique du care. Montréal : Remue-Ménage. p.9-25.
Fisher, Berenice and Tronto, Joan. (1990). ”Towards a Feminist Theory of Care”. In Circles of care, Abel, E. and Nelson, M. (ed.). New York : State University of New York Press, p.36-54.
Garrau, Marie et Le Goff, Alice. (2010). Care, justice et dépendance. Introduction aux théories du care. Paris : Presses Universitaires de France. 160 p.
Robert, Camille. (2017). Toutes les femmes sont d’abord ménagères. Montréal : Éditions Somme Toute. 180 p.
Savard-Laroche, Sophie (2020). Travail et justice du care. (Mémoire de maîtrise). Université Laval.
Smiths, Amy M. (2008). Family Webs: The Impact of Women’s Genealogy, Research on Family Communication. (Thèse de doctorat). Graduate College of Bowling Green State University.
25 historical newspapers have been added to the Drouin Institute’s Miscellaneous Collections, one of 15 tools available to Genealogy Quebec subscribers.
Here are the newly added newspapers:
Le Soleil (Québec) (1909, 1939, 1940 and 2005) Hebdo-Progrès (St-Léonard et Rosemont) (1984) La Parole (Drummondville) (1991 et 1992) La Santé (Montréal) (1969 and 1970) La Voix de l’Est (1971, 1976 and 1979) La Voix de Wolfe (Ham-Nord) (1969 and 1970) Le Canada-Français (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu) (1971 to 1973) Le Courrier d’Orsainville (Québec) (1969) Le Monde Illustré (Montréal) (1887 to 1900) Le Pharillon (Gaspésie) (1979 and 1980) Le Progrès Dimanche (Chicoutimi) (1966) Le Quotidien (Chicoutimi) (1982) Le Richelieu Agricole (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu) (1981 and 1982) Le Riviera (Sorel) (1960 to 1962) Le Samedi (Montréal) (1946) L’Écho (Louiseville) (1986 and 1987) L’Écho Abitibien (Val d’Or) (1987) L’Électeur (PLQ) (1967, 1968, 1971 to 1976) Les Nouvelles Saint-Laurent News (1985 and 1986) L’Horizon (Joliette) (1970 and 1972) Notre Temps (Montréal) (1951, 1952, 1957 to 1960) Perspectives Dimanche Matin (Montréal) (1974 and 1975) The Richmond News (Richmond) (April 30th 1897, May 7th 1897 and December 18th 1914) The Watchman (Lachute) (1919 to 1922) Ville de Val-Bélair (January 28th, 1966)
October 24, 2021 marks the 400th anniversary of the establishment of civil registration in New France. On this exact date, Father Joseph Denis, priest of the Notre-Dame de Québec parish, baptized Eustache Martin, son of Marguerite Langlois and Abraham Martin dit l’Écossais [who gave his name to the Plains of Abraham]. Since the beginnings of the colony, the registration of vital events was entrusted to the ecclesiastical authority which enforced royal ordinances such as the keeping of duplicate registers – one being kept by the parish, the other being deposited at the local court.
From 1703, the drafting of records by the parish priests of New France was done according to the rules prescribed by the Ritual of the Diocese of Quebec. When New France was ceded to England through the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the colonial authorities maintained the old French laws relating to the registration of vital events. In 1774, the Quebec Act confirmed that the keeping of parish registers, whether Catholic or Protestant, was the responsibility of the clergy.
In 1760, Anglo-Protestant registers were introduced following the British Conquest. Protestant marriages were celebrated in accordance with the Marriage Act, a British law of 1754. The first of theses registers is that of the Anglican Garrison Church in Montreal, which covers the 1760 to 1764 period. Between 1760 and 1770, Protestant parishes opened in Montreal , Quebec, Trois-Rivières and Sorel.
In 1795, a law enacted by the Parliament of Lower Canada confirmed the application of the French ordinances while adapting them to the new situation of the country. Over the next two centuries, very few changes were made to the registration of vital events apart from a few minor adjustments resulting from the adoption of a new Civil Code in 1866.
We had to wait a hundred years before a major change was made to Quebec’s civil registration with the introduction of civil marriage which, since 1968, can be celebrated in courthouses and other authorized places. With the number of different denominations, and consequently, the number of celebrants authorized to register events having reached a new high – 5,417 registers were deposited for the year 1989 only – a change was in order. In 1991, a new civil code was adopted, confirming the prerogative of the State in matters of registration of vital events.
In 1994, the government implemented a modern civil registration system and created the position of Directeur de l’état civil which provided Quebec with a single non-denominational register. The new regulations transferred the legal responsibility of recording births, marriages and deaths in the province from the churches to the State. Despite these new regulations, priests and ministers of all faiths are still considered civil officers for the celebration of religious marriages, even if most unions are now contracted before a civil officer approved by the Directeur de l’état civil.
Between 1621 and 1800, the priests of the 159 Catholic parishes of Quebec recorded 690,000 vital events, to which we must add the few thousand Protestant events recorded from 1766 onwards. Between 1800 and 1900, seven million vital events were recorded, a number that grew to more than seventeen million for the 1901 to 2000 period. The Quebec archives now hold nearly 25 million vital event records spanning 4 centuries.
Consult all of Quebec’s parish registers from 1621 to the 1940s by subscribing to Genealogy Quebec today!
Civil registration is an essential source of information for any genealogical, historical or demographic research. The quality of Quebec’s parish registers is unique in the world and the baptism, marriage and burial records drafted by ecclesiastical authorities since the beginning of New France have survived time without many gaps.
Until 1994, parish records were accessible to researchers, but they were closed to consultation with the advent of the new provisions on civil registration. This situation makes genealogical research more difficult and deprives Quebecers and their descendants of an important part of their collective memory. Genealogists such as myself understand that the protection of personal information is a priority in modern times, but shouldn’t our administrative authorities find compromises so that family history research can continue, and to allow the current and future generations the opportunity to learn about their roots?
Recently, the Fédération québécoise des sociétés de généalogie and the Directeur de l’état civil du Québec held exploratory meetings that lead to a certain openness with regard to the consultation of death certificates between 1994 and 2021. It is to be hoped that these discussions will allow the dissemination of certain genealogical information while respecting the privacy of Quebecers. Quebec’s civil registration remains an essential collective asset for reconstructing the history of our families across space and time.
The parish registers of Quebec are an invaluable resource for genealogists and historians interested in the story of the inhabitants of the province. But it is important to emphasize that this window into the past comes to us from a small group of individuals: the priests of the province.
When drafting a parish record, the priest had to follow a predetermined format, dictating a formulation that generally did not deviate from record to record. Genealogists are familiar with this format; date of writing, date of the event, name of the subject(s), name of the parents, all framed by formulas such as “by us, the undersigned priest of the parish” and “who have declared not knowing how to sign”.
But these guidelines did not prevent some priests from adding a little color to their records, as you will see in this article.
The documents used in this article are from the LAFRANCE, one of 15 tools available to Genealogy Quebec subscribers.
We begin our visit of the past in 1734 with priest René Portneuf of the parish of Saint-Jean-de-l’Île-d’Orléans, celebrating the baptism of Marie Renée Marguerite Charlan.
The priest was much more than the officiant of the religious ceremonies of his parish; he was also its moral authority! Let us admire the zeal of Father Portneuf here:
« Je me suis nommé parrain après avoir répudié Simon Campagna à cause de son ignorance […] sur la religion ainsi qu’il apparu à tous ceux qui étaient présents lorsque je l’ai interrogé sur le Petit Catéchisme. »
“I named myself godfather after having repudiated Simon Campagna because of his ignorance […] about religion as it appeared to all those who were present when I asked him about the Small Catechism.”
It is interesting to note that Simon Campagna was already 5 times godfather before his regrettable meeting with Father Portneuf. You will not be surprised to learn that he will have no other godchildren during his lifetime.
The burial of soldier Jean Simon dit Sansregret at the Hotel Dieu de Québec, also in 1734, reminds us of the importance and omnipresence of religion in the customs and culture of the French colony.
« […] sans avoir jamais voulu recevoir les sacrements quoy que les Prêtres et Religieux se fussent employés avec beaucoup de zele pour le gagner, il fut enterré par nos infirmiers proche de la caserne sans honneurs et sans prières, et avec l’horreur qu’il inspirait. »
“[…] without ever having wanted to receive the sacraments despite the Priests and Religious employing great zeal to gain him, he was buried by our nurses near the barracks without honors and without prayers, and with the horror he inspired. “
Clearly, Mr. Simon dit Sansregret (which translates to without regrets) was aptly named.
Speaking of horror, it is hard to miss the blatant racism that is often found in the registers. Take, for example, the baptismal record of Marie Louise, daughter of Marie Anne, dated July 17, 1688 in Lachine.
« […] a été baptisée Marie Louise fille d’une sauvagesse nommée Marie Anne femme de mauvaise vie connue pour folle par tous les pais et coustumière d’avoir de tels enfans »
“[…] was baptized Marie Louise daughter of a savage named Marie Anne woman of ill-repute known for being mad by all the inhabitants and known to have such children”
Family reconstruction work carried out by the PRDH at the University of Montreal allows us to learn a little more about the fate of young Marie Louise. She would have been taken from her mother by the parish priest and entrusted to the Sulpicians, and then brought up by a Pierre Sarault dit Laviolette. Married three times over the course of her life, she drowned in 1777 at the ripe old age of 89.
But all is not dark in the registers; they often remind us of the humanity within some of the colony’s priests. The burial of Marie Benoist on January 13, 1736 in Longueuil, is a good example:
« […] a été inhumé le corps de defunte Marie Benoist […] âgée d’environ 44 ans, pendans lesquels, il a plû au Seigneur de l’éprouver par des maladies et des soufrances continuelles, qui ne lui ont rien fait perdre de l’espris de charité de douceur et de patiance, qui l’ont fait admirer par tous ceux qui ons connu cette vertueuse vierge sans vices qui est décédée comblée de merite et de grâce. »
“[…] was buried the body of deceased Marie Benoist […] aged about 44 years, during which it pleased the Lord to test her by continual illnesses and sufferings, which did not make her lose anything of the spirit of charity, gentleness and patience, which made her admired by all those who have known this virtuous virgin without vices who died full of merit and grace. “
In a similar vein, we have the burial record of naturalist and surgeon Michel Sarrazin, who died on September 9, 1734 at the Hôtel Dieu in Quebec.
« Il avait exercé son art en ce païs plus de 45 ans avec une rare charité, un parfait desinteressement, un succès extraordinaire, une adresse surprenante, une application sans égale pour toutes sorte de personnes qui luy faisait faire avec joye et avec grace, tout ce qui depandait de ses soins pour le soulagement des malades qu’il traitait, il était aussy habile chirurgien que scavant médecin, comme les belles cures qu’il a faites en sont les preuves. »
“He had exercised his art in this country for more than 45 years with rare charity, a perfect disinterestedness, an extraordinary success, a surprising address, an unequaled application for all kinds of people which made him do everything with joy and grace, everything that depended on his care for the relief of the patients he treated, he was as skilful a surgeon as he was a doctor, as the fine cures he performed are proof of this.”
It is evident that Mr. Sarrazin had the esteem and the deep respect of his contemporaries, and he is regarded today as the first Canadian scientist. You can learn more about this fascinating individual here.
We are all aware of the value of church records in the genealogical sphere, but are we paying enough attention to the anecdotes they contain? The priests have offered us, in their own way, a fascinating window into our past, and all researchers should make it their duty to carefully read the records that pertain to their ancestors.
In the next articles in this series, I will continue to explore various historical subjects and themes using the documents available on Genealogy Quebec.
27,153 headstones from 43 cemeteries in Quebec have been added to the Obituary section, one of the 15 tools available to Genealogy Quebec subscribers.
The Obituary section now contains over 730,000 headstones.
The Obituary section
The Obituary section is home to all of the obituaries, memorial cards and headstones available on Genealogy Quebec. It is divided in 4 sub-sections.
This section contains obituaries published online by various Canadian newspapers and funeral homes between 1999 and today. As of October 2021, the collection contains over 2,630,000 obituaries and is being updated monthly.
This section contains over 1,250,000 death notices published in newspapers from Quebec, Ontario and the United States between 1860 and today.
This section contains 97,800 memorial cards published between 1860 and today. Most of these cards pertain to individuals who died in Quebec.
This section contains 730,000 indexed pictures of headstones from various cemeteries in Quebec and Ontario. Here is a list of the cemeteries available in the collection.
More information about this section can be found on the Drouin Institute’s blog.
You can browse the Obituary section as well as tens of millions of other documents of historical and genealogical significance by subscribing to Genealogy Quebec today!
Genealogy Quebec is a subscription based research website regrouping all of the collections and tools developed by the Drouin Institute over the course of its existence.
The website’s 15 tools and collections total for over 49 million images and files covering all of Quebec as well as part of the United States, Ontario and Acadia from 1621 to this day. Genealogy Quebec is by far the largest collection of Quebec genealogical and historical documents on the Web.
The PRDH-IGD is a directory of ALL vital events (baptisms, marriages and burials) recorded by the Catholic church in Quebec and French Canada from 1621 to 1849, as well as a genealogical dictionary of families commonly referred to as “Family Reconstructions”.
The PRDH-IGD database contains over 2,500,000 records and can be described as a comprehensive family tree of the French-Canadian population from the beginnings of the colony to 1849.
The Fichier Origine is a repertory of baptisms of immigrants to Quebec found in their country of origin (France, essentially) within a collaborative project between French and Quebec genealogy federations coordonated in Quebec
The years 1915 to 1978 of Lovell’s Montreal City Directory have been added to the City Directories tool, one of the 15 collections offered to Genealogy Quebec subscribers.
In total, 150,000 new images are now available to subscribers of the website.
Lovell’s Montreal City Directory
The Lovell is a municipal directory of the city of Montreal and its surroundings published since the 1840s. It contains, among other things, a list of residents sorted by street and address, a list of residents in alphabetical order, a list of merchants and professionals as well as a list of various institutions.
On Genealogy Quebec, the Lovell is presented in a tree structure in the City Directories tool. Every year, from 1843 to 1978, is divided into a series of subfolders:
Introduction – Contains the cover page, a preface, as well as a table of contents
Index to Streets, Avenues, Lanes – An index of the streets, avenues and lanes of the city
Index to Miscellaneous – An index of miscellaneous institutions (shops, religious and governmental buildings, schools, etc.) by name
Index to Page Advertisers – An index of advertisers who paid for a full page advertisement
List of Line Advertisers – An index of advertisers who paid for a small advertisement
Advertisers Business Classified Directory – Advertisers indexed by type of of services offered
Street Directory – An index of residents and businesses, sorted by street and address
Alphabetical Directory – An index of residents and businesses, sorted by name
Places in the neighborhood of Montreal outside city limits – A shorter, less detailed version of the city directory for neighborhoods of Montreal that weren’t inside city limits at the time
Miscellaneous directory – An index of traders and professionals organized by the types of services they offer
Within these folders, another series of subfolders divides the images by letter, in alphabetical order. For example, to find the address of a Desjardins ancestor, you must go to Alphabetical Directory and open the “D” folder under the desired year.
The City Directories tool also contains the Marcotte, which is the Lovell‘s equivalent for Quebec City.
You can browse the Marcotte and Lovell directories as well as tens of millions of other documents of historical and genealogical interest by subscribing to Genealogy Quebec today!
16,767 baptism, marriage and burial cards have been added to the BMD cards tool, one of 15 collections available to Genealogy Quebec subscribers.
These cards cover the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Iberville regions from 1900 to 1970.
You can browse them with a subscription to Genealogy Quebec in the BMD cards tool, under the ” Fiches (villes)/District judiciaire d’Iberville/ ” folder.
What is the BMD cards tool?
The BMD cards tool is a repository of baptism, marriage and burial cards from Quebec, Ontario and the United States.
The documents in this collection are organized in a tree structure. In the majority of cases, the cards are distributed in alphabetical order according to the last name of the subject of the card or the name of the location where applicable.
In genealogical research, locations often play a very important role : they can help us confirm a person’s identity or guide our research when looking for an ancestor. Even if their role is not central to our investigation, from the moment we consult modern sources such as civil records or a nominative census, we will necessarily encounter a variety of toponyms (Jetté, 1991 : 89) – cities, parishes or even street names!
Thereby, you may have noticed that Quebec’s toponyms are far from parity. We estimate that women represent less than 10% of Quebec anthroponymic toponymy. To phrase it differently, for each place named after a woman, there are 10 others named after a man (Beaudoin and Martin, 2019 : 1).
Faced with this observation, a movement for toponymic parity was created. Sarah Beaudoin and Gabriel Martin are both involved in this cause : Beaudoin as a feminist activist and Martin as a linguist. They published a book about the subject : Femmes et toponymie, de l’occultation à la parité.
The book offers a surprisingly complete overview for its 125 pages. The authors first present a historical portrait of the movement for toponymic parity in Quebec, then address common myths. From the supposed low importance of working towards toponymic parity to the so-called insufficient number of prominent women in history, all arguments against resolutions aimed at achieving toponymic parity are examined.
Through the development of this argument, the authors discuss a variety of feminist concepts such as radical feminism and patriarchy. The book also demonstrates a sensibility towards different types of oppression (like racism and colonialism), particularly for indigenous issues. The cover is a tribute to An Antane Kapesh, an innu band leader and author of the well-known book Eukuan nin matshimanitu innu-iskueu – I am a damn savage. However, the use of the term “amerindian” a few times in the book is regrettable since it is now considered derogatory (Picard, 2018).
The book ends with a list of potential toponyms and a chart for toponymic parity, which serves as a concrete link between the demands of the movement and Quebec’s reality. It is also a good opportunity to discover women who have marked our history : among the 145 toponymic suggestions, 10 are the subject of a short presentation, more than half of which are racialized and/or indigenous women.
The book accomplishes the feat of remaining very accessible while addressing several issues in depth. Those who are not very familiar with feminism or toponymy will nonetheless understand, the book serving as a good introduction to these subjects. Those who have a deeper understanding of either feminism or toponymy will also find their read interesting : even after studying feminism in university, I learned quite a lot reading this book, finding ways to refine my feminist argument and discovering prominent women of our history.
All in all, it is an excellent book that will provide you with a different outlook, both in your genealogical research and in your everyday life.
Reference list :
Jetté, René. (1991). Traité de Généalogie. Montreal : Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 716 p.
Beaudoin, Sarah et Martin, Gabriel (2019). Femmes et toponymie, de l’occultation à la parité. Sherbrooke : Les Éditions du Fleurdelysé, 125 p.