Demystifying women’s history in Quebec

L’attribut alt de cette image est vide, son nom de fichier est IGD-large-1024x336.png.

In my last article, Genealogy and women’s history, I talked about the ways in which genealogy can shed light on women’s history, whether by highlighting certain oppressions (injunctions to marriage or maternity, or even slavery for example), or their numerous contributions to society, whether in the family or as nuns, midwives or seamstresses. To be able to do this highlighting work, it is necessary to know a bit about the context in which women were living. A good starting point for this is the book Quebec Women : a History from the Clio Collective (1987). 

The Clio Collective was formed by four historians : Marie Lavigne, Jennifer Stoddart, Micheline Dumont and Michèle Jean. The name is inspired by Greek mythology : Clio, daughter of Mnemosyne, the memory goddess, is History’s Muse. It seems the four authors were inspired by genealogical questions as well. They open their book with a short anecdote :

On the left, a portrait of Clio, History’s Muse, by Johannes Moreelse ; on the right, a portrait of Mnemosyne, goddess of memory, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Source : Wikimedia Commons. 

”Seven-year old Anne was sitting in the corner of the kitchen, tracing her family tree. She named people as if reciting a nursery rhyme. “My mother’s name is Juliette, Juliette’s mother was called Rebecca, Rebecca’s mother was Maria, Maria’s mother was Emilie…” […] In history classes, nobody could tell her what Emilie, her great-great-grandmother, had done”(Clio’s Collective, 1987 : 11).

Indeed, when the four historians got together, in the 70s, there did not exist a book synthetizing women’s history in Quebec : therefore, their goal was to write one. They wanted to show that ”Women were not only spectators, but also actors in the world’s history” (Collard, 2012). By this, they didn’t only mean ”great women” such as Therese Casgrain or Marguerite Bourgeoys, but also the hundreds of thousands of Emilie, women most would consider ”insignificant” (Clio Collective, 1997 : 11).

Quebec Women : a History can teach us a lot about these ”ordinary” women we often find in our family trees. The book covers four centuries of history, from 1617 to 1979. It can therefore be a very useful complement to our genealogical research. Divided in six periods (Beginnings 1617-1703 ; Stability 1701-1832 ; Upheavals 1832-1900 ; Contradictions 1900-1940 ; The Impasse 1940-1969 ; and The Explosion 1969-1979), the book explores a great variety of subjects. We can find details about parts of life often considered ”trivial” (the modalities surrounding family life or work, for example), but also clarifications of how significant political events, such as major wars or regime changes, affected women’s lives.

Book cover of Quebec Women: a History from the Clio Collective (1987)

On the fourth cover of the French version of Clio’s Collective’s book, we can read ”Some might say : ”Another book about women!” They are wrong. It is another history book. It’s history told differently” (Clio Collective, 1982). This short quote already announces that it’s not only about feminism, it’s about having a more complete vision of history. It summarizes well the interest we should, as genealogists, have in the issues raised by the Collective. The book was wildly successful (after all, we are still talking about it as we celebrate its fortieth birthday this year) and has greatly contributed to moving things forward, but even today, we must acknowledge that there is still work to be done in the recognition of women’s role in history.. A reform of the education program would certainly help, and as genealogists, we can also contribute.

Despite its desire for universalization, the Clio Collective couldn’t talk about everything : blind spots are expected in all history books. But it’s important to avoid universalizing the experiences described in Quebec Women : a History. Racialized women (particularly black women), indigenous women, immigrant women as well as lesbians, among others, are sometimes mentionned but would certainly have benefited from occupying a more important place in the book : after all, they were also part of the history of Quebec and we should not forget it. As such, it is important to read this book with a critical eye, keeping in mind an intersectional perspective which highlights other axes of oppression such as race. Quebec Women : a History is still very pertinent, in particular to analyze the lives of white and heterosexual women in Quebec across centuries.

You will find a great number of references to dig into more specific subjects in the bibliography of Quebec Women : a History. I’m also leaving some suggestions of books that are not in its bibliography as they were published afterwards. Once again, the experiences of white and heterosexual women are at the center of those books. If you know other references thatdeal with women’s history in Quebec, don’t hesitate to email me, in particular if they focus on the reality of marginalized women (immigrants, non-whites, non-heterosexuals, etc). I will add them here : this way we can create a reference bank on women’s history, which will certainly enrich our genealogical research.

Audrey Pepin


References of women’s history :

General :

Clio’s Collective (1987). Quebec Women : a History. Toronto : The Women’s Press, 396 p.

Collectif Clio (1982). L’histoire des femmes au Québec depuis quatre siècles. Montréal : Les Quinze, 521 p.

Bouchard, Serge, Lévesque, Marie-Christine and Back, Francis (2011). Elles ont fait l’Amérique. Montréal : LUX, 452 p.

Women’s Work :

Bazinet, Sylvain (2020). Dictionnaire des artistes québécoises avant le droit de vote. Montréal : Sylvain Bazinet, 306 p.

Gousse, Suzanne (2013). Couturières en Nouvelle-France. Québec : Septentrion, 280 p.

Robert, Camille. (2017). Toutes les femmes sont d’abord ménagères. Montréal : Éditions Somme Toute. 180 p.

Other references in this article :

Bernard, Jean-Paul (1983). « Le collectif Clio, L’histoire des femmes au Québec depuis quatre siècles ». Recherches sociographiques, vol. 24, no. 3, p. 423–428. 

Collard, Nathalie (2012, 8 mars). « Il y a 30 ans, le Collectif Clio ». La Presse. [Online]: https://www.lapresse.ca/arts/livres/201203/08/01-4503559-il-y-a-30-ans-le-collectif-clio.php 

Lequin, Lucie (1992). « L’histoire des femmes au Québec depuis quatre siècles ». Canadian Woman Studies, vol. 13, no. 1, p.107-108.

McCue, Harvey A. (2020) « Indian » in The Canadian Encyclopedia. [Online]: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/indian-term 

Genealogy and women’s history

(This article is a follow-up to Genealogy and care work)

As genealogists, we have access to little windows into the past. Our familial histories, the lives of our ancestors, all fit into the much larger context of the society in which they lived. If we pay enough attention, we can see traces of that in our research. These little pieces of the past can be very instructive, as they can help us better understand certain realities. In this sense, I believe genealogy can serve feminist emancipation : it can shed light on women’s history.

Genealogy can teach us a lot about the living conditions of women at different times. In our genealogical research, we can discover how many children our female ancestors had, at what interval, how many survived, how old they were when they got married and when they gave birth, if they became widows, how many times, at what age, etc. From these facts, we can rebuild their life stories, partially of course, since their lives cannot be summed up entirely to their familial context. However, because the social role of women has often been to take care of their families, these facts can teach us a lot about their daily lives, the major milestones of their lives and the challenges they faced.

Source: Individual File 13420, PRDH-IGD.com
Source: Family File 4903, PRDH-IGD.com
Marie Catherine Sicotte’s individual and family files from PRDH-IGD.com give us a relatively detailed overview of her life; her place and date of birth, marriage and death, the names of her parents as well as the list of her children including the place and date of their birth, marriage and death.

We can also certainly see in this information the different ways in which patriarchy influenced women’s lives. Subtle social norms and very concrete laws concerning the injunction to marriage and motherhood or access to contraception and abortion are directly reflected in our family trees and in our family histories. When we connect the life stories of several generations, we can see how these influences changed over the decades, or even centuries.

Genealogy can also help us understand what roles women played in society. The documents we use in a genealogical research often mention the men’s occupations, but it’s a lot more rare for women, who were taking care of the children or helping with the family business in the shadows of their husbands. However, there is an exception : the midwives! Midwives who assisted the birth of a child are sometimes mentioned on baptismal records.

Source: Record 2953156, LAFRANCE, GenealogieQuebec.com

The roles women played in our societies were rarely recognized, let alone valued: and yet, they were crucial. Midwives often were essential local medical resources, especially in smaller or remote villages where access to a doctor was not always guaranteed (Laforce, 1983 :7 ; Bates et al, 2005 :18). House work and child rearing are also essential in any family, and it was often because women took care of it that men were able to devote themselves to more public and supposedly important activities (like politics, art, science, etc).

This devalorization continues to this day : women who choose to be stay-at-home-moms are often seen as ‘’not working’’ (we can think of the notorious play ‘’Môman travaille pas, a trop d’ouvrage’’  (mom doesn’t have a job, she has too much work) (Théâtre des cuisines, 1976)) and jobs typically done by women are significatively underpaid. Canadian Women’s Foundation underlines that ‘’jobs that conform to traditional gender roles tend to be undervalued because they parallel domestic work that women were expected to perform for free’’ (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2021). By putting these roles forward in our genealogical research, we can participate in their revalorization, so that the contributions of women from the past and the present are more recognized.

This type of genealogical research can also bridge the gap between familial histories, personal to each genealogist, and the much more global history of a society. Genealogy can therefore link the public and private spheres even if they are presented as fundamentally opposed by the patriarchy (Bereni and Revillard, 2009). This opposition is directly linked to women’s oppression : because these spheres are seen as completely different, even incompatible, women’s assignment to the private sphere necessarily excludes them from the public sphere.

Feminists worked towards the deconstruction of this opposition : this idea is notoriously carried in the famous slogan of radical feminists ‘’the personal is political’’. We can therefore consider that particular genealogical practices which link these two spheres and blur the line that divide them participate to this deconstruction and to the feminist emancipation project.

Audrey Pepin


Bibliography

Bates, Christina, Dodd, Diane and Rousseau, Nicole (2005). Sans Frontières : quatre siècles de soins infirmiers canadiens. Ottawa : Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa. 248 p.

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. et Sénac-Slawinski, R (dir.). Paris : L’Harmattan. p. 27-55.

Canadian Women’s Foundation (2021). The Facts about the Gender Pay Gap in Canada  [Online]. https://canadianwomen.org/the-facts/the-gender-pay-gap/ 

Laforce, Hélène (1983). L’évolution du rôle de la sage-femme dans la région de Québec de 1620 à 1840. (Master’s thesis). Québec : Université Laval, 368 p. https://corpus.ulaval.ca/jspui/handle/20.500.11794/28994 Théâtre des cuisines. (1976). Môman travaille pas, a trop d’ouvrage. Montréal : Les Éditions du Remue-Ménage, 78 p.

Genealogy and care work

L’attribut alt de cette image est vide, son nom de fichier est IGD-large-1024x336.png.

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.

The Spring Clean, unknown artist. Source : Wikimedia Commons.

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, 2008 [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.

Mother and Child (The Goodnight Hug), Mary Cassat. Source : Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Bibliography :

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.

Gilligan, Carol. (2008 [1982]). Une voix différente : pour une éthique du care. Paris : Flammarion. 284 p.

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. 


Women in Quebec’s toponymy

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!

Saint-Thomas de Joliette church, one of many Quebec parishes named after a man.
Source: Drouin Institute’s Miscellaneous Collections (Fonds Pierre-Colpron), GenealogyQuebec.com

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.

Notarized contract mentioning Sainte-Thérèse and Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, cities named after women.
Source: Notarized documents tool, GenealogyQuebec.com

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.

Audrey Pepin


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.

Picard, Ghislain (2018, September 26th). « Non, les Autochtones ne sont pas des Amérindiens ». HuffPost Québec. https://quebec.huffingtonpost.ca/ghislain-picard/autochtones-pas-amerindiens-terminologie-colonialisme_a_23541813/ 

The omission of women in family trees – Part 3

(This is a 3 part article. Click to read: Part 1, Part 2)

In my previous article, I detailed the consequences of the erasure of women in familial histories. Fortunately, although the patriarchal bases of this erasure are well rooted in our society, they can be rethought and subverted. Now that we know this problem exists, what can we do? How can the genealogical community help, to the extent of its practice, build a society that is closer to the gender equality ideal?

Two women practicing archery, 1942. Source: BAnQ digital archives.

First, we can change our vocabulary. In the first part of this article, I  stressed that, often, the terms that are used in genealogical research seem to forget about women (Cousteau Serdongs, 2008 : 133). This issue is of great importance : according to numerous authors, language, words, shape our interpretation of reality (it is the subject of the Saphir-Whorf hypothesis, see Whorf, 1978. On the link between linguistics and women’s condition, see Yaguello, 2002). Francine Cousteau Serdongs (2008: 134) therefore suggests that we should create a non-sexist genealogical vocabulary as well as a more neutral numbering system.

Secondly, we can review our way of doing genealogical research. Cousteau Serdongs (2008: 134) suggests that we should create search tools which facilitate the search for one’s female ancestors by separating them from their husbands: although there are some exceptions, for example the Féminine (Women series) in the Great Collections of the Drouin Genealogical Institute, most search tools will list a couple under the man’s name.

In the Drouin Institute’s Women Series, couples are listed according to the bride’s surname and first name. Source: La Féminine (Women series), Drouin Institute’s Great Collections, GenealogyQuebec.com

On an individual level, Cousteau Serdongs invites genealogists to take interest in their matrilineal line, traced from mother to daughter, to publish their research and to try and reunite descendants from uterine pioneers in associations (2008: 143). This lineage could even be highlighted by a new tradition of last name’s transmission, as suggested by Pierre-Yves Dionne. In his book De mère en fille : comment faire ressortir la lignée maternelle de votre arbre généalogique (From Mother to Daughter : How to bring out the maternal line of your family tree) (2004), he suggests that we could pass on the name of a common female ancestor to subsequent generations of girls.

Dionne also presents in his book his own process of reconstructing his matrilineal line: it can therefore be used as a reference for anyone who wishes to do the same. Judy Russell (Clyde, 2017b) also makes some suggestions for those who struggle with finding their female ancestors: for example, to search in divorce, school, or churches registries.

We also need to think about the future: to make sure that women will not be ignored or left in the background of tomorrow’s research, we can recognize the value of their perspectives and make them visible today. Some women have already started, like the American genealogists who participated in the study of Amy M. Smith (2008). One in particular explained how she was keeping a diary for her descendants, so that they can understand her life and her points of view (M. Smith, 2008: 93). This ensures her life will be documented for future generations to read. This practice also represents women as subjects of their own story, rather than objects in a man’s story.

Westmount Catholic Women’s Club, 1943. Source: BAnQ digital archives.

Multiple feminist genealogical practices are already applied by researchers. In future articles, I will have the occasion to explore in depth the ways in which genealogy can help bring the experiences of women to light or subvert the division between the public and the private sphere, a division which plays a primordial role in patriarchal oppression (see Bereni and Revillard, 2009). We have in front of us a world of possibilities to make genealogy more feminist: it is up to us to get involved!

Audrey Pepin

Bibliography

Bereni, Laure et 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. et Sénac-Slawinski, R (dir.). Paris: L’Harmattan. p. 27-55.

Clyde, Linda. (2017b, 3 mai). Where to Look to Find Your Female Ancestors. Family Search [Blog].  https://www.familysearch.org/en/blog/where-to-look-to-find-your-female-ancestors

Cousteau Serdongs, Francine. (2008). Le Québec, paradis de la généalogie et « re-père » du patriarcat : où sont les féministes ? De l’importance d’aborder la généalogie avec les outils de la réflexion féministe. Recherches féministes vol. 21, no. 1, p.131-147. https://doi.org/10.7202/018313ar

Dionne, Pierre-Yves. (2004). De mère en fille : comment faire ressortir la lignée maternelle de votre arbre généalogique. Sainte-Foy: Éditions MultiMondes ; Montréal: Éditions du Remue-Ménage, 79 p.

M. Smiths, Amy. (2008). Family Webs: The Impact of Women’s Genealogy, Research on Family Communication. (doctoral thesis). Graduate College of Bowling Green State University.

Reny, Paule et des Rivières, Marie-José. (2005). Compte-rendu de Pierre-Yves Dionne De mère en fille. Comment faire ressortir la lignée maternelle de votre arbre généalogique. Montréal, Les Éditions Multimondes et les éditions du remue-ménage, 2004, 79 p. Recherches féministes, vol. 18, no. 1, p.153-154. https://doi.org/10.7202/012550ar

Whorf, Benjamin Lee. (1978 [1971]). Linguistique et anthropologie essai. Trad. de l’anglais par Claud Carme. Paris: Paris Denoël/Gonthier. 228 p.

Yaguello, Marina. (2002 [1978]). Les mots et les femmes. Paris: Éditions Payot. 257 p

The omission of women in family trees – Part 2

(This is a 3 part article. Click to read: Part 1, Part 3)

In my previous article, I demonstrated that women are often forgotten in genealogical research: patrilineal lineages are prevalent (Jetté, 1991: 110 ; Drouin, 2015) and women’s presence is often  made invisible through the vocabulary used (Cousteau Serdongs, 2008 : 133). This problem is anchored in the patriarchal organization of our society as well as in the reproduction of sexism in genealogical practices. We will now detail the consequences of this omission and the reasons why this problem deserves our attention.

The omission of women in the construction of genealogical lineages is part of a system of erasure and devaluation of women’s accomplishments, as well as appropriation and control of their work and bodies. The consequences are very concrete. Francine Cousteau Serdongs points out that “the lack of knowledge of women’s history from women of one’s own lineage makes it impossible to identify with them [1](2008: 138). It might also make it more difficult to identify what shaped one’s family and the role gender played in its formation. Patriarchal values (such as imperatives imposed on women’s appearances or behaviors) are reproduced not only in the public space, but also in the private space as they are often transmitted to children from an early age.

Not knowing about the history of women in our family can prevent us from understanding generational traumas or gendered perspectives as an essential part of our familial dynamic and culture. A better understanding of those issues would certainly play an important role in the deconstruction of patriarchal schemes transmitted in the family and in the consolidation of solidarity between women (Cousteau Serdongs, 2008: 138).

Four generations in one picture, Wikimedia Commons.

The erasure of women in genealogy also tends to go hand in hand with their erasure in the great History. Francine Cousteau Serdongs gives many examples of that phenomenon (2008: 135-136). She mentions the women on the Grande recrue ship and the spouses of famous men, like Charles Le Moyne. This invisibility certainly plays a role in the devaluation of women’s roles and work that is still going on today in our society: if we can’t recognize women’s past realizations, why would we be able to recognize present ones?

Charles Le Moyne and Catherine Primot’s marriage. Source: Record 47196, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

When we neglect mothers in genealogical research, we also devalue their role and we negate their implication in passing on the heritage, while men, because they pass on their last name, are an obvious part of one’s lineage (Cousteau Serdongs, 2008: 132). To quote Francine Cousteau Serdongs: “In the second generation, women are ignored, allegedly because they don’t have the same last name. Everything happens as if women didn’t have a lineage of their own but were simply helping their spouse have one” (2008: 133). Symbolically, this perpetuates a representation of women as “objects” with no agency (Cousteau Serdongs, 2008: 139-140), when in reality, women were playing an essential and active role in their family and their society.

It is true that women have historically been relegated to reproduction and the private sphere. They were kept out of the public space: the places where decisions were made and power was held. We can find traces of this private/public division since ancient Greece and despite the recent feminist progress, in some ways, it is still accurate today (see Bereni and Revillard, 2009). But even if women were locked up in the private sphere, it was not really a place for them to lead either. Patriarchal values continually dictated how women should act, even in private spaces. Medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth, the imperatives about how they should raise their children and clean their houses and the restrictions concerning abortion are all glaring examples of the way women’s work (including their work with children) is controlled and appropriated by men (see Cousteau Serdongs, 2008: 141-142 or Guillaumin, 1978).

Painting of a woman doing laundry

As if it wasn’t enough, the private sphere has also been devalued (see Robert, 2017). The fact that women have been prohibited from giving their last names to their children for a very long time and that even today, we rarely allow them to appear in familial histories contribute to this appropriation of women’s work by men as well as in the patriarchal control and devaluation of the private sphere.

These consequences are even more important for racialized women, who are at the intersection of multiple oppression systems such as racism and sexism. For indigenous women, the erasure of their role in familial history meant the loss of their “Indian status” when they married a non-indigenous man. Their children couldn’t get the status either. This often meant being deprived of certain political, cultural, and social rights and often losing access to their community (see Arnaud, 2014: 213-217). The C-31 law, voted in 1985, allowed women who lost their status because of their marriage to a non-indigenous person to get it back, but their children could only get a non-transmissible status, unlike the children of indigenous fathers. It would take 25 years for this disposition of the law to be changed (Arnaud, 2014: 216). These simple changes in the law were not even enough to give their communities back to these women and children: the communities were lacking space and money and received no support at all to welcome back these people. Women were perceived badly, as if they were upsetting the established order and forcing the hand of their communities: this issue has yet to be resolved.

Native women with their children, Vancouver, 1901, Wikimedia Commons

(Trigger warning: mention of rape in the next paragraph.)

This conception of women as carriers of men’s lineages also contributed to the imposition of chastity and fidelity standards which were used to ensure the identity of a child’s father (Knibiehler, 2012). Outside of Quebec, rape has been used as a weapon of war in many contexts. Women’s bodies were used to “tarnish genealogical lineages” and punish certain peoples. To quote Véronique Nahoum-Grappe, talking about ex-Yugoslavia “rape became, some sort of a victory on war’s front against the collective identity of the enemy, a victorious invasion of their reproductive space” (1996, 153). While, to my knowledge, events of this sort have not been documented during Quebec’s colonization, it is still very possible they happened. In 2014, Statistics Canada reported that indigenous women were three times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault than non-indigenous women (Boyce, 2014).

In conclusion, the omission of women in genealogy contributes to a patriarchal culture which erases and devalues women’s accomplishments as well as the oppression they live under within their societies and families. It also contributes to the appropriation and control of their work and bodies. It is urgent that we find ways to change this situation and work towards a society in which we can all be equals: my next article will detail how we can achieve this in the field of genealogy.

Audrey Pepin

 

[1] Quotes which were originally in French have been translated by the author of this article

Bibliography

Arnaud, Aurélie. (2014). Féminisme autochtone militant : quel féminisme pour quelle militance? Nouvelles pratiques sociales, vol. 27, no. 1, p.211-222.

Baillargeon, Denyse. Compte-rendu de Yvonne Knibiehler, La virginité féminine. Mythes, fantasmes, émancipation. Paris , Odile Jacob, 2012 221 p. Recherches féministes, vol. 25, no. 2, p.191-193.

Bereni, Laure et Revillard Anne. (2009). La dichotomie “Public-Privé» à l’épreuve des critiques féministes: de la théorie à l’action publique. Dans Genre et action publique : la frontière public-privé en questions, Muller, P. et Sénac-Slawinski, R (dir.). Paris : L’Harmattan. p. 27-55.

Boyce, Jillian. (2014). La victimisation chez les Autochtones au Canada, 2014. Statistiques Canada : https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2016001/article/14631-fra.htm

Cousteau Serdongs, Francine. (2008). Le Québec, paradis de la généalogie et « re-père » du patriarcat : où sont les féministes? De l’importance d’aborder la généalogie avec les outils de la réflexion féministe. Recherches féministes vol. 21, no. 1, p.131-147. https://doi.org/10.7202/018313ar

Drouin, Mathieu. (2015). Patrilinéaire, mitochondriale et agnatique : trois façons de faire votre généalogie! Histoire Canada. Récupéré de https://www.histoirecanada.ca/consulter/genealogie/patrilineaire,-mitochondriale-et-agnatique-trois-facons-de-faire-votre-genealogie!

Guillaumin, Colette. (1978). Pratique du pouvoir et idée de nature : 1- L’appropriation des femmes. Questions féministes, no.2, p.58-74.

Jetté, René. (1991). Traité de Généalogie. Montréal : Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 716 p.

Knibiehler, Yvonne (2012). La virginité féminine. Mythes, fantasmes, émancipation. Paris : Odile Jacob, 221 p.

Nahoum-Grappe, Véronique (1996). Purifier le lien de filiation : Les viols systématiques en ex-Yougoslavie, 1991-1995. Esprit, no. 227 (12), p.150-163. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24277272

Robert, Camille. (2017). Toutes les femmes sont d’abord ménagères. Histoire d’un combat féministe pour la reconnaissance du travail ménager. Montréal : Éditions Somme toute, Coll. « économie politique », 178 p.

The omission of women in family trees – Part 1

(This is a 3 part article. Click to read: Part 2, Part 3)

When starting this articles project about feminism and genealogy, I first asked myself what I could have to say about it. I had developed a certain expertise in feminist theory through my studies and activism, but I only knew genealogy from afar. Therefore, I started by doing some research in the library of my university, the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM), and on the internet. I tried different keyword combinations with “genealogy”, both in English and in French: “women”, “feminism”, “patriarchy”, “sexism” …

Jean Talon, Bishop François de Laval and several settlers welcome the King’s Daughters upon their arrival, Painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale – before 1927, Library and Archives Canada

The first thing I noticed was that women, in genealogical research as in many other fields, were often left aside.

Several specialists confirmed that Quebec wasn’t an exception: according to Francine Cousteau Serdongs, who was a lecturer at UQÀM in social work and a genealogy graduate and practitioner, very few genealogists know the name of their uterine pioneer (the woman at the origin of a women lineage, traced from mother to daughter) (Cousteau Serdongs, 2008: 131). She also stressed that the terms that are used in genealogical research seem to forget about women: for example, an ancestry is rarely called patrilineal because it is considered so by default. Another example would be the French word “fratrie”, which means a group of siblings and is directly derived from “frère” which means brother.

Quebec historian Mathieu Drouin pointed out that patrilineal genealogy is the “most known – and generally the easiest way – to rebuild one’s ancestry”[1] (Drouin, 2015) and that matrilineal genealogy is rather “counterintuitive”. Quebec historian, demographer and genealogist René Jetté made the same observation in his Traité de généalogie (Genealogy Treatise) in asserting that patrilineal genealogy is the “most ancient and most popular form” (Jetté, 1991: 110).

Finally, Pierre-Yves Dionne, genealogist and author of De mère en fille. Comment faire ressortir la lignée maternelle de votre arbre généalogique (From Mother to Daughter: How to bring out the maternal line of your family tree) (2004), insists on the fact that in Quebec as in most Western societies, women’s last names almost always come from a man (their husband or their father). He therefore uses genealogy to develop the basis of an eventual transmission of the name of a common female ancestor to subsequent generations of girls. That is exactly what Francine Cousteau Serdongs did: Cousteau is the last name of her uterine pioneer, the first woman in her matrilineage to set foot in New France (Cousteau Serdongs, 2008: 145).

Although the role played by women in history are increasingly emphasized (for example, see Yves Landry’s book on the King’s Daughters, 1992) and some concrete efforts are made to facilitate genealogical research about women (for example, the Drouin Genealogical Institute includes in its Great Collections the Féminine (or Women series), an alphabetical directory of marriages sorted by the bride’s name), I will show in this article that we are not done working on the women’s place in genealogy. Genealogy, like the rest of our society, is based on a patriarchal foundation that we can only deconstruct on the long term. With this first series of articles, I will look into the situation of women in genealogical research in Quebec. I will first explain why women are less present than men in genealogical research. I will then show, in the next articles, what are the consequences of this absence and what possible solutions we can put forward.

As mentioned earlier, our society, genealogical practices included, is a patriarchal society. As underlined by Geneviève Pagé, professor of political science at UQÀM, “patriarchy doesn’t mean that all women are submitted to all men, but that the men’s group, in general, is dominating the women’s group. Therefore, it is not because one woman has had a lot of power […] that we are no longer living in a patriarchal society” (Pagé, 2017: 354). Even though a lot of progress was made by women and feminists in history, in genealogy and in the rest of society, we are still living in a patriarchal system. In genealogy, the marginality of matrilineal lineages that many experts have put forward confirms it. In the rest of our society, it is well shown by the wage inequality, the underrepresentation of women in places of power (such as political institutions) and their overrepresentation in statistics of domestic violence and sexual assault (Pagé, 2017: 353-354).

Patriarchy has forged, through history, a sexist heritage that we didn’t actively construct but that we need to deal with. This heritage partially explains why women’s lineages are invisible in our research. Researchers can indeed have a hard time because of the way last names are passed on. First of all, the fact that women’s last names change every generation, while men pass on their last name to their progeny, makes matrilineal lineages less obvious.

Second, marriage sometimes muddies the waters when it comes to researching women. In Catholic records, women would keep their maiden name in any event that concerned them directly (marriage(s) and death) and even in records that concerned their spouse (remarriage and death) or their children (births, marriages and deaths), but in Protestant registers and historical Canadian censuses until the beginning of the 20th century, women were generally only referred to by the last name of their husband as long as he was alive, and even after (Jetté, 1991 : 436).

Catholic marriage: the bride is identified under her maiden name in the record. Source: Record 345331, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

Protestant marriage; the bride is identified under her husband’s surname in the record. Source: Record 4778127, LAFRANCE, GenealogyQuebec.com

Judy Russell, an American genealogist and law graduate, specifies that, in her country, other factors may make it difficult to retrace women in a genealogical research. The fact that they rarely received any inheritance, that they couldn’t take legal action in their name, own land or even open a bank account erased their names from many registers (Clyde, 2017). Those are additional sources: in general, we use marriages, deaths and births records to construct a family tree. Fortunately, Quebec archives are pretty exhaustive in that matter (Jetté, 1991 : 432), but there are always a couple of forgotten individuals and when those are women, they are more difficult to retrace.

Although we didn’t actively construct this patriarchal heritage, I believe it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to work toward a world where we are all equals. After all, these practices that put forward men’s lineages, we reproduce them day after day and we have the power to change them. Thus, Francine Cousteau Serdongs questions the way genealogy is organised as a science as well as how individuals themselves perpetuate these ideas in their own practice of genealogy (2008: 132). In the next two articles, I will detail the consequences of this erasure on the lives of women and I will explore some potential solutions.

Audrey Pepin

[1] Quotes which were originally in French have been translated by the author of this article

Bibliography

Clyde, Linda. (2017a, 26 avril). Ever Wonder Why It’s So Hard to Trace Your Female Ancestry? Family Search [Blog].  https://www.familysearch.org/en/blog/ever-wonder-why-its-so-hard-to-trace-your-female-ancestry

Cousteau Serdongs, Francine. (2008). Le Québec, paradis de la généalogie et « re-père » du patriarcat : où sont les féministes? De l’importance d’aborder la généalogie avec les outils de la réflexion féministe. Recherches féministes vol. 21, no. 1, p.131-147. https://doi.org/10.7202/018313ar

Dionne, Pierre-Yves. (2004). De mère en fille : comment faire ressortir la lignée maternelle de votre arbre généalogique. Sainte-Foy : MultiMondes Editions ; Montreal : Remue-Ménage Editions, 79 p.

Drouin, Mathieu. (2015). Patrilinéaire, mitochondriale et agnatique : trois façons de faire votre généalogie! Histoire Canada.

https://www.histoirecanada.ca/consulter/genealogie/patrilineaire,-mitochondriale-et-agnatique-trois-facons-de-faire-votre-genealogie!

Jetté, René. (1991). Traité de Généalogie. Montreal : Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 716 p.

Landry, Yves. (1992). Orphelines en France, pionnières au Canada. Les Filles du roi au XVIIe siècle suivi d’un répertoire biographique des Filles du roi. Montreal : Bibliothèque Québécoise Editions, 280 p.

Pagé, Geneviève. (2017). La démocratie et les femmes au Québec et au Canada in La politique québécoise et canadienne, Gagnon et Sanschagrin (dir.), 2nd Edition. Quebec : Presses de l’Université du Québec, p.353 à 374.

Reny, Paule and des Rivières, Marie-José. (2005). Compte-rendu de Pierre-Yves Dionne De mère en fille. Comment faire ressortir la lignée maternelle de votre arbre généalogique. Montréal, Les Éditions Multimondes et les éditions du remue-ménage, 2004, 79 p. Recherches féministes, vol. 18, no. 1, p.153-154. https://doi.org/10.7202/012550ar