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, 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 The concept of ‘’care’’ eventually superseded the philosophical and psychological questions of Gilligan.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.

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. 

Quebec’s civil registration is 400 years old

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.

Record 57096, LAFRANCE,

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.

Record 5585366, LAFRANCE,

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.

Marcel Fournier, AIG
Historian and genealogist

Priests, the moral authority of New France

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.

Father Marquette preaching

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.”

Source: Record 143891, LAFRANCE,

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. “

Source: Record 169203, LAFRANCE,

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”

Source: Record 13426, LAFRANCE,

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.

Source: Individual file 39257,

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. “

Source : Record 106904, LAFRANCE,

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.”

Source: Record 169208, LAFRANCE,

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.

François Desjardins

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,

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


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 :

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.

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

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.

What connects the names Routhier and Lavallée?

There are many examples of two people teaming up to achieve something that connects their names forever : Watson and Crick (discoverers of the double helix structure of DNA), Boyle and Mariotte (co-discoverers of one of the fundamental laws of Physics which bears their names), Banting and Best (two Canadian scientists who discovered insulin), Lewis and Clark (explorers of the American frontier), Stanley and Livingstone…

Such a conjunction exists in French-Canada between Basile Routhier and Calixa Lavallée which is not all that known, although it is underlyingly present in almost every major sport event in Canada.

Calixa Lavallée (left) in 1873 and Basile Routhier (right) in 1890

Adolphe-Basile Routhier was born in St-Benoît in 1839. 9th child of a family of 12 children, he married in 1862 and died in 1920.

Family file of Charles Routhier St-Onge and Angélique Biroleau Lafleur, Basile’s parents, as seen on

His paternal ancestor, Jean-Baptiste Routhier, came from the Saint-Onge region of France as a soldier in the early 1700s.

Individual File of Jean Baptiste Routhier St-Onge, Basile’s paternal ancestor,

Lawyer, judge, professor and author, Basile Routhier was a fervent Catholic, a staunch conservative (he was twice candidate in federal elections, losing to his Liberal rival) and an ardent nationalist. During his long life, he was a prolific writer of poems, essays and journals. His career was brilliant. From 1883 to his death, he was Professor of international law at Laval University, chief justice of the Superior Court of Quebec for two years, and President of the Royal Society of Canada of which he was one of the founding members.


Calixa Lavallée was born in Verchères in 1842 and died in Boston in 1891.

His mother, Caroline Valentine, was the daughter of a Protestant Scottish trader who married a French-canadian woman.

His family name is actually a “Dit” name (a nickname); his ancestor, originating from the Luçon diocese in the Poitou region of France, Isaac-Etienne Paquet “dit” Lavallée, was a soldier of the famous Carignan regiment who fought the Iroquois from 1665 to 1668.

Individual File of Isaac Paquet, Calixa’s paternal ancestor, as seen on

Calixa Lavallée was a man of ideals and of dreams who suffered greatly from his lack of business sense; he died aged 49, away from his native land, mostly unknown and forgotten. But his great talent would prevail to insure his place in Canadian history.

It is in 1880 that fate brought together these two men of such different destinies. Both were members of the organizing committee of the National convention of the French Canadians organized by the Société St-Jean-Baptiste of the city of Quebec when the idea came up to have a sort of “national song” for the occasion, a music to which a patriotic poem could be fitted. Routhier and Lavallée immediately volunteered and eight days later, the O Canada had been created. It was first performed publicly on June 24 1880 and instantly became a great success.

When reading the complete text of Routhier, one realizes it was written as an hymn to the French-Canadians (the term “Canadien” at the time was used to designate the French-Canadians, as opposed to “Les Anglais”). Notwithstanding, an English version (not a translation but rather a completely different text fitted to the music) written in 1908 by another judge, Robert Stanley Weir, to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city of Quebec, also became well known.

And the rest is history. In 1980, O Canada became the National anthem of the land, one century after its creation as a French Canadian patriotic song that brought together the names of Basile Routhier and Calixa Lavallée forever.


Bertrand Desjardins

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,

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

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



Clyde, Linda. (2017, April 26th). Ever Wonder Why It’s So Hard to Trace Your Female Ancestry? Rootstech [Blog].

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.

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.,-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.

Slavery as witnessed through New France’s parish registers

Slavery has allowed many societies to generate income at the expense of the exploited. While the history of slavery is no secret, few Canadians know that their ancestors benefited from this exploitation under the pretense of white superiority. As early as 1629, until its abolition in 1834, Natives and Black people were enslaved by the French and British colonists living in Quebec.

The first individual to be enslaved in New France is believed to be Olivier Le Jeune, an eight-year-old child from Madagascar who was taken into slavery by the Kirk brothers. Olivier Le Jeune died at about 30 years of age as a servant to Guillaume Couillard. The term servant, a translation of the French word domestique, is used here because the institution of slavery was not yet legal* in New France at the time. The document illustrated in Figure 1 is the only religious record available on this Malagasy child. Exhaustive studies of correspondence have made it possible to know his history and origin.

« Le 10 de may mourut a l’hopital Olivier Le Jeune domestique de Monseigneur Couillar après avoir reçu le sacrement de confession et communion par plusieurs fois il fut enterré au cemetiere de la paroisse le mesme jour. »

Which translates to:

“On the 10th of May died at the hospital Olivier Le Jeune servant of sir Couillar after receiving the sacrament of confession and communion he was buried at the cemetery of the parish the same day. “

Figure 1. Olivier Le Jeune: first Black slave that we know of in Quebec
Source: Record 68801, LAFRANCE,

Olivier le Jeune is the first proof of slavery in the St. Lawrence Valley. Marcel Trudel, a pioneer in the study of slavery in Quebec, lists 4,185 Native and Black slaves in the Valley from the 17th to the 19th century (Trudel, 2004). These slaves were mainly acquired through alliances with First Nations, and were war prisoners from various enemy nations of the Native groups allied with the French colonists (Rushforth, 2012).

However, this number only counts the slaves that were found in written records. We believe there were approximately 10,000 Native slaves in New France between 1660 and 1760, but we only know the names of 1,200 of them (Rushforth, 2016).

The trace of slaves in the archives can be subtle and difficult to find. Few researchers have tackled the monumental task of identifying them. First, the term slave only started appearing in official documents around 1709, when Intendant Raudot normalized slavery on the territory of Quebec. (Trudel, 1990: xvi). However, priests remained reluctant to use the term. In the parish archives available on and for the period, the word esclave (slave) is only listed 207 times. The term Panis was more commonly used to designate Native slaves. Among these is young Paul, slave of Paul Lecuyer, who resides in Montreal. His baptismal record illustrated in Figure 2 reads as follows:

« Ce jour d’huy dixseptième aoust mil sept cent quatre a esté baptisé paul sauvage de la nation des panis aagé environ de dix ans demeurant en la maison de paul lecuyer habitant de cette parroisse qui dit avoir achepte le dit sauvage pour la premierre fois desdits sauvages panis et aiant este pris esclaves par d’autres sauvages nommés les renards. Il la rachepte deulx et a le dit paul lecuyer este le parain dudit enfant baptisé et sa femme nommée francoise leconte en a este la maraine quy ont promis l’eléver et l’instruire en la foy catholique apostolicque et romaine aiant dessein de le re tenir a leur service tout autant de temps quil plaira a Dieu de disposer de luy a la mareinne signé et le parain a declaré ne seavoir escrire ny signer de ce enquis suivant l’ordonnance. »

Which translates to:

“Today, the 17th august 1704 has been baptized paul savage aged around 10 years old staying in the house of paul lecuyer living in this parish who claims having purchased said savage from the panis savages which had been enslaved by others savages named les renards. He was bought from them and said paul lecuyer is the godfather of the baptized child and his wife named francoise leconte is the godmother who have promised to raise him and instruct him in the faith of the apostolic and roman catholic church and to keep him under their service for as long as God wills. The godmother signed and the godfather has declared not knowing how to write or sign, as is inquired.”

Figure 2. Baptism record of Paul, slave of Paul Lecuyer
Source: Record 13744, LAFRANCE,

This baptism record shows that young Paul is not mentioned as being the slave of Paul Lecuyer, but only as living in [his] house of and in their service. The priest, however, emphasizes that his godparents, as his owners, will raise him in the Catholic religion, without questioning the legitimacy of the presence of this young Native in the household. This demonstrates the normalization of the practice.

There are no other records mentioning this slave. We cannot find a burial record for this child so far, although his godparents promised to raise him within the Catholic faith; it appears that they did not offer him a burial on Catholic soil. Was he sold? Did he manage to escape his servile condition? These questions, unfortunately, remain unanswered.

Portrait of a Haitian woman, believed to have been the slave of the wife of the Quebec painter François Beaucourt. 1786, Wikimedia Commons

To identify slaves in the records, it is often necessary to use deduction based on the words and innuendos used by the priests. Even when PRDH-IGD identifies an individual as a slave, the word itself is generally not written explicitly in any of the records pertaining to the individual.

For example, let us look at the case of Marguerite Françoise, a young Panis girl baptized at the age of 14, whose baptism is illustrated in figure 3. The priest indicates that she is a savage of the Panis nation. That in and of itself is enough to deduce her slave status (Trudel, 1960). In addition, the last sentence of the baptism record mentions that it is signed by Louise Bizard wife of Mr. Dubuisson, captain of the troops and master of said savage. The mention of master clearly implies that Charles Dubuisson owns Marguerite Françoise and that she has no vocation other than serving Charles Dubuisson and his family.

« Le dixseptieme avril mil septcent dix huit a été baptisée par nous soussigné curé et official de quebec marguerite francoise sauvagesse de la nation des panis agée de quatorze à quinze ans son parain a été sieur charles dubuisson et la maraine dame marie magdelaine dubuisson qui on déclaré ne seavoir signer et en leur place a signé madame louise Bizard epouse de M. Dubuisson capitaine des troupes et maitre de ladite sauvagesse »

Which translates to:

“The 17th of april 1718 baptized by us undersigned, Marguerite Françoise, savage of the nation of Panis aged between fourteen and fifteen her godfather was sir charles dubuisson and her godmother was marie magdelaine dubuisson both of which declared not knowing how to sign and in their stead signed by Mrs. louise bizard wife of M. Dubuisson captain of the troops and master of the said savage”

Figure 3. Baptism record of Marguerite Françoise, slave of Charles Dubuisson.
Source: Record 64150, LAFRANCE,

It is thanks to the use of these terms and innuendos that Marcel Trudel was able to form the Dictionnaire des esclaves et leurs propriétaires in 1990 (revised in 2004), listing 4,185 Black and indigenous slaves who lived in the St. Lawrence Valley. This research was carried out using parish records, but also using patient registers from various hospitals, censuses, notarial records, and other types of documents. Further research in the archives may reveal more and allow us to find the slaves missing from this initial work.

In the next articles of this series, we will discuss the place and living conditions of slaves who lived in Quebec under the French British colonist regimes. This research is based on the discoveries of Marcel Trudel and deepened by my personal research as well as that of my fellow researchers working on the subject.

Cathie-Anne Dupuis
Master’s student in demography and doctoral candidate in history at Université de Montréal and collaborator to the Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH)

*Slavery did exist at that time, the practice of slavery being customary in nature. The standard which guarantees the property of slaves to owners is permitted with the ordinance of Raudot in 1709 (Gilles, 2008).
N.B The word “savage” is only quoted for historical representation, we condemn the use of this word in any other context.

GILLES, D. 2008. La norme esclavagiste, entre pratique coutumière et norme étatique : les esclaves panis et leur statut juridique au Canada (XVIIe – XVIIIe s.) Ottawa Law Review, vol. 40, No.1, p. 73 – 114
RUSHFORTH, B. 2012. Bonds of Alliance, Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France, Caroline du Nord, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 406 p.
RUSHFORTH, B. et KAHN, A. 2016. Native American Slaves in New France, Slate, History, Then, again. [en ligne] URL: (page consultée le 27 octobre 2020)
TRUDEL, M. 1960. L’esclavage au Canada français, histoire et conditions de l’esclavage, Québec, Les Presses Universitaires Laval, 432 p.
TRUDEL, M. 1990. Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs propriétaires au Canada français, Québec, Éditions Hurtubise HMH ltée, 490 p.
TRUDEL, M. 2004. Deux siècles d’esclavage au Québec, Québec, Éditions Hurtubise HMH ltée, 405 p.

Witnessing history through parish registers: The 1885 smallpox epidemic

Smallpox was a highly contagious and often fatal disease which was a real plague in several regions of the world until its eradication in 1979. Its impact on Quebec during its colonial period was discussed in the first part of this article.

An 1802 cartoon of the early controversy surrounding Edward Jenner’s vaccination theory, showing using his cowpox-derived smallpox vaccine causing cattle to emerge from patients. Wikimedia Commons.

Smallpox struck Quebec for the last time in 1885. Almost a century had passed since the conception of the smallpox vaccine, yet vaccination was not widespread among French Canadians despite efforts by governments to encourage or even impose it.

In March 1885, a conductor of the Grand Trunk Railway brought smallpox to Montreal. His bedsheets then infected Pélagie Robichaud, a worker in the laundry room of the hospital where the man was receiving treatment. She was the first to victim of the 1885 smallpox epidemic. Her burial indicates that she passed away in Montreal on April 2nd.

Source: Image d1p_1101a1007.JPG, Drouin Collection Records (Québec/Fonds Drouin/Mtl/Catholique/Montréal (Basilique Notre-Dame)/1880/1885/Sépultures/),

Following the contagion of Pélagie Robichaud, the disease killed several thousand people in 1885 and 1886, with Montreal at the center of the epidemic. Vaccination was imposed on Montrealers, not without resistance: several anti-vaccination riots broke out among the suspicious population.

The anti-vaccine movement had influential figures on its side. Joseph Émery-Coderre, an eminent doctor campaigning against compulsory vaccination, is a notable example. The Catholic Church was called in to convince the reluctant population. Édouard-Charles Fabre, Bishop of Montreal at the time, played a decisive role in garnering public support for the vaccination campaign; he would order the priests of his diocese to do the same.

This crisis arose in a complex political context: it broke out at the same time as the North West rebellion, during which the Métis of the Prairies revolted against the Canadian government. The Métis of Western Canada, who are primarily descended from French Canadians and First Nations, were mostly French-speaking and Catholic, and their rebellion enjoyed considerable support in Quebec.

Its failure, which notably resulted in the hanging of Louis Riel, considerably exacerbated tensions between Francophones and Anglophones in Quebec as well as the distrust of French Canadians towards government directives. John A. Macdonald, then Prime Minister of Canada, is credited with the phrase “[Riel] shall hang though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour.”

Louis Riel and the Métis provisional government. Wikimedia Commons.

French and English-language newspapers were passing the buck, on the one hand evoking the hysteria of English Canadians and on the other hand the uncleanliness of French Canadians. On September 12th, 1885, L’Union des Cantons-de-l’Est, based in Victoriaville, published an article on the alleged ravages of smallpox. Here is the introduction:

” If we were to believe the American newspapers published in English, we would think that smallpox is decimating the good city of Montreal. Practically speaking, our commercial metropolis is currently in quarantine at this time! Many people are suffering, and many more will suffer from this state of affairs. And whose fault is it? It is your city’s press, good people of Montreal. It spread everywhere that smallpox was eating away at you, that the plague was taking on horrible proportions, that the whole city was going to have to go through it. “

Thus, this article accuses English-language newspapers of greatly exaggerating the proportions of the smallpox epidemic, especially since English Canadians seemed to attribute the gravity of the situation to French Canadians:

” Now, as there needs to be a bête noire everywhere, it was imagined that French Canadians must be the originators and propagators of the epidemic. The Montreal Herald accused our conationals of being ignorant, dirty, filthy, etc. This is a big slander! Our French Canadian women are generally clean, industrious, spending three quarters of their time washing and cleaning in their homes. “

However, this article does not reject science and recognizes the shortcomings of the French-Canadian population when it comes to hygiene.

” The ravages of indifference to reading and science are infinitely more to be feared than those of smallpox in Montreal, whose victims do not exceed a few dozen. “


Source: Image 00080.jpg, Drouin Institute’s Miscellaneous Collections (23 – Journaux anciens/L’Union des Cantons de l’Est (Arthabaskaville)/1867-1887/1885/),

Also in September 1885, however, remedies and recipes for smallpox were published in L’Union des Cantons-de-l’Est, perpetuating the idea that vaccination was superfluous at best, if not dangerous.

” I remember reading in the (Journal de l’Instruction publique) that the Sarracenia root was an antidote against this disease. Quickly I set to work, I sent my altar boy, a young Montagnais, to fetch me the plant in question, we infused the root, scarcely had they taken two or three potions that they felt sensibly better, the fever disappeared, the pustules dried out, they were out of danger, they did not even bear the marks of smallpox. ”

” When Jenner discovered the cowpox vaccine in England, the world of science wanted to strike lightning upon his head; but when the most learned medical school in the universe, that of Paris, published this recipe for smallpox, it passed without a hitch. It is as infallible as fate and wins in all cases.
Zinc sulphate, 1 grain ; digitalis, 1 grain ; 1 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Mix with two tablespoons of water. When the mixture is perfect add four ounces of water. Take a teaspoonful every hour. The disease will go away within twelve hours. “

Source: Images 00078.jpg and 00084.jpg, Drouin Institute’s Miscellaneous Collections (23 – Journaux anciens/L’Union des Cantons de l’Est (Arthabaskaville)/1867-1887/1885/),

The 1885 epidemic was the last major health crisis related to smallpox in the Western world, just under a century before the complete eradication of the sickness thanks to vaccination. 1979 marked the end of the virus responsible for one of the deadliest contagious diseases in human history, of which only a few samples remain to this day for research purposes.

Marielle Côté-Gendreau
Student and Université de Montréal’s Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH) collaborator.

Witnessing history through parish registers: Smallpox in the colonial era

Smallpox is a highly contagious and often fatal disease which was a real plague in several regions of the world until its eradication in 1979. It has invaded the French Canadian population on numerous occasions since the start of the colony, wreaking havoc in parishes.

It is under the names of petite vérole or picot(t)e that smallpox is most often designated in Quebec registers. This name of picote originates from the blisters which covered the bodies of the victims.

Illumination presenting a disease which seems to be smallpox, Toggenburg Bible (Switzerland), 1411. Wikimedia Commons.

The parish priest of L’Islet, a village in the historic region of Côte-du-Sud on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River southwest of Quebec City, highlighted the usage of these two terms in a rare note in the margin of a burial record. He registered on August 24th, 1792 the death of Marie Louise Bernier, 19th and “last dead of this disease, that is to say of the petite vérole or picote in Canadian or French terms since October 23rd, 1791”.

Source: Image d1p_51740348.jpg, Drouin Collection Records (Québec/Registres paroissiaux 1621-1876/L/L’Islet (Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Secours)/1790/1792/),

Smallpox is the disease involved in the voluntary contamination of enemy First Nations with infected blankets during Pontiac’s War, an initiative reportedly approved by British officer Jeffrey Amherst. This event has been on the news in the past few years as the City of Montreal decided to rename Amherst street to “Atateken”. As smallpox was not present in America before the arrival of the Europeans, it was especially deadly among the Natives, who had no prior immunity.

On May 4th, 1709, Louis Miskouabemich, a man of the Nepissing First Nation, was baptized in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. The record says he was 110 years old, which is unlikely but certainly indicates an advanced age. The elder had previously received the ondoiement, a quick ceremony that takes the place of baptism if death is likely to occur before a proper baptism can be organized.

Indeed, Louis “[was] dangerously sick of small pox”. His age and possibly his social position gave him a very advantageous sponsorship: his godfather was none other than Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil, who was then Governor of New France. His wife Élisabeth de Joybert held the role of godmother. The couple were absent and represented at the ceremony by a couple of local notables.

Louis Miskouabemich died on June 27th of the same year.

Source: Record 14937, LAFRANCE,

Smallpox was known to cause miscarriages and premature deliveries, and increase infant mortality rates. Many of these instances can be found in Quebec registers.

Marie Huguet dit Latour, from L’Ancienne-Lorette, near Quebec City, experienced a tragic end in 1755: “the first picotée who brought it from Quebec City died pregnant her child baptized by the midwife in its mother’s womb”. Her death occurred only 6 months after her marriage. The child, therefore assumed to be highly premature, clearly did not survive as it was ondoyé while still in the womb.

Source: Record 259406, LAFRANCE,

Other traces of premature births due to smallpox can be uncovered in the Lachine registers. For example, in 1702, the burial of a child “born last night aged seven months his mother being sick of smallpox and in case of danger he was ondoyé by Jeanne Malteau the midwife”.

Source: Record14627, LAFRANCE,

However, the family reconstructions available on PRDH-IGD tell us that the mother, Barbe Brunet, overcame the disease and died in Châteauguay at the respectable age of 74.

A few months after this child’s burial, a woman named Marie Fortin “died last night of smallpox while giving birth to a girl aged six and a half months who was immediately ondoyé by the midwife and then died and was buried in the same grave as her mother”.

Source: Record 14654, LAFRANCE,

Smallpox also took an active part in a historic drama, the Expulsion of the Acadians by Great Britain and its American colonies in 1755, during which over 12,000 of them were torn away from their lands. Smallpox developed in certain groups, adding to the scourges of hunger, thirst, cold and other diseases that were already decimating the Acadians.

From the hundreds that reached Quebec, many were severely weakened by smallpox. The numerous burial records marked with “acc” or “acad” in the Quebec City registers, identifying Acadian deaths, are testimonies to this tragedy. The winter of 1757-1758 was particularly deadly.

December 26th to 28th, 1757, Notre-Dame-de-Québec. Note the numerous “Acad” margin notes on these pages of the Québec register.
Source: Image d1p_31431309.jpg, Drouin Collection Records (Québec/Fonds Drouin/QC/Catholique/Québec (Notre-Dame)/1750/1757/),

The wandering of Acadians in exile would sometimes last several years, as illustrated by the burial in the cemetery of Saint-Cuthbert of Catherine, “Cadienne [Acadian woman] who died of smallpox after receiving all her sacraments as soon as she arrived in the said parish”, on November 6th, 1769.

Source: Record 440471, LAFRANCE,

It appears that smallpox also affected the British army garrisoned in Quebec City. In the registers of Berthierville, formerly called Berthier-en-Haut, we can find this curious record, written in English:

We the undernamed persons do hereby certify that John Mackffee, soldier in the 28th Regiment and in Captain Darlis (?) Company and Jennet Forah were married and lawfully entered the bond of Matrimony, and that some time after, said Macfee was, by the Providence of God seized with the Small Pox and dyed at Quebec in June 1766
dated at Quebec the 10th day of September 1766

Source: Record 741600, LAFRANCE,

This is followed by a paragraph written in French, which deems this strange act appropriate and authorizes the widow to contract a new marriage if she wishes.

This mortuary record appears to be in a suitable form according to the customs of the troops of this province; even though I do not know the signatures; if the person whose death is attested is the same person with whom the person who presents herself for a new marriage was married, you can regard her as a widow and carry on. Only take care to verify her name as much as you can
in Montreal on May 6th, 1768

Source: Image d1p_1161b0055.jpg, Drouin Collection Records (Québec/Fonds Drouin/B/Berthierville/1760/1766/),

10 years later, smallpox played an important role in the failure of the invasion of British Quebec by the American revolutionaries in 1775-1776. An epidemic in the rebel ranks considerably reduced the troops available and forced the abandonment of the project of conquest.

Thus, smallpox periodically affected the inhabitants of Quebec for two centuries with epidemics of varying severity. It struck Quebec for the last time in 1885. Montreal then became the epicenter of a severe epidemic. This crisis and its repercussions, both sanitary and political, will be discussed in the second part of this article.

Marielle Côté-Gendreau
Student and Université de Montréal’s Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH) collaborator.

Witnessing history through parish registers: The cholera epidemic of 1832-1834

Contagious diseases have affected Quebec several times since the 17th century. Epidemics certainly bring their share of deaths, but each one of them contributes to the evolution of public health measures and beliefs about immunity. This article tells the story of the cholera epidemic that struck Quebec in 1832, and to a lesser extent in 1834, through contemporary newspapers, available in the Drouin Institute’s Miscellaneous Collections, and parish registers, available in the LAFRANCE tool and on

Le cholera à Quebec  – Joseph Legare

Named indifferently Asiatic Cholera, Spasmodic Cholera or Cholera Morbus, the disease, which was originally limited to Asia, spread during the 19th century in the Western world through a series of pandemics. Originating from India around 1826, the second cholera pandemic reached the British Isles in February 1832. Irish immigrants were responsible for the introduction of this infectious disease, which caused the first large-scale epidemic in Quebec.

In February 1832, the Grosse-Île quarantine station was created in anticipation of the arrival of cholera and started hosting immigrants before allowing them access to the port of Quebec City. The island, located fifty kilometers downstream from Quebec City, is now a national historic site.

Quebec City experienced the first outbreak of the epidemic in America. On June 4th, the Quebec Gazette announced the imminent arrival of the Carricks at the Grosse-Île station:

“Capt. Park of the Astrea, arrived yesterday, spoke [communicated with] the Carricks, [capt.] Hudson, from Dublin, at Grosse Ile, on Saturday [June 2nd, 1832]. The Carricks lost 42 passengers, her carpenter and one boy, on the passage, from some unknown disease. The remainder of the passengers and crew are now in good health.”

Source: The Quebec Gazette, 4th of June 1832. Image QG_13_0020, Drouin Institute’s miscellaneous Collections (23 – Journaux anciens/The Quebec Gazette/1832/06),

It was already known in America that this “unknown disease”, cholera, was wreaking havoc in Europe, and newspapers were following the situation very closely. In order not to create panic among the population, two days later, the Quebec Gazette reminded that:

Rumours are again in circulation, and very generally, that the Cholera Morbus has got to the Quarantine Station, &c [etc.]. It is only necessary to repeat, that until some official statement appears on the subject, they are wholly to be discredited.”

Source: The Quebec Gazette, 6th of June 1832. Image QG_13_0021, Drouin Institute’s miscellaneous Collections (23 – Journaux anciens/The Quebec Gazette/1832/06),

The authorities confirmed via the newly created Board of Health that “The rumour of there being persons at the station sick of cholera, is entirely without foundation.”

Source: The Quebec Gazette, 8th of June 1832. Image QG_13_0022, Drouin Institute’s miscellaneous Collections (23 – Journaux anciens/The Quebec Gazette/1832/07),


They indicated that the Carricks was undergoing disinfection procedures and were confident that cholera would not reach Canada. This conviction was based on a favourable opinion of the sanitary situation of the Canadian people:

« It has been found in every part of the world, that the Spasmodic Cholera uniformly seizes and destroys, with the rapidity of lightening, those who indulge in fermented liquors, and in intemperance of any kind, – the dissolute – the idle – the dirty, – all become its victims, while those who are cleanly, temperate and industrious, escape.

            This is a matter for consolation and hope, especially for a people, who like the Canadians, in the rural districts particularly, are distinguished for their sobriety, industry and cleanliness ; and who, moreover, since they are exempt from the evils of extreme poverty, are proportionately secure from the more severe attacks of the disease.

            If the Spasmodic Cholera therefore should appear among such a people, it will probably be very limited in its extent, and very mitigated in its severity. »

Source: The Quebec Gazette, 11th of June 1832. Image QG_13_0023, Drouin Institute’s miscellaneous Collections (23 – Journaux anciens/The Quebec Gazette/1832/07),


Indeed, cholera was the deadliest in disadvantaged neighborhoods as contagion was favoured by high population density and poor hygiene. Contrary to the Board of Health’s projections, the following table, published on July 2nd, 1832 in the Quebec Gazette, only one month after the arrival of the Carricks, shows a rapid evolution of cases of cholera in Quebec City hospitals. The absence of strict measures to contain the disease allowed cholera to reach Montreal, which would also be hit hard.

Source: The Quebec Gazette, 4th of July 1832. Image QG_13_0036,, Drouin Institute’s miscellaneous Collections (23 – Journaux anciens/The Quebec Gazette/1832/07),

Among the environments most at risk, the unsanitary conditions and overcrowding in prisons made them particularly vulnerable to the development of the epidemic. On June 17th, 1832, just two weeks after the Carricks’ arrival at Grosse-Île, “two men of unknown names who died of Cholera morbus in this city’s prison” were buried in Montreal.

Record 4213784, LAFRANCE,

Yet high society was not spared. The following record, from Beauport, near Quebec City, indicates that Marie Louise Fleury De La Gorgendière died of cholera on June 2nd. She was the widow of the Honourable Louis Antoine Juchereau Duchesnay, Lord of Beauport, politician and military man.

Record 3255441, LAFRANCE,

Reports from the time indicate that cholera could strike very quickly: it was not uncommon for a healthy-looking individual to die within a day from rapid dehydration caused by extreme diarrhea. This reality is reflected in parish records, as the following one reveals that Angélique Angers died on August 8th in Neuville “of cholera after ten hours of illness“.

Record 436060, LAFRANCE,

The Saint-Louis Cemetery in Quebec City, located at the corner of Grande Allée and De Salaberry Avenue, opened in 1832 to accommodate cholera victims. It quickly gained the nickname of the Cemetery of the Choleric and was a resting place for the dead of cholera and typhus until 1855.

Deaths piled up at such a rate that priests increasingly resorted to mass burials. Here is the first occurrence of such a burial of cholera victims:

“On June thirteen, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two, we Deacon of this Diocese undersigned, by special authorization from the Bishop of Quebec, buried in the Saint Louis Cemetery fifty-four individuals, the names of whom we have not been able to obtain, all deceased of Asiatic Cholera at the Emigrant Hospital, and of professions and ages unknown to us.”

Record 4341082, LAFRANCE,

Montreal and Quebec City, the two large cities of Quebec, each experienced a few thousand deaths as population density and movements increased contagion. However, cholera also raged in the countryside. Let us look at the case of this family from La Prairie, in the Montérégie region: Félicité Denault and her newlywed daughter Émilie Chabot both died on June 23, 1832. Three days passed before their husband and father Louis Chabot joined them in the grave. This family had already been hit hard by child mortality, which had struck at least seven of their twelve children.

Family file 82097,

Individual files 250275 and 237279,

Registers also show that the epidemic traveled beyond Canadian borders through the frequent comings and goings of French Canadians who had migrated to the northern United States. In February 1833, the parish priest of Marieville, in Montérégie, recorded the death of Edouard Bérard, 11 years old, “who died on August 24th in Franklin, Franklin County, State of Vermont, of the colera“. The records show that his youngest brother, Marcel, was born in Franklin and was baptized in Marieville on June 13th, 1832. Circumstances suggest that it was during this family trip that the contagion could have reached young Édouard.

Record 4522160, LAFRANCE,

A second wave of the cholera epidemic hit in 1834 but turned out to be much less deadly than the first. It was then that the registers of St-Luc-de-la-Grosse-Île opened and started recording baptisms, marriages, but especially burials of Irish immigrants in quarantine on the island.

“This register, which contains eighteen sheets, including this one, was by us one of the Judges of the Court of King’s Bench for the district of Quebec, undersigned, stamped and initialed on each sheet to serve for the recording of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials which will occur at the Quarantine Station established at Grosse-Isle, the so-called isle being dependent on the parish of St. Antoine de l’Isle aux Grues.

            Quebec City, May 24th, 1834.”

Image d1p_10090097, Drouin Collection Records (/Québec/Fonds Drouin/G/Grosse-Île/Grosse-Île (St-Luc)/1830/1834/),

Cholera returned to Quebec during the third pandemic in 1849 and 1854. This dark episode contains its share of tragic stories but was the source of various innovations in terms of public health measures, in particular the creation of the quarantine station of Grosse-Île and the Board of Health. The knowledge and skills acquired during this period proved invaluable in managing subsequent epidemics.


Marielle Côté-Gendreau
Student and Université de Montréal’s Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH) collaborator.