Filling out a Family Tree: Where Do You Start Your Research?

There are a thousand reasons for starting genealogical research: You want to find your ancestors, know the origins of your family, and answer the questions asked by your children and grandchildren. But when you find yourself with a family tree to fill out, you don’t necessarily know how to do it, where to start your research, or how to organize the data you’ve collected. Here are some tips to start gathering genealogical information.

Question your family members

In families, oral tradition can play a major role in putting together a family tree. The elders who are still living, whether or not they’re close relatives, love to discuss, often passionately, their bygone youth and reveal valuable information about the origins and migrations of the various branches of the family.

If you don’t own any genealogy software, it’s essential to make a sheet for each person you question and record the information collected there, as well as the date and place of birth, the maiden name, and the date and place of marriage.

Gather together old papers

It’s very moving to dive into the letters, postcards, wills, contracts, death certificates, and newspaper clippings that have been carefully preserved by our ancestors. They’re also full of valuable information, and they help us learn more about our ancestors.

Consult church records and archives

Since church records contain baptism, marriage, and burial certificates, they constitute a very important source of information during genealogical research, and they let you reach back into the 17th century.

Like Québec’s civil status records, they were microfilmed by the Drouin Genealogical Institute and can be consulted online. In Québec, it’s also possible to go and consult the national archives free of charge and trace back to the beginnings of the colony.

Contact a genealogical society

Genealogical societies give advice to researchers and provide them with the tools and techniques that allow them to carry out successful research. They also offer access to different databases for a few dozen Euros as well as genealogy workshops.

Organize the collected data using genealogy software

To arrange the collected data, it’s best to use genealogy software. There are very practical programs out there that are totally free and that let you:

  • Create your family tree by identifying each person. You assign a sheet to each family member with their photo and their information (first and last name, gender, date and place of birth, date and place of marriage, date and place of death).
  • Record the characteristics of the sources (testimonials, official certificates, notarized deeds, documents, archives, etc.)
  • Classify each family member
  • Note the important milestones of your loved ones in a calendar, with the possibility of a reminder
  • Print out a family tree in the form of an ascending list or a graph, and even provide 3D views of the tree
  • Generate reports
  • Export genealogical data
  • Incorporate historical dates in order to place family members in their time
  • Check the consistency of the information entered by cross-checking the dates
  • Pair the family tree with a genealogy website or a mobile version for tablets or smartphones.

Conducting an investigation to find traces of your ancestors and the thread of your origins is an exciting adventure, and many Quebeckers are infected with the genealogy virus. But you should still be organized, know where to start your search, and how to arrange the information collected in a practical way to arrive at a well-filled-out family tree.

Do You Need to Study Genealogy to Make a Career out of It?

The Québec government doesn’t recognize the occupation of genealogist as a profession, so genealogy isn’t taught there. However, when you’re driven by true passion, you have only a single desire: to make it your profession. If there aren’t any genealogy studies in Québec, how do you become a professional genealogy researcher?

Courses at French universities

Most genealogists in France are trained as historians or lawyers, but recently, several programs dedicated to genealogy have been created in France, including:

  • The University degree Généalogie et histoire des familles, given at the University of Nîmes either in person or remotely. It consists in a complete training in genealogy.
  • The University degree Histoire et généalogie familiale, offered only remotely by the University of Le Mans. Similar to the University of Nîmes’ Généalogie et histoire des familles degree, it aims to teach general skills in family genealogy (as opposed to probate genealogy).
  • The University degree Approfondissement en généalogie, offered remotely by the University of Nîmes. This degree is open to graduates of the two above-named university diplomas and to individuals who can demonstrate a solid experience in genealogy.
  • The University degree Installation du généalogiste professionnel, offered in person at the University of Nîmes. This week-long course trains aspiring professional genealogists in the management of a genealogy business, in particular through law, accounting and marketing classes.

Workshops in Québec devoted to genealogy

Several Québec organizations, such as the Société de Généalogie de Québec (SGQ) and the Société Généalogique Canadienne-Française (SGCF), offer workshops and courses in genealogy, including:

  • Basic workshops: the different basic genealogy research tools are presented.
  • Intermediate workshops: in these courses, you learn about the sources of information and the various documents that make it possible to perform more in-depth research.
  • Specialized workshops: these workshops focus more specifically on the development of skills, especially paleography.

Recognition of acquired skills

Since there’s no genealogist training, properly speaking, in Québec, genealogy researchers in Québec don’t have a diploma, but can nevertheless validate their achievements. This skills recognition helps give the people looking for a specialist in lineage research or family history a guarantee of reliability. These accreditations can be obtained from the Federation of Genealogical Societies, which organizes an exam and, for several years, has issued certificates of competence. These are divided into three categories:

  • Certified filiation genealogist (généalogiste de filiation agréé [GFA]): The candidate must provide a portfolio describing their training and experience in genealogy as well as the reason for their application. They must demonstrate that they’re capable of processing genealogical data, finding deeds or marriage contracts, identifying and using research tools, and writing fluently in French or English.
  • Certified genealogy researcher (généalogiste recherchiste agréé [GRA]): The candidate must already hold the title of certified filiation genealogist (GFA) or submit both applications simultaneously and provide the portfolio. They are tested on their ability to create the work plan for a research project, to write a genealogical text for publication purposes, to organize their digital and paper archives, to organize the information collected in the form of a table, to identify and use their own research tools, to recognize the information in handwritten documents, and to solve complex problems.
  • Certified master genealogist (maître généalogiste agréé [MGA]): The candidate must hold the title of certified filiation genealogist (GFA) and certified genealogy researcher (GRA) or submit the two or three applications simultaneously and provide the portfolio. During the exam, the candidate is tested on their abilities to give and develop training activities; to write and deliver lectures on topics related to genealogy; to write, publish, and disseminate genealogical works and research instruments alone or in collaboration; and to transcribe word-for-word handwritten documents written in Old French.

While there’s no genealogical training in Québec, it’s possible to attend workshops there and practice to build your experience or take courses at universities. You can then enroll in a Federation-affiliated genealogical society and take exams to obtain a certificate of competence: this is issued for an unlimited duration and allows the genealogist to bear the title of certified filiation genealogist (GFA), certified genealogy researcher (GRA), or certified master genealogist (MGA).

Twenty five children in 27 years: A look at our ancestors’ fertility

Throughout History, idealizing the past has been a common theme. The life of our ancestors is often perceived as having been harsh, but also bucolic and charming, a more “natural” way of living.

But one must know that the French Canadian population of two centuries ago lived under a demographic profile characterized by high fertility as well as high mortality. In the absence of contraception, a couple’s fertility was expressed fully. Let’s look at the case of Joseph Landry and Josephe Coron Dauphinais, married on the 13th of February 1778 in Sorel.

Family File of Joseph Landry Penot and Marie Josephe Coron Dauphinais, from the PRDH database

Born in March 1761, Josephe Coron was 16 years old on the day of her marriage; she was already pregnant, as she gave birth in May 1778. Twenty four more births followed, the last one in April 1805, 27 years after the first. Josephe had just celebrated her 44th anniversary. This remarkable woman died in 1842 at the age of 81.

Twenty five children in 27 years, with only five making it to adulthood; the twenty others dying before the age of two. Who would exchange today’s living conditions for the ones provided by Nature?

You can learn more about your ancestor’s fertility with a subscription to the PRDH, where you will find all of the Catholic individuals who lived in Quebec between 1621 and 1849. These individuals are listed through their baptism, marriage and burial records, which are linked through individual and family files. These files, such as the one used in this article, give you a detailed overview of the fertility and living conditions of your ancestors.

More information about the PRDH

More information about the PRDH subscription options


Bertrand and François Desjardins

September 2017