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Répertoires etc.

Reprinted here with permission of AFGS member

Jeanne Chakraborty

Note 1: Répertoires are books that are being published in response to the rapidly growing interest in genealogy and the great demand for information about French Catholic ancestors. Many Canadian and New England parishes have published their vital records which may be purchased through genealogical societies and publishers.
Répertoires contain valuable information about baptisms, marriages and burials. Some are extremely well done and identify who the godparents were and may even include their relationship to the child (i.e. “child’s aunt”), as well as to each other. This is a great way to identify a spouse when we cannot find the marriage record. Occupations are occasionally noted, too, as well as special situations, such as what parish the godparents belonged to, when it was not the same parish. There may even be a notation that someone moved to Rhode Island. Some repertoires include notations about interesting circumstances. For example, they reveal that a child was a twin or was stillborn, or that someone died by accident or during the cholera epidemic. Some marriage répertoires include the full names of both sets of parents and the parish that the spouse came from, making it much easier to stay on their paper trail if our female ancestor moved to her husband’s parish.
Burial information can be very revealing, as well. Catholic burials in Québec require two official witnesses, often relatives of the deceased. Their names are included and some répertoires indicate their relationship to the deceased. This often reveals the existence of children or siblings that we may not know about yet. It also reveals spouses from 2nd or 3rd marriages, or other relatives not found elsewhere in the records. There was virtually no divorce in Catholic Québec in those days, but many widowed people married a second time. It is not unusual to see a third marriage for people twice widowed. Some books include the name of the spouse’s parish. This helps us pick up the paper trail, especially if the spouse is a man and the female ancestor we are researching moved to his parish.
The répertoires I’ve seen from Lanaudière are extremely well done and provide a great deal of detail. This area is the home of our maternal ancestors, Généreux, Tessier, Joly, Robert, Thibodeau, etc. The area includes the town of Joliette (the stronghold of most of our maternal ancestors), located about 45 miles from Montréal. Joliette has since developed a significant city.
Unfortunately, the répertoires of Lotbinière County, the home of my paternal ancestors, Bédard, Rousseau, Côté, etc., are not nearly as helpful with respect to detail, and the small print is hard on the eyes. The St. Flavien répertoire is poorly done on a manual typewriter and not fun to read. They all provide only marriage information. As far as I can tell from the publishers’ lists, these parishes have not yet published their birth and death records. Lotbinière County is located near Québec City and includes St. Flavien.
The French Catholic churches of Rhode Island and Massachusetts have done a good job on what they have published overall, but some have only published marriage records or nothing at all. Based on what books I have, it doesn’t look like they were as careful as the French Canadian parishes when it came to recording names. There are many gaps with first or last names being missing.
Note 2: It was common for children’s given names to be preceded by Joseph for boys, and Marie for girls. The church automatically added these names to their baptism certificates. The Répertoires list the names as J. Antoine or M. Élisabeth. I do not usually list Marie or Joseph, or M. or J., in front of the given name. It is understood that everyone has these additional names. Sometimes, Marie or Joseph happened to be the person’s actual given name; therefore, the church did not need to add the name. Girls were sometimes given a feminine form of the name Joseph and boys were occasionally given Marie as a middle name by their parents.
Note 3: Illiteracy was very common in rural Québec back then. Lay people who kept the parish records and the local census takers often guessed at the spelling. First and last names were routinely spelled incorrectly and inconsistently. When certain about the spelling, I use the correct spelling. For example, Jean-Baptiste is correct. But that name may appear as Jean-Baptist in a parish record. Domethilde sometimes appears as Domitile. I use the standard spelling in cases like this. The surname, Auclair may appear as Aucler. If entries for other members of that family are spelled Auclair, I correct the odd one. When I am not certain whether a name is misspelled, I type it exactly as it appears in the original document. Some names have standard variations that are each correct, such as Élisabeth-Élise.
Note 4: Because of the high mortality rate of infants in olden times, coupled with the belief that the souls of unbaptized children cannot enter Heaven (they go to Limbo to await the Second Coming), the Catholic Church was very concerned that all newborns be baptized promptly. The Bishop of Québec, on March 29, 1664, issued an edict urging all parents to not delay the baptism of their children. Thirteen years later, on February 5, 1677, the Bishop issued another edict containing stronger and more specific language, directing parents to have their children baptized immediately after birth. This is why we see so many baptisms on the same day as the birth. The father and godparents took the new baby to the church to be baptized immediately, if at all possible. If the child was stillborn or frail, the doctor performed a conditional baptism at home. This was later recorded as such, at the church.
 Sources: A Travers Les Régistres by Father Cyprien Tanguay, translated by Armand H. Demers, Jr. in, Searching Through the Old Records of New France, revised edition, page 75.Personal experience of Jeanne Chakraborty, using répertoires.

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Updated 03-Jun-2010

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