Tuesday, August 6, 2019

An Anglophone's Tips for Searching Ancestry's The Drouin Collection: Quebec Vital & Church Records

Recently I spent a week delving into the "Quebec Vital & Church Records" within The Drouin Church and Vital Records collection on Ancestry. This collection was originally created by the Institut Généalogique Drouin and has been made available to Ancestry subscribers. It can also be found at GenealogyQuébec. Some archives and libraries may have free access to the GenealogyQuébec site. However, owning to the fact that I don't have a subscription to GenealogyQuébec1 and since libraries frown upon you staying until the wee hours of the night I've been using the Ancestry collection since I already have a subscription with them.

This was part of a personal research project to learn more about my late uncle's life partner's family. This paternal branch of her family lines of the Shirlow and Rapple/Rappel/Rappell was my first real deep dive into these records and it has been quite a learning experience. As an Anglophone with just a barely passing knowledge of French it has been interesting, frustrating, and yes, fun. Here are some of the lessons I can pass on to you to hopefully make searching these records a bit less painful.

creen capture from the image presented by Ancestry for Saint Edward Anglican Church (Montréal, Quebec, Canada), Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968, "1916 Parish Register,"  marriage of James Shirlow and Sarah Rappell, 22 Feb 1916; digital images, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 Jul 2019).
Screen capture from the image presented by Ancestry for Saint Edward Anglican Church (Montréal, Quebec, Canada), Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968, "1916 Parish Register,"  marriage of James Shirlow and Sarah Rappell, 22 Feb 1916; digital images, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 Jul 2019).

The Records

Keep in mind that these are church records. The majority of the records deal with recording church rites such as baptisms, marriages, and burials. In some cases they will also record the date of birth and death but there are no guarantees. In many of the records I've been looking at they also give the name of the parents, the father's occupation, and the mother's maiden surname. Burial records may also provide you with the spouse's name to help you figure out if this is the right person in your tree, and their age at death. Burial records for the women will often be recorded under their maiden surname along with their husband's name.

Language Challenges

Although the Shirlow and Rapple lines are of English speaking Irish descent some of the parish records were in French. As I was reading through some of the records the stuff I learned in my primary and high school French classes slowly came back to me. If your French language skills are as rust as mine (or worse) here are a few tips.
  1. Google Translate is a helpful resource in figuring out some of the words. It is not perfect though and will have some challenges but it will often give you the gist of what is written.
  2. Write down on a piece of paper the numbers 1 through to 31 with the words of their French equivalents. You will be seeing these words often. If possible, write it out in cursive so that you can see how they look.
  3. Write down the names of the months. For me "avril" and "août" kept messing me up when I was looking at some of the writing due to the poor quality of some of the scanned documents.
  4. Learn some of the key words and phrases (and approximate translations) found in the records. There will be other phrases and words that you will come across but this list is a starting point:
    • née: born
    • hier: yesterday
    • la même: the same
    • ce jour: this day
    • courrant: current (often used like "instant" for the current month and year)
    • veuve: widow (sometimes abbreviated as "vve" in the margin index)
    • veuf: widower
    • épouse: wife (sometimes abbreviated as "espe" the margin index)
    • époux: husband
    • fils: son
    • fille: daughter
    • décédés: died
    • cimetière: cemetery
    • cette Paroisse: this Parish
    • mil neuf cent: 1900
    • mil huit cent: 1800
    • nous, Prêtre soussigné: we, the undersigned priest

Church Shopping

OK, this is my own phrase for it but your ancestors may not have stuck with the same church or even religion throughout their lives. If they were of the Presbyterian faith, don't discount the Church of England or Anglican churches in the area when looking for records. You might also find them in the Roman Catholic parish registers in that area.

In Canada we are fortunate in that our census records will indicate which religion the person was practising. If you see someone listed as Roman Catholic but their spouse is Church of England or other Protestant faith you might find the marriage in a Roman Catholic church with a comment along the lines of "...the law of the Church which forbids mixed marriages..."

Cathedrale St-Jacque-le-Mineur (Montréal, Quebec, Canada), Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968, "1915 Parish Register,"  marriage of Chester Robert Shirlow and (Dora) Margaret Elvert, 30 Aug 1915; digital images, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 Jul 2019).
Cathedrale St-Jacque-le-Mineur (Montréal, Quebec, Canada), Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968, "1915 Parish Register,"  marriage of Chester Robert Shirlow and (Dora) Margaret Elvert, 30 Aug 1915; digital images, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 Jul 2019).

Additionally, there may have only been a few cemeteries in the area so those records may be held in different church than the one your ancestors regularly attended. Since I was dealing with folks that lived in Montreal I would often find their burial register entry in the collection for "Basilique Notre Dame" if they were buried in Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges.

If you can find the family either in the Lovell's Montreal Directory or in the later census enumerations that included the street address where they lived then Google Maps might help you figure out what churches they may have attended. However, some churches in large communities like Montreal no longer exist today so you might not be able to find them with today's maps.

Parish Registers

Depending on the community the church served, some of the parish registers for a year may be hundreds of pages in size. Even a parish with a register of 20 pages, depending on the quality of the document and writing, can be a chore to look though. Fortunately, the parish priest also didn't want to have to read every page when looking for an entry in their own register. Often you will find an index of surnames at the end of the register along with the folio number in the register where the entry can be found.

Lost Children

I consider the lost children to be those that were born and died, or in the case of parish records, baptized and buried, between census enumerations. If I find a entry for a known child in the register of a church I will often look up to ten years before and after that date for any additional children of the family.

Document Quality

If you have had any dealing with the scanned images of census documents the same rules apply with these images. Keep in mind that some of the documents you are looking at may be over two hundred years old or even older. That they have survived to this day and you can look at them from the comfort of your home can't be taken for granted. That said, some of them are really hard to read for several reasons:
  • The ink has faded over time
  • The documents have been damaged due to water, fire, and creatures
  • The handwriting may not be the greatest (almost as bad as my own...which is horrible2)
  • Pour quality of the microfilming. The contrast may be great for some parts but not for the remainder.

Transcriptions and Indexes

I really do appreciate the time, effort, and in some cases, money spent by the various commercial companies, churches, and societies to transcribe and index records. However, as any researcher knows, these transcriptions and indexes can also be the bane of our existence. The "Drouin Church and Vital Records" collection is no different. In some cases, it is almost worse than some of the census transcriptions and indexes I've used to locate family members in the digitized records.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not faulting the transcribers and indexers for all of the issues. The quality of the documents and scans they are working from would challenge anyone. So make use of wildcards like "?" and "*" in your searching of last names. I thought "Shirlow" should be easy to find but I was wrong. I had to search using "sh?rl?w" and then just "sh*w" plus restricting the location to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in my search query. I could then quickly scan the list of 100 to 200 returned names for possible matches like "Sherlow", "Sherlaw", and even "Shilow" to help me locate the key baptism, marriage, and burial records.

However, coming across many index entries of burials for people with the forename of "Epse" might throw you for a loop. In these cases the indexers wrote exactly what was written without understanding the context. Here is an example taken from the margin of a record:
Basilique Notre-Dame (Montréal, Quebec, Canada), Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968, "1892 Parish Register,"  burial of Mary Margaret Daniels wife of Henry George Tibby, 5 Sep 1892; digital images, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 Jul 2019)
Basilique Notre-Dame (Montréal, Quebec, Canada), Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968, "1892 Parish Register,"  burial of Mary Margaret Daniels wife of Henry George Tibby, 5 Sep 1892; digital images, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 Jul 2019).
The indexer wrote: "Epse Tibby Mary Margaret Daniels" for the name. This loosely translates in the document to be "Mary Margaret Daniels wife of Tibby". Her forenames are not "Epse Tibby Mary Margaret". If you have the time, take a moment to correct a few of these index issues to help out other genealogy and family history researchers in their own journey of documenting their family tree.

Also, the indexers are using the margin index entries created by the parish priest. The spelling there might not be correct for your family name at that time. However, baptism and marriage records will often have the signature, if the people could sign their name, at the end of the register entry. That is how your ancestor thought their name was spelled. Don't be surprised if the spelling is not how you spell it now! Here is an example for Rapple/Rappel/Rappell family and the changes in spelling over time and by family members based on signatures in the registers:

 


I hope that this post helps you navigate "Quebec Vital & Church Records" within "The Drouin Church and Vital Records" collection on Ancestry. I'm next off to look at the Legér branch of this family and they are all French Roman Catholics in Québec so my French language skills will be pretty much stretched to the limit! Wish me luck!



1. 24 hours access is $5 and allows you to look at 75 images. Monthly subscription is $13 and you can view 75 images per day. An annual subscription is $100 with access to 1050 images per week. See https://www.genealogiequebec.com/en/subscription for the details.

2. No fault of my primary school teachers, especially Mrs. Currie.

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