Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Genealogy in Canada


[This article was written in the 1930's and published in 1948. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Genealogy. French Canada seems to be the only part of America where almost every family can trace its descent, from father to son, back to the first ancestor who came from Europe. This colossal work was undertaken in 1871 by the Abbé Cyprien Tanguay, whose Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes (7 vols., Montreal, 1871-90) represents a formidable investigation carried out in innumerable parish registers. Tanguay was the father of genealogical studies in French Canada. His work is not without omissions and errors, but it is one of the greatest achievements in this particular field of history. The Abbé Tanguay's dictionary hardly goes beyond the year 1760, though it covers completely the French régime. His work has been taken up and extended to the present day in the case of certain families, some parishes, and occasional districts. The gigantic work begun by him has thus been completed in some respects.


One group of investigators has studied particularly the principal branches of a family, with especial reference to the biographies of those persons who have played a part in the political, religious, or social life of the country. The Sulpician François Daniel, in his His toire des grandes families françaises au Canada (Montreal, 1867) set the pace for this type of biographical genealogy. He has been followed by Pierre-Georges Roy, who has to his credit no fewer than forty admirable studies of the chief families closely connected with the history of French Canada; by the Hon. Désiré Girouard, by Aegidius Fauteux, by G. F. Baillargé, by the Abbé Couillard-Després, and by others.


A second group has devoted itself to pure genealogy. E.-Z. Massicotte has published the genealogy of nine families; Gérard Malchelosse has traced the descent of six families; the late Brother Elie compiled a full genealogy of the Casavant family, and of the Phaneuf family, the ancestor of which was one Farnsworth, a prisoner from the American colonies; the Abbé P.-S. Gendron has traced the genealogy of the Gendron family; Dr. J.-C. Poissant, that of the Poissant family; the Rev. P.-V. Charland, that of the Canac-Marquis family; and so forth.


In a wider category, there are the genealogies of certain districts and localities. Examples of these are the studies of the families of the Yamachiche by F.-L. Desaulniers; of those of Beauce and the Côte de Beaupré, by the Abbé Charles Beaumont; of those of the island of Orléans, by Michel Forgues; of those of the Richelieu Valley, by the Abbé de Jordy; of those of Charlesbourg, by the Abbé D. Gosselin; of those of Île Jésus and Terrebonne, by Raymond Masson; and of the Acadian families, by Placide Geaudet. In this last group, one finds long lists of names and of dates, and very little of relationship. It is a mass of branches very difficult to attach to the parent stem.


Recently, a new school has appeared, with a new method. Some investigators have attempted to trace at the same time the paternal and the maternal descent. Starting from two sources at once, this method appears simple. But as the trees grow, there quickly appears an entanglement of the branches; and as the work advances and develops, it becomes difficult to assign individuals to their distinctive groups.


The genealogy of English-Canadian families has been prosecuted with less vigour than that of French-Canadian. Mention must be made of E. M. Chadwick, Ontarian families (2 vols., 1894-8), of A. W. Patrick Buchanan, K.C., The Buchanan family (Montreal, 19I1), and of some genealogical work done in the Maritime provinces. It should be explained that the sources of genealogical information are less abundant in the case of Protestants, since the official registers generally lack the details essential for the genealogist, and in many cases are missing altogether.


It should be added that the Abbé Tanguay's Dictionnaire généalogique is now undergoing a learned and minute revision. The Société Historique de Montréal has taken the initiative in this matter. It has entrusted this important work of revision and completion to a committee of five members, including E.-Z. Massicotte (president), Aegidius Fauteux, Antoine Roy, Jean-Jacques Lefèbvre et Gérard Malchelosse (secretary). The rich notarial and judicial archives of French Canada have provided the committee with abundant new data, and have enabled them to reorganize the work on better lines. The first volume of the Abbé Tanguay's work has already been doubled in scope, and on its publication will be greatly valued by genealogists.

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. III, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 396p., pp. 15-16.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College