Are you researching French-speaking ancestors from Quebec province? If so, you absolutely need to spend some time on the award-winning Web site of Programme de recherche en démographie historique. You don't read French? No problem, as the information on this site is available in both French and in English.
Programme de recherche en démographie historique, or PRDH, is a comprehensive site of Quebec French-Canadian genealogy before 1800. It contains biographical files on all individuals of European ancestry who lived in the St. Lawrence Valley of Canada prior to 1800. Some death records from 1800 through 1850 were also added recently. A grant from the Government of Quebec's Fonds de l'autoroute de l'information made possible the creation of this Web site. Created by professors Hubert Charbonneau and Jacques Légaré, now retired, the PRDH is housed at the Demography Department of the Université de Montréal; the project is currently under the responsibility of Bertrand Desjardins.
When researching my own French-Canadian ancestry, the relatively small number of immigrants has always fascinated me. Unlike the waves of immigrants that arrived in what is now the United States or the later arrivals of thousands of immigrants in Canada, the early immigrants to New France consisted of only a few thousand individuals. Many of the immigrants married and raised large families. Even after the English acquisition of Canada, these French-speaking citizens remained a separate community; they rarely married English-speaking, Protestant neighbors. Their descendants intermarried time and again, resulting in a large population with intertwined relationships.
Actually, this is good news for genealogists. With a smaller "pool" of ancestors, previous researchers have documented almost all available facts and published their results time and again. However, access to these printed books, most of them published in French, has not been easy for researchers outside of Quebec province. The Web site of Programme de recherche en démographie historique provides a valuable service that is unavailable elsewhere online.
The PRDH Web site identifies the origin of each French-Canadian family name and provides original information on their descendants through the 1600s and 1700s. The PRDH database contains information from parish registers and other nominative documents. According to the database description found on the PRDH Web site, the information comes from more than 710,000 certificates, including all baptisms, marriages and burials contained in Quebec Catholic parish registers up to the year 1800.
Go back and read that last sentence again. Yes, it really does say "ALL." The PRDH Web site contains information about ALL the surviving records of baptisms, marriages and burials for those years in Quebec. If the record survived, it is listed in the PRDH database. Indeed, French-Canadian genealogists have found that most of the records of the 1600s and 1700s have survived and are available today. It is rare that a genealogist finds any source that holds all the available records for such a large number of people.
The information on PRDH is contained in three interrelated databases:
A REPERTORY OF VITAL EVENTS, 1621-1799
The Repertory of Vital Events includes the some 690,000 baptismal, marriage, and burial certificates registered in Catholic parishes prior to 1800. Added to these are more than 20,000 certificates of various other types: census records, marriage contracts, confirmations, lists of immigrants, and so on. The repertory reproduces, in a standardized form, the basic information contained in these documents: type, place of registration and date of the certificate; and the family name, first name, and characteristics of the individuals cited. Sophisticated search tools make it possible to find certificates by name of person (individuals or couples) and certificate characteristics (type, date, or parish).
A GENEALOGICAL DICTIONARY OF FAMILIES, 1621-1765
The Genealogical Dictionary offers a reconstruction of the history of all families who settled in the St. Lawrence Valley, or roughly the current territory of today's province of Quebec, from the beginnings of French colonization to the year 1765.
The dictionary is based on the linking of individuals to their baptismal, marriage, and burial certificates from Catholic parish registers for the period 1621-1765. It contains the names of individuals who were born in or came to Quebec between 1621 and 1765, along with the names of their parents, spouses, and children. For each person, the dictionary gives date and place of birth, of marriage(s) (if applicable), and of death, if it occurred before 1766. You can easily search the data base using names of people (individuals or couples), and you can further define your search by year of birth or marriage.
A REPERTORY OF COUPLES AND FILIAL RELATIONS, 1621-1799
The Repertory of couples specifies for each spouse the names of his or her parents and the names of his or her other spouses, if applicable, with a link to these couples. In addition, a list of the couple's children who married before 1800 is supplied, with a link to their first marriage. Thus, not only is the ancestry of the spouses throughout the period established automatically, but married descendants are also listed. Couples are accessed on the basis of their first and family names, using a search you can further define by year of marriage.
One point to note is that the information on the PRDH Web site is copyrighted and remains the intellectual property of the Programme de recherche en démographie historique.
The PRDH Web site has a mixture of free information and "for pay" information. However, the free information available is very limited. To properly utilize this site you will have to pay for a subscription. The free access simply allows you to check whether or not the database contains information on the ancestor(s) you are interested in. Free access will not provide any details, not even locations. Paid subscribers will receive full information from the three separate sections listed earlier.
The fee structure is a bit complex. First of all, there are three classifications of subscribers:
- Quebec residents
- Canadian residents, excluding those of Quebec
- The rest of the world
In addition, the subscriber pays for the number of "hits" or successful retrieval of records. The more "hits" purchased in advance, the cheaper the price per "hit." A Quebec resident can purchase 150 hits for $21.80 (Canadian funds) or up to 10,000 hits for $339.27. A bit of work with a calculator shows that these prices equate to 11.8 cents (U.S.) per hit for the smaller purchase, scaling down to less than a penny per hit for those who elect to pay the highest price.
Canadians from other provinces pay $20.28 (Canadian) for 150 hits and then have an equal number of options, up to and including $315.60 (Canadian) for 10,000 hits. Those outside of Canada pay $21.95 Canadian ($17.85 U.S.) for 150 hits and $339.95 Canadian ($276.42 U.S.) for 10,000 hits.
Regardless of your location, you must register and make payment in advance. After your payment is validated, you will receive a notice (usually by e-mail) telling you that you can activate your subscription whenever you want. All you have to do is go to the site and enter your username and password when the identification window is displayed. The subscription ends when you have used up all your hits.
Programme de recherche en démographie historique received the New England Historic Genealogical Society's "2002 Technology Excellence Award," presented at the recent GENTECH2002 conference held in Boston. Anyone who is researching Quebec ancestry on this site will soon discovery why this award was made: the PRDH online database contains high-quality information about tens of thousands of individuals.
If you are researching French-Canadian ancestors in Quebec province prior to 1800, you need to go to: http://www.genealogy.umontreal.ca/en/