By: Dwayne Meisner,
My wife was born in Ontario, but her maternal family members were born in Quebec and later, some moved to Cornwall, Ontario. Ancestry has already digitized and indexed the Births, Marriages and Deaths for Ontario, and placed them online for us to search. Quebec records, on the other hand, are to be found by searching the Drouin Collection. There are also Drouin records for Ontario, Acadia (parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), and even a few in the United States. You can learn more about the collection here.
If you’ve never used this collection, finding your ancestors can sometimes be a daunting task. Most of the records in the Drouin Collection are in French and while they can be searched, poor penmanship can make it challenging to find the record you’re looking for. The names can be misspelled, abbreviated, or missing altogether. Here are some steps that might help you:
- If you don’t know exactly where your ancestors lived in Quebec, find them in the census records first to pinpoint where they lived. People did not move around that much in the 1800’s, so this information will be critical. The Drouin records are broken down by area, then by parish, then by year. This information will be similar to what you find in the census. The census records will also help you in another way: they will list the names of the family members living in the household at the time the census was taken. The approximate birth year will be listed in most cases as well.
- Make a list of all the family members you intend to search for in the order they were born. It will help immensely if you know the names of the parents because these names will be inside every record you find, proving that you are looking at the correct record. There were many common names in use then, just as there are today, so knowing the parents’ names will weed out any possible duplicate records.
- Use the search engine to find any family members that you can, by using the search filters to narrow down the area and year. For the area, you can put the name of the town rather than the parish, because for some reason, some families had their baptisms, marriages, and burials performed at different parishes within the same area. For the year, never choose an exact year, always choose plus or minus two at least because the year given in the census records are notoriously off by one or two years.
- At this point, if you got really lucky, you will have found all the family members that were in your list in step 2. You may have found more than one type of record for each person. Or, you may have found nothing. Add the information you found to your list. From my experience, I wasn’t that lucky. Here is where the fun begins…
- Refine your search of the correct area and year using the wildcard search. Leave the given name box blank. In the Surname box, type the first three letters of the name and put an asterisk (*) at the end. This should help you find more records. Remember that for some people, you may find as many as three records: a baptism record, a marriage record, and a burial record. For other people, you may only find one or two of these records.
- If you are still missing some of the people from your list, now is the time for some brute force searching. Look back at your list. Typically, Quebec families were large, and babies were born almost every year or so. Search all the gap years manually by clicking the year at the top of the image viewer to open the browse dialog box, select the first letter of the area, then the area, then the year you want to browse. The viewer will then show you record one of the set, with the counter in the upper right corner of the viewer showing the total number of records for this set.
- Here is where the magic happens! The last one or two images of the set will have a list of the names of all the records within the set, usually in alphabetical order, and whether it was a baptism, marriage, or burial, along with the page number of the image were the name can be found. These pages were never indexed by Ancestry. This information is invaluable, because it gives you a second chance to figure out where your ancestor is listed in the image set, and why you didn’t find the name by searching. Unfortunately, sometimes even these pages are difficult to read. Try saving the index page to your computer and use a photo editing program to try to adjust the image. This might help make the writing or text more legible.
- If you don’t find your ancestor, try the next year in the list, using the same techniques as above. Once you find your ancestor, please take the time to make and submit a correction for the name(s) so that the next person searching will be able to find the information easier. Every correction made helps Ancestry’s search engine work better and improves the user’s experience.
- The records are most likely not in English… The neat thing however, is that most Priests followed a similar format when entering the records, so once you have deciphered one record, the others will be almost the same except for the names and dates. You can use Google Translate to help you with the translations.
Ancestry Canada Advistory Board member Dwayne has lived in Halifax County all his life, and spent 30 years of his career as an electronics technician, which led him into computers. He became interested in genealogy 40 years ago after spending some time helping his grandmother painting and cleaning her home – and listening to her stories about her family in the evenings. He plotted her stories into a family tree (on a piece of butcher’s paper!) and years later, using archives and online resources such as Ancestry, was able to validate them. Taking an AncestryDNAⓇ test, he was also able to prove that she was right about having “Spanish Blood” somewhere in her family line.
Dwayne has had his own genealogy website since 2003 and also administers/co-admins several genealogy groups on Facebook.
He lives with his wife Francine on the Eastern side of Halifax Harbour with their four cats and a budgie.