The Money of New France

Part of researching our ancestors’ lives is looking at their economic situation. How much real estate did they own? What did it cost? What personal property did they have and what was its value? Part of determining this information is having an understanding of the currency of the period and what the value of that currency is.

In the colony of New France, the monetary system is a bit complicated. The system was based on the livre. Just as British currency was divided into pounds, shillings, and pence, the livre was subdivided into sols and deniers. The major difference between the two currencies was that there was no livre coin. There were twelve deniers in a sol, and twenty sols in a livre. When written out, it was often abbreviated. Instead of saying 10 livres, 5 sols, and 3 deniers, it would be written as 10ll.8s.9d.

These denominations were the same in France as they were in the French colonies, such as New France and Saint Domingue. But the value of the money was different. Until 1717, the monnaie du pays or argent du Canada was worth less than the monnaie de France or argent de France. The value was lessened and reduced by one quarter. It was not until 1717 that the monies were equalized in value.

During this time there was no paper currency, only coinage. And coins were not minted in New France. They were brought into the colony by the King’s ships. This would cause shortages if a ship was delayed, especially if the next ship could not come until the following Spring.

In the late 17th century, The intendant Demeulle used playing cards as a form of paper currency. He signed  cards, declaring them to worth varying amounts of money. This did not cause inflation, as it was not meant to increase the amount of money in circulation, only as a temporary way of paying the government’s bills. When the next ship arrived, the cards were turned in for coins. This system was used until 1714, but in 1729 French-Canadian merchants demanded a return to the system in order to keep the economy moving. Some of this card money is still in private hands, and very collectible. This card was expected to sell at auction for $8,000.

To find out more about French-Canadian currency, see “The French Colonies and the Exchange on Paris” in John J. McCusker Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600­–1775 (Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1978 (280–90) and “Economic Life” in Marcel Trudel Introduction to New France (Pawtucket, R.I.: Quintin Publications, 1997) 184–89.

Genealogie Quebec: A Valuable Resource for French-Canadians

I had the pleasure of meeting the team from Genealogie Quebec at the New England Regional Genealogy Conference a couple of months ago. As two of my grandparents were born in Quebec, and the parents of my other two were born there, my roots quickly go back to Quebec, I’m always on the lookout for tools to help me with my research. Sebastien Robert and François Desjardins helped explain the site to me, and graciously provided me with access to review it and pass information along to you.

First, a bit of history. Genealogie Quebec is the online portal for the Drouin Institute. Founded a century ago by Joseph Drouin, this is one of the most important organizations in the history of French-Canadian genealogy. The institute microfilmed parish registers across Quebec, as well as other areas in nearby Canada and the United States that were of significance to French-Canadians. Teams were hired to abstract information to create indexes to parish registers that for decades were the major easy source into the registers. The institute also compiled genealogies for hire, and published a number family histories.

Some of these resources (such as digital images of the microfilmed parish registers) have been available online for some time. But now all the various resources have an online home, and at considerably lower cost than other websites, at Genealogie Quebec.

The institute is collaborates with a number of other groups to provide access to a variety of information. Among them are:

  • Société de Généalogie Canadienne-Française
  • Société de Généalogie de l’Outaouais
  • Société de Généalogie de Québec
  • Société de Généalogie de Saint Hubert
  • Société de Généalogie des Cantons de l’Est
  • Société de Généalogie des Laurentides
  • Société d’Histoire at de Généalogie de Trois-Pistoles
  • Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique

The Lafrance is the largest database, with 3.4 million records dating from 1621 to 2008. The vast majority of these (about 80%) are for the period 1621 to 1861. Catholic church records for the periods 1621­–1849 (births and deaths) and 1621–1916 (marriages) are indexed and linked to images of the original records.

The Drouin Collection contains 12 million records for the period 1621–1967 for parishes in Québec, French Ontario, and Acadia. These are not searchable, but easily browsable as they are organized by parish name, then chronologically for the parish.

The database of marriages and deaths for the period 1926–1997 contains almost 2.5 million marriage records and more than 2.8 million death records. Fully searchable, the marriage records contain original documents. For deaths of Catholics to 1967, getting the date from the database easily allows one to go to the Drouin Collection images to find the death/burial record. Genealogie Quebec is currently the only place where these records are available online.

Other data sets include:

  • obituaries
  • death cards
  • cemeteries, and tombstones.
  • 1881 Québec Census index
  • miscellaneous notarial records
  • compiled genealogies
  • Loiselle Index
  • Connolly File
  • Kardex

There are some issues on the site. One drawback is that the databases must be searched individually; there is no overall global search. Some of the information listed can be difficult to find. And some, like the Québec Directory, is still listed even though it is no longer available. And the user guide is only available in French at the moment.

Overall, however, these issues are minor compared to the value one gets from all the information available on the site. You can try it for 24 hours for $5 (with a limit of 75 image views) or for an entire month for $13 (limit of 75 image views per day). A year-long subscription is $100 (limit of 1,050 image views per week). Although there are limits to the page views, they should be more than sufficient for most users. And the use of the indexes and non-image databases is unlimited.

Check out the website at www.genealogiequebec.com/en today to try it out for yourself.