Marriage Dispensations in the Catholic Church

When working with French-Canadian Catholic church records, it is very common to come across ancestors who needed a dispensation. This was an approval granted by the bishop or cardinal to suspend the usual rules for Catholics that would prevent the marriage from occurring. Dispensations come in two types: dispensation of banns or dispensation for consanguinity. These dispensations provide great clues to genealogists for further research.

 

Banns

In order to be married in the Catholic church, couples were required to have their intention to marry announced at the parish mass three times prior to the marriage. If the bride and groom were from different parishes, the announcement needed to be made in both parishes. This was a safety precaution so that if one member of the couple was already married, or too young, or any other reason why the marriage would not be valid in the eyes of the church, the couples’ neighbors, family, or friends could bring the issue to the priest ahead of time. The banns are still part of the church today, although they are often printed in the bulletin in addition to or instead of being announced during the mass.

Dispensations on the banns could be made for a number of reasons. Usually. these were granted because there was a need or desire for the marriage to take place quickly. It is very common for those who are about to emigrate to have the banns dispensed with. This is especially common when one of the parties (usually the husband) has already emigrated and returned for the sole purpose of getting married. Such individuals may not be able to remain in Quebec for long. Another reason, of course, is that the first child is already on the way. If you see a dispensation for banns, be certain to look for a child born fewer than nine months later.

Dispensations were given for one or two of the banns, but never for all three. This is because the third bann is part of the marriage ceremony. Perhaps you may be familiar with the words “If anyone can show just cause why these two should not be married, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.” (or words to that effect).

 

Consanguinity

Dispensations for consanguinity were made for a different reason; one that is far more valuable to genealogists. These dispensations were made because the bride and groom were related by blood. The degree of consanguinity is measured by the difference to the common ancestor.

 

Degree Relationship Common Ancestors
First Siblings Parents
Second First Cousins Grandparents
Third Second Cousins Great-Grandparents
Fourth Third Cousins Great-Great-Grandparents

 

Dispensations are never give for the first degree of consanguinity. They are not required for the fourth degree or higher. The only time a dispensation is required is for the second or third degree. There may be records where the fourth degree of consanguinity is stated, but a dispensation was not required by the church.

These dispensations are frequently found in smaller parishes. After a generation or two, it is not surprising to find intermarriage of relatives. My maternal ancestry leads back to the parish of Gentilly in Nicolet. I have both Rivard and Poisson ancestry whose lines are constantly intermarrying. This record from the parish of St. Edouard shows the marriage of my fourth-great grandparents, Alexis Rivard dit Lavigne and Julie Poisson, on 9 October 1821. After the naming of the bride and groom and their parents, the record goes on to say that no impediment to the marriage was found, other than the third degree of consanguinity, and a dispensation was issued by the vicar general on the 21st of September. The vicar general is the highest official in the diocese after the bishop. He is usually responsible for executing administrative authority in the diocese. Alexis and Julie were both great-grandchildren of François Rivard dit Lanouette dit Lavigne; Alexis from the first wife and Julie from the second.

Ste. Marie de l’Incarnation et les Ursulines de Québec

In 1639, Marie de l’Incarnation left France for the wilderness of Nouvelle France. At forty years old, she had already lived an interesting life. She had no way of knowing what a lasting difference she would make in the world.

Marie Guyart was born at Tours, France, 18 October 1599, daughter of Florent Guyart and Jeanne Michelet and baptized there in the parish of St. Saturnin the following day. From the age of seven, when she had a vision of Jesus, she felt drawn to religious life. Ignoring her wishes, her parents made her a match with a silk worker named Claude Martin. Married at 18, she became a mother a year later and a widow just months after that. She lived with her parents for a time, then her sister. In 1631 she joined the Ursuline convent, and in 1639 she went to New France, where she founded a convent in Quebec City.

The Jesuits had been teaching young native boys their European Christian values for years. Now the Ursulines took upon themselves the education of young native girls in these ways. They were the first female religious order from Europe in North America. After three years in the lower town, they moved to the upper town and built a new monastery. The land was donated to the nuns by the Company of New France. The Ursuline convent has been located on this property ever since.

Since its founding, the Ursulines have been dedicated to teaching. From the natives, to the children of colonists, to the children of wealthy merchants, the nuns have taught girls of all ages. More than two dozen convents and monasteries were founded, starting in Trois-Rivières in 1697 and ending in Yagi, Japan, in 1974. Many members of our ancestral families joined the Ursulines to continue their mission of teaching.

From small beginnings, the Ursuline Convent is now a large complex of buildings. In 2014They remained a cloistered order until the 1960s. Unfortunately, that was a harbinger of greater changes to come. The sisterhood is dwindling. The numbers of those joining religious orders in general has diminished greatly since that time, and the Ursulines are no exception. Today there are only 40 nuns living at the convent, the youngest of whom is in her 60s.

A recent story broke the news that the sisters have made a difficult decision. After 375 years of living on the same land, the remaining Ursuline sisters will move into a modern assisted living facility in 2018. In 2017 the Musée des Ursulines de Québec was founded. It will work to preserve the monasteries and convents, artifacts, and the archives of these valiant women. In these archives is doubtless a great deal of information about those in our ancestral families who became Ursulines.

Little could young Marie Guyart have known what a difference she would make around the world. After more than thirty years toiling in her new home in Canada, Marie de l’Incarnation passed away on 30 April 1672, just two weeks after Easter. Pope John Paul, II, beatified her in Vatican City.  More than 340 years after she died, Pope Francis canonized her on 2 April 2014, making her now Sainte Marie de l’Incarnation.

 

For more information about Marie Guyart and the Ursulines of Quebec, visit the following resources:

The Canadian Encyclopedia entry for the Ursuline Convent

The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Marie de l’Incarnation

The Musée des Ursulines de Québec

 

 

Land Ownership in Canada

Our French-Canadian ancestors had a far different system of land ownership than we, their Franco-American descendants, are used to. The seigneurial system, born out of feudal France, requires we think of researching their property records in different ways.

In the earliest days of the settlement, the crown granted large swaths of land to the Company of New France (also known as the Company of One Hundred Associates), various branches of the church, and to a limited number of individuals. These grants were called seigneuries. Individuals who received the grants were called seigneurs. The church and the company acted as the seigneur for their grants.

The seigneurs would then give their own grants to individuals, who would pay a cens (a small annual cash payment) and rent, much larger and usually a combination of cash, crops, and farm animals. These were the habitants who cleared the land and created farms. They were usually referred to in official documents as censitaires.

Waterways were the primary method of travel in New France, thus everyone wanted easy access to them. Seigneuries usually had a certain amount of frontage on the river, with the land extending deep back from there. The seigneuries would then be further subdivided with each censitaire receiving a certain amount of frontage, with the rest of the land going back from there.

Censitaires were able to assign their property to others. They could buy or sell rights to property, or leave their property to their children through a will, division of estate, or other method. As censitaires distributed their land to their children, the property would be further subdivided. Eventually the land would become a series of tiny strips moving away from the water.

Once the seigneury was divided and no further frontage was available, the land would be subdivided into ranges (pronounced like rang in the phrase “rang the bell”). A second range of subdivisions would be created by the first. In some cases, a third or fourth (or more) range might eventually be created. These were seldom neat, straight lines. Natural occurrences (such as marsh/swamp land, ravines, and more) might impact the way the land was granted. The lower the range, the greater the likelihood that your ancestor might have been more economically successful.

The seigneurial system of land tenure continued even after the Conquest. It continued throughout the first half of the nineteenth century until the passage of the Feudal Abolition Act of 1854. It was not until well into the twentieth century, however, that the seigneuries were all finally totally gone.

Records of these rentals, as well as sales and purchases of individuals’ rights to property, are found in the notarial records. Remember that not all transactions were handled locally, and the notaire in the seigneurie may not by the one who handled all the legal contracts surrounding the property of your ancestors.

For more information on the history of land and property in Quebec, see:

Harris, Richard Colebrook. The Seigneurial System in Early Canada Madison, Wisc.: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.

Munro, William Bennett. Documents Relating to the Seigneurial Tenure in Canada, 1598–1854 New York: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1968. First published 1908 by the Champlain Society.

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.

Marriage Contracts in Quebec

Today our notion of marriage is built on the concept of finding a life partner, falling in love, and getting married. This romanticized idea of marriage is perpetuated in modern popular culture, especially music and the cinema. But this ideal is a modern creation, and has not always been the case.

Prior to the twentieth century, marriage was considered an alliance between families. Fathers controlled who their children married. Not only did they look to make matches that would ensure their’ children’s financial security, they looked for alliances between families that would increase their social status as well.

In 1556, Henri II declared that all men under 30 and all women under 25 would now need parental consent to marry. In cases of disagreement about a potential marriage, the opinion of the father would prevail. In addition to the consent of the parents, the Catholic Church required the presence of a priest as well as witnesses to the marriage.

This tie to economics led to the development of marriage contracts. These ensured  that all parties lived up to their commitments, financial and otherwise. The settlers of New France brought this tradition with them to the colony, and it remains a common part of Quebecois marriages today.

About the time of the marriage, the parties would go to a notary and sign a marriage contract (contrat de mariage). This document would set out what the bride’s dower would be, what the groom would bring to the marriage, and penalties for either if they were the cause of the marriage not taking place. They also might include a distribution plan for the couples’ assets after their deaths.

For genealogists, marriage contracts are an extremely valuable resource. They often list the names of parents and other family members, as they are often involved in the contract. They can be used to document a marriage where no church record survives. They can give you an economic picture of your family at a given point in time. They can help document a place of residence for your ancestors at a particular time. They can also, based on the language of the contract, give you an idea of how well the two families got along, and if there were any distrust between or suspicion between them.

Notarial records are notoriously difficult to locate. There were no regulations concerning jurisdictions for notaries. One could use a notary anywhere in the province. Thus, records could be located far distant from where the parties lived. Ancestry.com has a database with indexes to many (although not all) notarial records. The records themselves are not yet online there, but if you can locate a record in their index, you can find which branch of the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales de Québec (www.banq.qc.ca) holds the records for that notary. With this information, you can write to that branch and get copies of the records. The information that these records provide are well worth the effort to locate them. You can also find images of some marriage contracts online at www.genealogiequebec.com.

For more on the history of marriage contracts in France, see Larousse de la Généalogie: À la recherche de vos racines  (Paris: Larousse/Vuef, 2002) 128–31.