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Welcome to Tenacious Genealogy! Today I’m going to delve into one of my favorite collections to work with when researching my French Canadian ancestors – the Drouin Collection.
This is an amazing resource if you know that you have ancestors who lived in Francophone areas of Canada and the US. (Quebec, Ontario, Acadia, northeastern US, etc). It’s also a great way to work on your French reading abilities because the vast majority of the records are in French.
Anyway, for those of you who have French Canadian ancestors, but don’t know where to start when researching them, think of this as a primer for one of the better French Canadian genealogy collections you’ll find online.
5 Things You Need to Know About the Drouin Collection
Below are 5 basic facts about the Drouin collection the can help you to understand it as you begin using it or are looking for records in general for your French Canadian ancestors.
#1 – The Drouin Collection is a massive collection of vital records ranging from the 1600s to the 1900s.
The Drouin Collection is a massive collection of vital and church records (birth, marriage, death, and notarial records, etc) covering Quebec, Ontario, Acadia (now Nova Scotia), and northeastern areas of the US. Primarily places that were settled by French-speaking settlers. (National borders were a lot more fluid in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries than they are today, so many times settlers moved back and forth between New England and the eastern Canadian provinces as fortunes dictated.)
Most of these record collections started in the 1600s as French settlers came to Quebec and the surrounding areas and ended between the 1940s and the 1960s (depending on the province) when other (governmental) agencies took over collecting and keeping vital records. The records in the Drouin collection were also scanned primarily between the 1940s and the 1960s.
As a note to how many records are in this collection, I (and my mother) have been doing research using records from it for nearly 20 years now and we’ve barely scratched the surface.
#2 – Most of the records are in French
Because most of the original settlers in the areas that the Drouin collection covers were French-speaking, those who could write (illiteracy was high among many French-Canadians even into the 19th century), often wrote in French. However, because these records aren’t always dealing with French settlers (especially in places like Ontario and with US records), you’ll sometimes find records written in English, Latin, or even Italian.
#3 – The records found in the Drouin Collection are considered ‘primary sources’
In genealogical circles, records are generally organized into primary, secondary, or tertiary sources. (They are organized in other ways as well, but for the sake of this post, I’ll just focus on the primary, secondary, and tertiary notations.)
Primary sources are records that were created at the time of the event and contain information written (or given) by the people that the record is about. Ex. A marriage record where the bride and groom note their names, personal information, and signatures.
Secondary sources are records that were created at the time of the event by people other than those who the record is about OR records created by the individual after an event happened. Ex. A death certificate, birth index, or censuses.
Tertiary sources are records that were created after the event happened and by people who weren’t part of the event. Tertiary sources also may be summaries of primary and secondary sources. Ex. Biographies, family stories, summaries & indexes of other collections.
Genealogists and family historians LOVE primary sources because they are (usually) the most accurate sources of information on our ancestors. The Drouin Collection is for the most part primary sources created at the time of the event. This adds credibility to the information found in said records.
#4 – The Drouin Collection is curated by the Drouin Genealogical Institute and their website ‘Genealogy Quebec’
Why is the Drouin Collection called what it is? Because the records are preserved and curated by the Drouin Genealogical Institute in Quebec. (The Drouin Collection isn’t the only collection that the Drouin Institute takes care of, but it is one of the largest collections and most well known.) The Drouin Institute was started in 1899 by Joseph Drouin to preserve French Canadian genealogical records (and sell family histories). Currently, the institute has a website that people wishing to check out their collections can visit. Genealogy Quebec is a subscription-based website that allows people to access all of the research tools and databases that the Institute has access to. Costs range from $5 for 75 images or 24 hours to $100 for a year or 1050 images per week.
#5 – Most of the church records are for Catholic parishes, however, there are records for over two dozen other religions.
Because Quebec and the surrounding areas were primarily settled by French Catholics and politics in France during the 17th and 18th century prohibited non-Catholic French subjects from settling in French Canada, most of the church records in the Drouin collection are for Catholic parishes. However, as time went on and the British took over what had been French Canada, settlers from other faiths came to live there. Thus their religious records are also part of the Drouin collection, albeit a minor part. These religions range from the records of a variety of Protestant sects to some Russian Orthodox records, some Jewish records, and beyond.
This is valuable to note because, even if your ancestors weren’t Catholic, if they lived in the areas covered by the Drouin collection, you could possibly find their records within the collection.
Where to Find the Drouin Collection?
There are a few places where you can go to search the Drouin Collection. As noted above, the Drouin Institute’s website is a good place to search and has the complete collection plus more. Ancestry.com also has the Drouin Collection on its website, which you can access depending on your subscription to them. The collection is also accessible through NEHGS (New England Historic Genealogical Society) and the American-Canadian Genealogical Society. Though these last two places are less likely to have them online and more likely to require an in-person visit. They are also subscription/membership groups.
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