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Article Published April 11, 2003

Finding Your Ancestors (Quebec, Canada)
By: Marielle A. Bourgeois, M.A., C.F.A. Biography & Archived Articles

One day, I wondered if I could find my ancestors who were from the Richelieu River Valley area, in the province of Québec, Canada.

I decided to visit cemeteries, surrounding the oldest churches of Québec, along the Richelieu River. I knew that my paternal grandparents, by the surname Bourgeois, had been born, lived, and were buried in the cemetery of the parish of St-Mathias sur le Richelieu, one of the oldest parishes in Québec and an historical monument.

I walked in the cemetery of the parish to St-Mathias, and that of a few surrounding parishes, reading the stone inscriptions. I did not find stones marked Bourgeois, other than that of my grandparents. I found stones marked Cournoyer, which was the surname of my maternal grandmother. A priest who saw me taking notes said "I suggest you take the ferry, go across the river to the parish of St- Roch, where the priest there is a professional genealogist". I thanked him.

At St-Roch cemetery a man, dressed in plain clothes, with a smile in his face, approached me. When I looked at him, I thought "This man has the same facial expression as my brother". He asked me for my parents' names. He smiled when I answered him. He was the curé and was named father Georges-Henri Cournoyer. He invited me for dinner saying "we are family". He turned out to be a third degree cousin of mine, on my mother's maternal side, a professional genealogist at the service of the Province of Québec Health Department. He gave me a file which contained my Cournoyer genealogy from my mother's name all the way back to France, in 1620. I gave Father Cournoyer a hug, tears of joy in my eyes. I had located over 350 years of ancestors in one evening.

With this gold mine of information in hand, I decided to review the Cournoyer family file I had been given. (The Cournoyer surname in Québec today is very familiar thanks to Yvan Cournoyer, a famous hockey player who represented the Montréal Canadiens, from 1963 to 1979. Thanks also to Gérard Cournoyer, Québec Minister of Transports and Communications, in the 1960's, and to Jean Cournoyer, the well-know Québec Minister of Public Function, Minister of Labor, and finally Minister of Natural Resources, in the 1960s-1970s.) After many happy hours going over the records I thanked father Georges-Henri and left.

I then asked myself, "Suppose I never met Father Cournoyer, how would I have traced my ancestors?" With that question in mind I wrote out the following guidelines.
    1. Start with what you know
      I knew before I went to St-Mathias and other parishes in Québec that my grandmother, Anna Cournoyer, had married a distinguished looking German man, Henry Ritter, in Québec, at the turn of the century, in Sorel. The city of Sorel is situated between Montréal and Québec City, on the South shore of the St. Lawrence River. I also knew that Sorel was the region where my mother was born and where my grandparents Ritter/ Cournoyer married, lived and died. Knowing this much, I was able to specify where in Québec - SOREL - to begin my search.
    2. Check your family papers and photos:
      Going through my mother's albums I found the name of my great-grandfather, Charles Cournoyer and my great-grandmother Adèle Mondou, written on the back of a family photo. I now had a city and a few names to guide my research. On the Web site I searched for a list of "Eglises du Québec/ Churches of Quebec". I typed in "Sorel." The computer then provided me with the list of the names and phone numbers of the churches in that area. At random, I picked out the church of St-Pierre de Sorel and called the parish office. I mentioned the names of my grandparents and indicated they had married around 1900 (I knew that my mother was born in 1909 and that she was not the oldest child). A nice lady agreed to check the parish records of marriages for that time period. Later she called me back to say that my grandparents had not married in St-Pierre. She suggested I check at Ste-Anne's church.
    3. Request copies of marriage certificates:
      A phone call to Ste-Anne's presbytery revealed that 'yes' my grandparents had married in that parish. I requested a copy of the marriage certificate. The marriage certificate provided me with the names of my grandmother Anna Cournoyer's parents, Charles Cournoyer and Adèle Mondou, my great- grandparents (names I had found on the back of a photo). As was the fortunate custom in those days, the previous five generations of Cournoyer lived in or near Sorel, in the general Saint-François du Lac area. By requesting one marriage certificate at a time, for each generation traced, I obtained the names of my previous generations of ancestors. In this way I accumulated proof that I had found the right parents of each of my ancestors. By the time I got to the migrating ancestor, I discovered that his name was Paul HUS (no Cournoyer in the surname - for there had been a surname change), married to Jeanne Baillargeon. Paul married Jeanne, a 14-year-old girl, in Cap de la Madeleine, Québec, on June 16th, 1669. I obtained a certified copy of their marriage certificate from the office of the notary Jean Cusson in Trois-Rivières, Québec. From that marriage document, I found out not only the names of the parents of the groom, but also the names of the parents of the bride and their places of residence in France.
History adds spice to my ancestral story

Jeanne Baillargeon, who became Paul Hus' wife, was taken as a hostage of the Iroquois, for about three years - from ages 8 to 11 (see photo).

The King of France Louis X1V, paid money to the Iroquois Indians, through his Québec intendant and representative, in order to get Jeanne back into the European colony. This proved the high value placed on girls, the soon to be young ladies of marriageable age, who could as mothers help populate the new colony.

Jeanne and Paul had 14 children and left numerous descendants in Canada and the United States. The surname of some of their descendants could have become: Beauchemin; Capistran; Corporal; Cournoyer; Latraverse; Laventure; Lemoine; Millé; Millet; Millette; Millier; Paul; Paulet; Paul-Hus, Paulhus and some have become English versions of those names.

Marielle A. Bourgeois, M.A., C.F.A., Biography
Founder of the French/ European Ancestor Group,
P. O. Box 31172,
Santa Barbara, Ca. 93130,
Tel. 805 683 7768, Email:
Web page:
© April 11th, 2003 M. A. Bourgeois. All rights reserved.

More Quebec/French Research Resources

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Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
(Pontiac County, Quebec)

The Merivale Cemeteries
(Protestant - Ottawa area)