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Article Published December 1, 1998

French Catholic marriage records in Quebec - Part I
By Xenia Stanford

Is "Fille De Feu" A Girl Of Fire?

"Is "fille de feu" a girl of fire?" asked a non-French speaking researcher in a message to a newsgroup. The meaning of this phrase is much more mundane than the image conjured up by this word for word translation. Unless it was a reference to Joan of Arc burned at the stake (in which case it would be the feminine version "feue"), it was probably encountered in a parish marriage record.

At least the Act of Marriage or "L'Acte de Mariage" corresponds to the civil event and starts with the same letter of the alphabet in both languages, unlike the other religious ceremonies or acts which replace civil records prior to the twentieth century in Quebec. Since "L'Acte de Baptême" (baptism) date is often mistaken by the novice as the birthday and "L'Acte de Sépulture" (burial) date with the actual death, you might conclude Quebec marriages are less confusing to non-Francophone or non-Catholic researchers than the other vital records.

Unfortunately this is not always the case. As we see by the "fille de feu" puzzlement, direct translation using the dictionary does not always clear away the cobwebs on French Catholic marriage records. In fact, even with dictionary in hand, if you do not know what elements the record contains or the format they take, the old handwriting might deter you from understanding all the valuable information therein.

Status Of Parents In Marriage Records

The "fille de feu" phrase, for example, can help us establish the status of the parents of the bride and groom, i.e. whether they were still alive or had predeceased the marriage of their child. Found following the name of the bride and before the name of her father, "fille de feu" means the bride's father was deceased before her wedding day. The adjective "feu" before a man's name or feue before a woman's name means "the late".

Archive Picture For example, a marriage record worded "Marie Cormier, fille de feu Louis Cormier et d'Anne Lebrun" means "Marie Cormier, daughter of the late Louis Cormier and of Anne Lebrun". In this case the bride's mother would still be living as there is no "feue" before her name.

Following the groom's name we would find "fils de feu" if his father was deceased and "de feue" before his mother's name if she was no longer alive at the time of his marriage. Other records used "défunt" or "défunte" for the same purpose.

Although most records use either the "feu/feue" or the "défunt/défunte" adjectives to show the deceased status of the parents, the marriage record of Philippe Charron and Julie Boudreau on Nov. 20, 1861 in Notre Dame de Montreal is interesting because of its variations.

The parties to the wedding were recorded as follows: "Philippe Charron, cordonnier, domicilié en cette paroisse, fils majeur des défunts Joseph Charron et Théotiste Geoffrion de la paroisse de Verchères d'un part, et de Julie Boudreau, domiciliée en cette paroisse, fille mineure de Michel Boudreau, cultivateur consentant, et de feue Angéle Richer de la paroisse de Ste. Gertrude d'autre part…"

In this case the plural "des défunts" indicates both of the groom's parents were deceased. If only the father had died prior to this event, it would read "fils … de défunt Joseph Charron et de Théotiste Geoffrion". Notice the use of the singular "de" and singular "défunt" before the father's name and use of the article "de" before the name of the mother in my modified version. These are all clues showing one parent was alive while the other was not, unlike the real record in which neither were living at the time of their son's wedding.

In the above extract of the actual record, the bride's father was alive and gave consent for his under-aged daughter to marry but her mother was deceased as indicated by the "feue" before her name. It is unusual to see both the "défunt" and "feu" adjectives in the same record, but this indicates these terms are interchangeable.

The adjective is usually found before the name of the deceased party but in at least one record I found the bride's entry as follows: "Marguerite Legault dite Deslauriers, fille majeure de Jacques Legault dit Deslauriers, défunt, et de Marguerite Piché". This shows the father had died prior to the wedding day but the bride's mother was still alive.

One has to be careful in an entry such as this, as often there are no commas around the adjective even if it follows the name of the person it modifies. However, we have other clues to confirm this information. Here the adjective "défunt" is in the position which usually indicates the father's profession, the spelling of the term is in the masculine form and the mother has "et de" before her name. Thus, there is sufficient supporting evidence to determine it was the father who was deceased at the time but not the mother.

In some genealogical indexes, this status is shown by abbreviations such as f. for "feu/feue" or d. or déf. for "défunt/défunte" preceding the name of the deceased party. In others, such as Tanguay, the fact a parent was not alive at the time of the child's wedding is reflected by a † (cross sign or symbol) before the name of the deceased person.

Other Clues For Establishing Dates From Marriage Records

Collage of Records Besides the "feu" or "défunt" which can help us approximate the death of parents, there are other clues in the marriage record to assist us in finding important dates, such as the possible births of the bride and groom. The record usually indicates whether each are of the age of consent. This is done by following the groom's name with "fils mineur" or "fils majeur" and the bride's name with "fille mineure" or "fille majeure".

Majeur/majeure indicates the groom or bride was an adult, i.e. of the age of majority or consent, and mineur/mineure indicates he or she was not. The laws differed depending on the time and place of marriage. To determine the approximate birth date of the bride or groom we would have to know the age of majority during the period in which the marriage occurred. The age one reached adulthood in Quebec was not always 18 as it is now.

Also the age of majority was not always the same for each sex. So if one party to the marriage was a minor and the other was of the age of consent we cannot assume the minor was necessarily younger than the one who was an adult.

As shown in the Charron/Boudreau marriage record above, the consent of an adult was required for a minor to marry. This was sometimes indicated after the name of the person giving consent. "Michel Boudreau, cultivateur consentant," does not mean he was a farmer by consent. It indicates he was the person consenting to the marriage of his minor daughter, Julie. It can be confusing due to the lack of commas to separate his profession from the word "consentant". However, wherever either the bride or groom was a minor, one can safely assume the use of the word "consentant" in the record refers to an adult giving consent for the under-aged person to marry.

A parent of the minor groom or minor bride was not always the party who gave consent for the marriage to take place. In cases where both parents were absent or deceased, an adult relative or member of the church usually signed consent as part of the witness statement at the end of the record. There are records where an older sibling, a grandparent or even an in-law acted as the "consentant" (spelled consentante for females giving consent). For example, "Jacques Gagnon, l'oncle de l'èpoux, consentant au dit mariage" found near the end of the entry indicates the uncle of the groom gave consent for said marriage to take place.

On one lucky occasion I found a record where one of the witnesses was "la soeur cadette de l'èpouse". From this I learned the birth order of the two girls as the sister acting as witness was younger than the bride.

This is one of many reasons I prefer to examine the original church marriage entry, if available on microfilm, rather than relying on indexes, extracts or certificates except as finding aids. Even if it takes time to decipher the handwriting and all the nuances of the record, it is usually well worth the effort.


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