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Article Published December 15, 1998

By Xenia Stanford

The topics covered in Part I were clues for establishing other vital dates, such as the living or deceased status of parents of the couple at the time of the marriage and whether the groom and bride were of the age of majority or minority. As hinted in the previous issue, we may also find relationships of the witnesses to the couple.

Besides these, there are other valuable clues arising from conventions or customs of French Catholic marriage records. It is difficult to give exhaustive coverage in even two parts. However, to cover the main aspects of the Act of Marriage, this issue will deal with names of parties and parents, occupations, places of residence, and previous spouses of the groom and/or bride.

(N.B. I refer to the groom first, in spite of modern convention, when discussing marriage records since "l'époux" or groom is given first in the entry as the party "d'une part" and "l'épouse" or bride is second as the party "d'autre" part. Also note, references to "les époux" indicates the married couple, while "l'époux", the singular form, means the groom or husband.)


Names in a marriage record can be illuminating or confusing depending upon your knowledge of past naming practices, particularly among French Catholics. To suppose rules were the same during all periods of history, in every religion or in all countries can often lead us in the wrong direction.

The first such erroneous supposition is that the full "legal" name is the one used in records prior to the twentieth century. It is true names were used to clearly identify the parties for an understanding of who was marrying whom. Since names of other people in the parish or nearby locations could be the same, identifying characteristics, such as "dit" names and baptismal or "grace" names might be used to distinguish the groom and bride from others of the same name. It can be misleading if we assume this should also apply to the names of the parents of the couple or in all records. Outside of baptism and marriage records of a particular person, often "abbreviated" or "common" names are used for the same individual.

For example, my children's great great grandmother is listed as Marie Rose Boudreau on her marriage and baptism records. However, on most other records, including the baptism and marriage records of her children, she is simply Rosa Boudreau. Similarly another ancestor is baptised and married as Marie Adelaide Marticotte dite Aÿette but on her children's baptism and marriage records she is Adele or Adelaide Marticotte.

Marie Rose (aka Rosa) Boudreau's parents are listed as Ulric Boudreau and Hormisdas Massé. Looking for a marriage of Ulric Boudreau to Hormisdas Massé under the groom's name was futile. Checking under Hormisdas Massé produced the marriage record where the groom was Pierre Ulric Boudreau. This helped me find his correct baptism record since it also was listed under Pierre not Ulric. Yet every other record on the family, including the children's baptisms and marriages, censuses and street directories, listed him as Ulric, Ulderick or Alderick, never as Pierre.

Although there are exceptions, generally the groom and bride are referred to by their baptismal name which may include a "grace" name first, such as Marie (for Mary, "Mother of God" according to Church doctrine) or Pierre (for St. Peter) or Jean or Jean-Baptiste (for John the Baptist). By contrast, on other records and where the party is a parent or witness in a marriage, the person is referred to by the "common" or everyday name, which today we consider a nickname.

Naming practices require a separate and longer explanation, but again I will deal briefly with "dit" (masculine) or "dite" (feminine) names. "Dit" means "said to be" or "called" or "also known as". Again this was to distinguish two people or two family lines with the same surnames from one another. As we see from Marie Adelaide Marticotte dite Aÿette's case, the "dite" name was dropped from her common usage (i.e. her "everyday" name) other than in her the baptism and marriage records. In other cases only the "dit" name was used. For example, another relative might use the "Aÿette" surname alone.

Also as we see from the variations of Ulric above, spellings were not standardized until the twentieth century. Even in cases where the person was literate and signed his or her name consistently, the priest or record maker may have used a different spelling. Sometimes I found the name spelled Alliette or Aÿet by the priest and Aÿette by the person signing. This name originated from the Hayot used by the first generation from France but can be found in New France as Hayotte, Ayot, Ayotte and the above variations.

Other past writing conventions can lead to confusion, such as replacing the double "s" with an "fs". The Hormisdas Massé above, in addition to being found under various spellings of her first name (omitting one or both "s", e.g. Hormida), was shown as "Mafsé" for her surname in various records. Also "paroisse" for parish can be found as "paroifse" and modern dictionaries usually do not show the interpretation for this now obsolete spelling.

Therefore, when searching for other records of parties named in the marriage entry, it is wise to watch for variant spellings of first and last names as well as for "dit" and "grace" versus "common" names.


Another common means for identifying parties can be occupations. Generally occupations were only listed for the groom and the fathers of the groom and bride. Often occupations are listed even for deceased fathers. Again this shows Marie Rose Boudreau was the daughter of Ulric the butcher and not Ulric the shipping "pilot" who lived in Montreal during the same period. Thus when we find Pierre Ulric the butcher marrying Hormisdas Massé, we know this is the right party even though we find a marriage of the other Ulric in the same year.

Luckily the other Ulric married a bride of another name, but my children's line includes two grooms named Pierre Tremblay each married to a Marie Simard. So the different professions are a clue to separating one couple from the other with the same names.


Another factor which helps me separate the two Pierre Tremblays from one another is the place of residence. Even if they had married in the same parish, the place of current residence of the two may have been different.

Usually, but not always, it was customary to marry in the bride's parish. So while she may be shown as from "cette paroisse" (this parish, i.e. same parish in which the parties married), he may be shown as from "Trois Rivieres" or somewhere else.

In one case, I found the groom was from "Nouveau Orléans" which was an important clue for finding his past records and those of the new couple and their children. The couple had married in Montreal, the bride's parish, but moved to New Orleans to live. Their children were all born there, although some returned to, married and started their family in Montreal. Some of the ancestors carrying on the family line were born in New Orleans, a place I might not have thought of looking, if it had not been for the clue in the marriage record.

Also the place of current or last (if deceased) residence for parents of a party to the marriage is an important clue to where to find other records. One must be careful when interpreting these clues as the place mentioned was current residence not necessarily parish of origin (i.e. where the marriage party was baptised or where the parents married).

In 1903 an act was passed requiring marriage records to be sent to the parishes where the groom and bride were baptized. Thus in the late nineteenth century, when you find the right baptism record for the groom or bride, you may also find a copy of a form showing when, where and to whom, he or she married. More details on this may be covered in a future issue.


Why should you care about the previous marriage of one of your widowed ancestors, if you are only seeking your direct line? Unfortunately most often the marriage record to a subsequent spouse does not give the person's parents. Therefore, if your ancestor had a previous spouse, you must find the original or fist marriage to find the names of the previous generation.

Sometimes people are confused when they find the name of two brides or two grooms in one entry. In the case of two brides, the abbreviation v. or vf. should precede the name of the first bride in the index. This indicates the groom was the widower of the first spouse. In the actual record, it would be written in full as "veuf de", for example, "Pierre Lesage, veuf d' Angeline Brun" means the groom is Pierre Lesage, widower of Angeline Brun. In an index, such as Loiselle's, it would be shown as "Pierre Lesage v. Angeline Brun" or "vf. Angeline Brun".

If Pierre had died first and Angeline Brun remarried, she would be shown as "veuve de Pierre Lesage" in the parish entry or "ve." or "vve." followed by the name of her late spouse in an index or abstract of the record.

Finding the record of her marriage to Pierre then should give her parents' names, unless the marriage to Pierre was not her first. Even then, checking back one marriage at a time should eventually produce the names of her parents.

Unlike records of many other countries or cultures, the French almost always refer to a woman by her maiden name. Thus, even if Angeline Brun had married several times, she will be found as Angeline Brun not by the name of one of her previous spouses.

However, occasionally I have found a census record where a widow may be referred to as "veuve de …" or even simply "Veuve" followed by surname or full name of her late husband, e.g. "veuve de Pierre Lesage" or "Veuve Lesage".

Again some are confused by this and ask if it is really Pierre Lesage, a widower, mentioned in the record. If it were, he would be referred to as "Le veuf de …" or "Veuf Lesage" (the "Widower Lesage") not "Veuve Lesage".

Knowing simple rules of French grammar such as the masculine and feminine forms of these words can greatly increase your chances of correctly interpreting marriage and other records.


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