On the Shoulders of Giants

Wow. The PRDH* is a French Canadian researcher’s boon. The funny thing is that I have resisted purchasing access to the site for months. They have a structure where you pay in advance for the number of hits you think you will make – which is incredibly hard to calculate without any experience. Yet for about 10 cents a record or less, you can have access to the PRDH’s database, which specializes in seventeenth and eighteenth century vital records for the province of Quebec. Your subscription has no time limit. It merely ends when your last hit is used up.

Father Cyprien Tanguay, during the 1890s.  Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Father Cyprien Tanguay, author of the first French Canadian genealogical dictionary, during the 1890s, . Photo credit: Wikipedia.

And I was foolish enough to think that I would regret purchasing it because doing genealogy with colonial Quebecois ancestors is already a researcher’s dream. The Jesuits kept detailed records of all the baptisms, marriages, and burials that went on – and since the church in New France experienced a fire around 1650, they learned to keep copies of the registries in two places at all times (local and central) so there are next to no gaps in the records. In addition, these records have been mined and re-mined and compiled into multiple dictionaries – which are easy to find in genealogical libraries. The original one, published in 1871 by Father Cyprian Tanguay, is now available online through Ancestry.com.**

Since I had all this access to quick genealogical information, I worried that a PRDH subscription would just duplicate what I had already found out. But I was wrong. Unlike the dictionaries, you don’t just get names, dates, and locations of particular family groups. The PRDH database lists every instance in which a person’s name is listed in the records as a subject, parent, priest, or other. And even though you still have to find the primary records to sort out the witnesses from the church workers from the godparents, the database results provide a quick overview of how a particular person was tied to their community and the events of their lives. Truly fascinating stuff.

*PRDH stands for Le Programme de Rechercher en Demographie Historique, or the Research Program of Historical Demography, at the University of Montreal.

** Tanguay’s dictionary can also be accessed for free through Quebec’s National Library and Archives.

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