Officially a nerd, my heart thrilled to the idea of a visit to the National Archives of Quebec right here in Montreal. Libraries, cemeteries, museums, old industrial buildings, bring them on! I could spend hours poking around in those places. A kind friend of mine, who turns out to be a big historical researcher, offered to take me to the old archive building close to the historical port area of the city. It has been extensively renovated and adapted to its purpose.
I was surprised to be met at the door by a security officer. I was given a key to a locker and asked to sign in with my time of entry. We went to the cloakroom and locked up our coats and bags. Only portable computers, pads, notebooks and pencils are allowed. The work area is a large room flooded with natural light and full of beautiful work tables and comfortable chairs The purpose of our visit was to look up some geneological records. To my surprise I recently learned that a branch of my mother’s family came to Montreal in 1845 but that the young couple left after their three children died shortly after birth. It seems the sad parents went off to the United States. My companion,showed me how to look up church records but since my ancestors would have been Protestants we had to look in some segregated volumes. Finally, thanks to my friend’s expertise, we were able to find two entries in the records of St. Stephen’s Church in Lachine. The family name, Wybron, is quite unusual and the dates matched so it certainly is the family I was looking for. Besides accomplishing my own purpose, my friend also showed me the vast volumes of church records for the French Catholic population and he explained that people often changed or added to their names for identification purposes or sometimes to hide a criminal past as they set out in their new lives. A common complication was that,women often died in childbirth or simply from the burden of work in the early days and then a second family could be established. The term in French Canada is “”deuxiem lit” or . . . .the second bed. Men sometimes had a second “bush” family too. They would establish a relationship wih a native woman when they went off on fur trading or military expeditions. The church might or might not ecognize these children. It was so facinating that I hardly noticed the time passing. A look around the room revealed lots of records from New England where Quebec families settled at various times of conflict or economic hardship. Marc told me many interesting historical tit bits so the whole expedition was interesting and fun. Besides geneological records there are all sorts of records of early settlement written by the Jesuits, guides to early colonial furniture and records of businesses that date far back.
What a beautiful setting. And as Marc pointed out it is a great place to get away as no cel phones are allowed. Even nerds have their refuge.