Sunday, September 5, 2010

Trust No One

My Second Genealogical Mantra is this: Never, never, never trust anyone else’s research and graft it onto your own family tree; always examine the original records yourself.

It doesn’t matter what the reputation of that researcher is: every genealogist is (I assume) human, and therefore capable of making mistakes. Consider someone else’s findings as leads to records rather than confirmed fact. That other person may have made a lot of mistakes, which is very easy to do and so-o-o tempting to swallow without question.

Here’s an example: I eventually discovered that one of my 6G grandfathers was Charles Demers-dit-Dumay, whose marital history turned out to be thoroughly confusing for later researchers, although I’m sure it was no problem for him. This entire line of Demers-dit-Dumay were a contrary bunch who, generation after generation, managed to inhabit parishes where large swaths of the parish registers were going to disappear.

The marriage record for my 5G grandfather Antoine Demers had told me that he was the son of Charles and of the deceased Marie-Charlotte Durand of Lanoraie. To take the lines back, I had to locate his parents’ marriage record.

I really needed that marriage record, because marriage records are the key to Quebec genealogy.

As I said in an earlier post, a Quebec marriage record almost always gives not only the names and home parishes of the bride and groom but the names of their parents, where they live, and whether any of the parents are now deceased; it may even give the occupation of the fathers and/or of the groom. The record also generally names the witnesses to the marriage and the relationship of each to the bride or groom. But in the case of a widow or widower, often only the name of the deceased spouse is given, and the names of that party’s parents are commonly omitted.

Now, this was before the indexed Drouin Collection of Quebec parish registers came online at I already had the microfilm of the Lanoraie register at hand (ordered through my friendly local Family History Center for a different family line), so I knew that large chunks of it were missing, and that what was left was in extremely bad condition and written with extremely bad penmanship; in fact, it was almost entirely illegible. So I consulted Tanguay to see if I could pin down the marriage date and place for Charles.

By the way, Tanguay is now online at, which is useful if you have the World Deluxe subscription that lets you access Quebec records. If you don’t, the free website for the Tanguay which I mentioned in my second post to this blog is still open and still free. You can’t download it, but you can page through it all you wish.

Tanguay showed only one marriage for a Charles Demers-Dumay at Lanoraie, and this was to a woman named Charlotte Gauthier in 1753. I duly examined the Lanoraie microfilm and found that marriage record, which stated that he was the widower of Charlotte Durand. Tanguay had not noticed that that detail, but I still didn’t know who Charles’s parents were. So I turned to another well-known marriage index, which gave names of his parents and what proved to be the correct date and place of both of the Durand and Gauthier marriages. But I still needed to document the identity of his parents, since that information was not in either of those two marriage records.

So I looked backward in the Lanoraie register from the 1753 marriage date to see if Charlotte Durand had died in that parish. Bingo! She had died at Lanoraie nine months before Charles had remarried. Had the couple also been married at Lanoraie, as the second marriage index said?

Bingo again! Charles and Charlotte Durand had married at Lanoraie in 1734, and the actual record gave me the new fact that he was the widower of Angélique Leclerc. I soon found Angélique’s death and burial record at Lanoraie 6 months prior to the marriage to Charlotte Durand. I still didn’t know who Charles’s parents were, so I now needed to find the record of that marriage to Angélique, since it wasn’t at Lanoraie.

So I turned to yet another well-known marriage index, and this one not only gave me a different set of parents for the Charles who married both Angélique and Charlotte Durand but gave the date for Charles’s first marriage as having taken place at St-Ours . . . in 1824. This had to be a typo, but it still didn’t give me the information I needed.

Someone’s online family tree said that Charles’s first marriage (allegedly to Charlotte Gauthier instead of Angélique) was at Contrecoueur in 1729, and that Charlotte Durand, not Charlotte Gauthier, was the bride in 1753.

By this time I was deeply suspicious as to whether anyone had tracked down Charles’s marital history and parentage correctly. The second and third marriages were where both respected indexes said they would be, but I didn’t find the first. So, after the excruciating task of going through the surviving records at Lanaoraie, I started looking at the registers of the parishes nearest to Lanoraie—and I finally found the marriage at nearby Contrecoueur, in 1729, which that mixed-up family tree said was the time and place of Charles’s first marriage. That researcher had gotten everything else about Charles wrong, but he or she had in fact found the right marriage record!

Best of all, that marriage record yielded up the names of Charles’s parents, who were NOT the couple listed in the second index I had consulted. His father actually was a witness to the first wedding and his parish of residence was given, so I now knew where to look for more records of Charles's parents and possibly find Charles's baptism record as well.

This is why I never trust any secondary source, be it someone’s published family tree or any marriage dictionary or index, no matter how highly-regarded it is. Everyone makes mistakes. And people who make a lot of mistakes can still get some things right.

This experience proved to me that I need to examine every record for myself and mine each record for every detail or hint it can give me, and I urge you to do the same. If I hadn’t done that with Charles, I probably would have connected him to the wrong parents (there were several men with the same name) and I would never have been able to trace his actual lines back to his true origins in France.

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