Québec Maps (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors  by Althea Douglas M.A., CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

They Moved Around—You Need Maps[edit | edit source]

Because someone was born or spent some years in one of the above regions does not mean they remained there. The “English” moved for many reasons: to avoid seigneurial land, to find a better farm, nicer apartment, cheaper flat, lower taxes, better access to schools, or jobs. Half the battle is in tracking the family you are researching from one census to the next.

Because the past is a foreign country, you will need maps.[1] Not just modern road maps, but maps of the period you are researching, ones that show the political divisions (townships, counties, judicial districts) and at least one relief map that shows the hills, lakes and river valleys that divide Québec into its geographic regions.

Topographical[edit | edit source]

A particularly useful set of maps for Canada are the National Topographical Series of 1:50,000 (approximately 1.25 inches to a mile) prepared in the 1950s. Based on Military Surveys of 1909-1917, they were revised after World War II using an R.C.A.F. Aerial Survey of 1950. Every building is shown, churches, schools, sawmills and cemeteries are identified, every road passable or otherwise, railroads, and quite a few abandoned rail tracks. When they were prepared at the end of World War II, one-room schools and old farms were still standing and it is possible to locate things on these maps that have now been swallowed by highway bypasses and vacation developments.

This series of maps is no longer available from the government, but you should find them in most University Map Collections or Geography Departments. There are other topographical maps available for many specific area, similar to these maps. Look for a scale at least 1:250 000 (1 cm = 2.5 km/1 inch to approx. 4 miles); better yet 1: 50 000 (2 cm = 1 km/ 1¼ inch to 1 mile).

Historic[edit | edit source]

Another useful series of maps is that issued by the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives. Their “Historic facsimile maps” range from those of the earliest explorations (e.g. Champlain in 1653), to early 20th century. For genealogists, some early Québec maps will prove useful in census research.

Map’s #
A New Map of Upper and Lower Canada, from the Latest Authorities (John Cary) 1808.
Montréal (Waterlow and Sons, Lith.) 1859.
Parish Montréal (H.W. Hopkins) [1879].
A New Map of the Province of Lower Canada (Samuel Holland) 1802.
Map of Québec and its Environs, from Actual Survey 1822. John Adams. [London], 1826.
Map of the Township of Ascot A.H. Whitcher. Montréal, 1864.
A Map of the Province of Upper Canada, James Wyld. London, 1835.*

*Note: This map shows Québec Townships along the Ottawa River.

On the Association’s website you can see the full range of available maps and download small replicas.

Useful Reference Works[edit | edit source]

The following reference works should be available in larger libraries:

Historical Atlas of Canada, Designer/cartographer Geoffrey J. Matthews (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press) 3 volumes.

  1. Volume I: From the Beginning to 1800, ed. R. Cole Harris (1987)
  2. Volume II: The Land Transformed 1800-1891, ed. R. Louis Gentilcore et al. (1993)
  3. Volume III: Addressing the Twentieth Century 1891-1961, ed. Donald Kerr (1990).

While fascinating, the Atlas is not light reading. The Volumes are “atlas” size, and heavy. Look for it in larger reference or university libraries. There is now a one volume version:

Concise Historical Atlas of Canada, ed. William G. Dean et al. Cartography Geoffrey J. Matthew and Byron Moldofsky (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1998).

Using plates and text from the original three-volume set, but with a thematic arrangement that groups related plates from all three, in some ways the atlas is easier to use. Plates for the wars and invasions, settlement, or transportation are brought together. Of course it only contains about one-third of the plates, and the missing ones are those with all the odd-ball data like the locations of the British Garrisons. Two other books you should know about are:

Andreae, Christopher, Lines of Country: An Atlas of Railway and Waterway History in Canada, cartography Geoffrey Matthews (Erin, Ontario: The Boston Mills Press, 1997).

Geoffrey Matthews has also brought his cartographic skills to this helpful book that shows you where, and when, every rail line and waterway in Canada was built, operated, and abandoned. The maps are detailed, the text absolutely packed with information, the illustrations fascinating, and with a bibliography and index. Indispensable for tracking migrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.

As well, look for a set of “picture” books - Charles P. de Volpi’s “Pictorial Records” of The Eastern Townships (Montréal: Dev-Sco Pub., 1962), Montréal, in 2 volumes. (Montréal: Dev-Sco Pub., 1963), and Québec (Don Mills, Ontario: Longman, Canada, 1971). The de Volpi books are probably unknown to many genealogists, but contain both early maps and engravings of views and buildings, as well as vast amounts of uncommon historical information on the 18th and 19th centuries. Clients may appreciate it if you can provide a picture of the street their ancestor lived on or the church (destroyed decades ago) they attended.

Mann, Thomas. The Oxford Guide to Library Research (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Those who want to refine their library research skills should consult, or even buy a copy (available in paperback at about $25 Canadian). It is filled with handy hints, shortcuts and reference tools you have probably never thought of using before unless you are a trained librarian.

Books and Bibliography[edit | edit source]

A general bibliography lists books you may find helpful, under a number of subject headings. However, many books are mentioned and annotated in the footnotes, or itemized in the text. These publications relate specifically to the subject being discussed and may not be included in the bibliography, so check both text and footnotes as well. Keep your own lists.

On 20 October 2001 the Canadian Council of Archives launched the Canadian Archival Information Network (CAIN)This provides searchable access to descriptions of most of the holdings of archival institutions across Canada, with regular updates on new accessions.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Archives cartographiques et architecturales (Quebec City: Archives Nationales du Quebec, 1990) lists the maps and plans held at the ANQ. A useful source of what exists.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.