MSS-015-French-Canadian Marriage Records

Episode 015-July 1, 2014

Before we tackle dissecting a marriage record, this episode will explore various marriage topics that will help you to understand the different parts of the record. We discuss such important topics as banns of marriage, age of majority, impediments like consanguinity and affinity, dispensations, and the marriage contract.

We also discover how knowledge of the sounds of the CH letter combination in French will widen your search and bring success in your hunt for ancestors.

Language Tip #15- The Sound of /CH/

In French, the CH letter combination can make a /K/ sound, especially before an R, as in the surname Chre[s]tien. However, more often it makes the sound of /SH/ as in the French words chez and chien. This applies even if the CH is located in the middle of the name instead of the beginning, as in Beauchamp. Failing to keep this in mind may prevent you from locating an ancestor in both print and digital indexes.

So if you are looking for Chauvins, don’t forget to try Shauvin, Shovin, and Shoven.

Chauvin 1Chauvin 02Chauvin 03

For Chenault, also try Shano.

Shano 1

If you’ve been searching for Ambrose Chaubert, he’s the only person in the 1860 census with his surname spelled Shobare.

You must be just as vigilant if the CH is located in the middle of a surname. Tachereau can be found in the census as Tashro.

So don’t forget to check for an SH when your name has a CH in it.

French-Canadian Marriage Records

History of Marriage in Québec

There were very few women in Canada before the Filles à Marier came in 1634. Between then and 1661, more than 200 women came with the intent of marrying, settling down, raising a family, and increasing the population of the French colony. Then the years 1663 through 1673 marked the arrival of the Filles du Roi, approximately 800 women who arrived in Québec with a dowry provided by the King of France.

Several incentives were tried in an attempt to increase the population. Men were penalized for delaying marriage. According to the historian Marcel Trudel, males could contract a marriage at age 14 and females at age 12. Beginning after 1666, men who fathered at least 10 children were given an annual pension of 300 livres, increasing to 400 livres with a minimum of 12 children.

Look for clues in marriage records which state whether the bride or groom is of age or still a minor, needing parental consent to marry.

  • Age of consent — 25 — until 1 Jan 1765 — when it was changed to 21
  • Age of consent — 21 — until 1 May 1775 — when it was changed to 25
  • Age of consent — 25 — until 1 Jan 1783 — when it was changed to 21
  • Age of consent — 21 — until 1 Jan 1972 — when it was changed to 18

If a couple was from different parishes, usually they were married in the bride’s parish and then returned to the groom’s parish to reside. Check there first for the birth of children.

Typically a prospective bride and groom would receive parental consent if necessary and contact their parish priest, whose job it was to ensure that the couple was able to marry. If an impediment was suspected, the priest launched an investigation and might eventually turn his findings over to the Bishop for dispensation.

Banns of Marriage

Since the Council of Trent in 1563, and to help determine impediments, the banns of marriage would be announced during three consecutive masses as a way for parishioners to have an opportunity to voice an objection to the marriage. If the bride and groom came from different parishes, then the banns would be read in both parishes.

  • Either bride or groom was a non-Catholic
  • Either bride or groom came from a foreign country and could not prove freedom to marry
  • Being a member of a religious order
  • Taking a vow of celibacy
  • Lack of parental consent
  • Failure to read the banns
  • Marrying during prohibited periods (for example between the first Sunday of Advent and Epiphany or between Ash Wednesday and low Sunday, which was the first Sunday after Easter)
  • Being impotent and not able to consummate the marriage
  • Marrying someone who was insane at the time of the marriage
  • Abducting someone with the intent of forcing them to marry you
  • Killing someone’s spouse so that you can marry the new widow or widower
  • Propriety (a marriage with the mother, sister, or daughter of a deceased fiancée)
  • Consanguinity (relationship of blood)
  • Affinity (relationship by marriage)
Consanguinity and Affinity

Marriages of direct line consanguinity, or those between people in a direct ancestral line, such as parents or grandparents with children or grandchildren, were never permitted. Collateral consanguinity dealt with relationships that were measured by degrees:

  • First degree-the relationship between siblings (never permitted)
  • Second degree- the relationship between first cousins (permitted with dispensation)
  • Third degree- the relationship between second cousins (permitted with dispensation)
  • Fourth degree-the relationship between third cousins (permitted with dispensation)

The church was not concerned with relationships beyond fourth degree.

Dispensations were required whether the relationship was by consanguinity or affinity. Your relationship with your first cousin is the second degree of consanguinity. Your relationship with your spouse’s first cousin is the second degree of affinity. They were treated the same.


Dispensations could sometimes be had for a fee, that fee commensurate with the severity of the impediment. The fee was to cover clerical costs. If the parish priest investigated and had reason to believe that an impediment existed, he would refer the case to the Bishop who would ultimately decide whether or not a dispensation would be granted. If a dispensation was granted, it was usually recorded within the marriage record itself.

Dispensations for some or all of the readings of banns could be granted. Usually dispensation for the elimination of all three banns would only be granted for very serious reasons such as a deathbed marriage. Dispensations for one or two banns might occur right before Advent or Lent, which would cause a significant delay in the marriage, or if the bridegroom were about to leave, for example, for military duty.

Marriage Contract

The marriage contract was a legally binding document, but at the same time it could be annulled before the marriage itself took place. If you cannot find a marriage record for a couple who lived together and had children together, look for a marriage contract. Usually the marriage itself took place within days of the signing of that contract.

The main purpose of the document was to stipulate which property each party was bringing into the marriage, and how property, both movable, such as furniture and animals, and immovable, such as land, would be divided upon the death of one of the spouses, considering all future children or the lack thereof. Because early deaths and remarriages were common in New France, the situation could become very complicated. For more detailed information, see Suzanne Sommerville’s ‘The Marriage Contract in New France According to La Coutume de Paris, or the Custom of Paris” below.

Marriage contracts:


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