Website: The People Who Own Themselves
Author: Heather Devine, Ph.D.

A Note on Sources

Numerous primary and secondary sources contain genealogical information on the earliest generations of mixed-race people in Canada. Generally it is preferable to work with primary sources (i.e. parish records, scrip affidavits, etc.) and then extract genealogical data from them, rather than to rely solely on secondary genealogical sources, such as prepared family histories.

Even the most trustworthy secondary sources may have genealogical errors. Wherever possible, secondary genealogical records should be critiqued by qualified genealogists to determine whether they were produced according to sound genealogical principles.

For example, even a conscientious genealogist such as Father Pierre Picton was dependent upon the accuracy of his primary and secondary sources. Fortunately, his private correspondence, which documents some of his research activity on the Desjarlais family, has been preserved at the St. Boniface Historical Society in Winnipeg. In one memorandum to himself, Picton documented the many 'difficultés extraordinaires' he faced when attempting to research the genealogical records of the Desjarlais family. They included: the lack of essential documents relating to the first generations of the family; the frequent and inexplicable alteration of given names and surnames of one or both parents, and sometimes the use of names of another person. Why, Picton asked plaintively, do the entries not give the habitually-used names, surnames and residences of these people?[1] To his credit, Father Picton did his best to solve genealogical puzzles before generating family tree charts. In the case of the Quebec origins of the Desjarlais family, Picton consulted a Montreal genealogist, Louis-Joseph Doucet, who sent him genealogical information on the family. [2]

In the vast majority of cases, however, there is no documentation on the methodology employed by researchers to compile genealogical data. In the genealogical community, horror stories abound of people who have either concocted totally fictitious genealogies, or have inadvertently incorporated faulty genealogical data into otherwise accurate material. It is particularly frustrating when such errors occur in publications considered reputable, such as the Hudson's Bay Record Society or the Champlain Society publications. Because these scholarly series have a well-deserved reputation for accuracy, the occasional genealogical errors which appear in some of the earlier volumes are rarely challenged. [3] Instead, they are cited by other scholars, and the errors are entrenched in the literature.

It is ironic that the genealogies of the labouring classes of the fur trade may actually be more accurate than those of the officer class, because of the abundance of primary data available to researchers. Also, the fact that the labouring classes have been ignored in the literature may be a blessing in disguise. Because there is little published genealogical data on labourers to begin with, there is a reduced possibility of contaminating one's work with inaccurate secondary data. When secondary genealogical sources are used, it is important to use those sources where the methodology for generating the records is provided in the documents, and the primary sources are cited for individual pieces of genealogical information.

The most trustworthy source of information is primary documentation which is generated as near to the actual genealogical event (i.e. birth, marriage, or death) as possible. What follows is a discussion of the primary sources used to compile genealogical data in this study.

Parish Records

The Roman Catholic parish records pertaining to Alberta which are cited in this study include "Fort des Prairies - Registre de Baptêmes, Mariages, Sépultures 1842-1851", and "Registre de Baptêmes, Mariages, Sépultures de Notre-Dame des Victoires du Lac La Biche, 1853-1885", which comprise a portion of the Archives of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (hereinafter referred to as OA), housed as Record Groups MI 11 and MI 12 at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (hereinafter PAA). [4] Saskatchewan parish records cited in this study include Registre de la Mission St. Florent au Lac Qu'Appelle, Volume One (1868-1881) and Volume Two (1881-1887) (photocopies of original parish records, Geoff Burtonshaw Genealogical Collection, Calgary, Alberta). Miscellaneous baptisms, marriages, and deaths were recorded by priests travelling through the region which now comprises Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. These records can be found in Harriet Duncan Munnick, ed. Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest - Vancouver - Volumes I and II and Stellamaris Mission (St. Paul, Oregon: French Prairie Press, 1972).

Extracts and photocopies of Manitoba Roman Catholic parish records cited in this study include Joanne J. Hughes, trans. "Nommes des hommes que ent marié par les Missionaires Catholiques depuis l'etablessement de la Mission de la Rivière Rouge en 1818 jusqu' en 15 Fevrier 1831." Transcribed from the Red River Collection, Add. MSS. 345, British Columbia Provincial Archives, Victoria, British Columbia (xerox copy courtesy of Dr. Mary Black-Rogers, Edmonton, Alberta); Anciens Registres de St. Boniface 1825-1834 (transcription/summary of entries from St. Boniface Parish Register - photocopy); Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths - St. Francis Xavier Church - Manitoba, Canada - 1834-1851 (Extracted from photocopy of original records. Portland, Oregon: Genealogical forum, n.d.); Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths - St. Francis Xavier Church - Manitoba, Canada - 1836-1863. Photocopy of Original Records. Access to photocopies courtesy of Geoff Burtonshaw Genealogical Collection, Calgary, Alberta.

Most, if not all, of the Roman Catholic marriage registers for Quebec are available on microfilm, either through the National Archives of Canada (NAC), or through the Mormon Church, more properly known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (hereinafter LDS). The Mormon Church maintains the world's largest and most sophisticated genealogical library in the world in Salt Lake City, Utah. Its resources have been thoroughly indexed and the catalogue has been made available to researchers on-line at Microfilmed records can be ordered from the Mormon Family History Library and studied at local Family History Centres, which are housed in local LDS churches in most towns and cities. Microfilmed parish records can also be ordered from the National Archives of Canada (NAC). See Patricia Birkett, ed. Checklist of Parish Registers 1986 (Ottawa: Manuscript Division, Public Archives of Canada 1987) for NAC microfilm reel numbers of specific parish records (NOTE: this material has not been indexed electronically, so the Checklist of Parish Registers 1986 cannot be accessed on-line via the NAC website). The extracts from, and microfilmed copies of Quebec parish records cited in this study include Quebec-Verchères - Ste-Trinité de Contrecoeur - Volume Four (1744-1774), Volume Five (1775-1795) and Volume Six (1796-1819) . Latter Day Saints (hereinafter LDS) microfilm reel #1290059); Quebec- St. François du Lac, Yamaska, Canada - Index to Parish Registers 1687-1876 - Volumes 1-14 (LDS microfilm reel #103749); Paroisse de Sainte-François-du-Lac, Quebec - Parish Register 1687-1749, National Archives of Canada (hereinafter NAC) Manuscript Group 8, Series G30, Volumes One and Two, Microfilm reel #C-3024; Quebec - Sainte-Maurice - Trois-Rivières: Église Catholique - Immaculée Conception Trois-Rivières BMD 1693-1800 (also contains BMD records for Repentigny (1726), Verchères (1773), Lanoraie (1761-1762), St.-Ours (1758), Longe Pointe (1776-1785), Laprairie(1682), St. Antoine de Lavaltrie (1752-1786), Longueuil (1699-1795), and Varennes (1697-1803), NAC microfilm reel # M-866; Loiselle Marriage Index - David, F.-Delisle, E. (LDS microfilm reel #0543695), Deschamps, A.- Desjarlais, A. (LDS microfilm reel #0543698, and Desjarlais - Desrocher (LDS microfilm reel #0543699).

Genealogical compendiums of Quebec families consulted for this study include Cyprien Tanguay, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu'à nos jours (7 vols.)(Montréal: 1871-79); and René Jetté, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles du Québec: des origines à 1730 (Montréal: University of Montreal Press, 1983).

In 1966 the Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique (PRDH) (i.e. Research program in Historical Demography) at the University of Montreal began the process of compiling a massive register of the Quebec population from its origins in the 17th century to the present day. In 1999, the PRDH made its computerized population register available, by subscription, to researchers on the Internet. The database contains the vital statistics of all individuals in the Quebec population recorded in parish registers and civil archives during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The existence of this database has made it possible to validate the records contained in existing genealogical compendiums, as well as uncover hitherto-unknown relationships between individual and family groups. For more information:

The following indexed marriage records for Missouri were cited in this study: Edna M. Olson, comp. Index to the St. Charles County, Missouri Marriages, 1792-1863. Recorded in the Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church of St. Charles and in the Saint Francis Catholic Church of Portage Des Sioux. Reprint Edition (St. Charles: Author, 1969), and St. Louis Genealogical Society, Catholic Marriages, St. Louis Missouri - 1774-1840 (St. Louis: Author, n.d.). The following microfilmed Missouri parish records were also cited in this study: Catholic Church - St. Ferdinand (Florissant, Missouri) 1790-1993 (LDS microfilm #s 1902787, 1902788). Extracted parish records for Oregon used in this study are cited from Harriet Duncan Munnick, comp. Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest: St. Paul, Oregon 1839-1898 (Volumes I,II and III (Portland, Oregon: Binford & Mort, Publishers, 1979), and Harriet Duncan Munnick, comp. Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest: St. Louis Register, Volume I (1845-1868); St. Louis Register, Volume II (1869-1900): Gervais Register (1875-1893); Brooks Register (1893-1901) (Portland, Oregon: Binfort & Mort Publishers, 1982). For isolated references to Desjarlais baptisms in Mendota, Minnesota, see "Early Baptisms at St. Peter's Church, Mendota, Mn." In Lost in Canada? Vol. 3, No. 1 (January 1977): 41-42.

For this study, the principal source for births, marriages, and deaths at the French outposts in the Great Lakes-Illinois country is Marthe Faribault-Beauregard, La Population des Forts Français d'Amérique- XVIII siècle (Montréal: Editions Bergeron, 1984).

Several issues of Rapport de l'archiviste de la Province de Québec (hereinafter RAPQ) contain extracts of contracts signed by various Canadien engagés during the French and British régimes. These extracts, compiled by archivist A.-Z. Massicotte from Quebec notarial records, span a period from about 1680 to after 1820. See issues of RAPQ for the years 1922-23; 1929-30; 1930-31; 1942-43; 1943-44;


Eligible Métis people were issued certificates (i.e.'scrip') which could be redeemed for a land grant or a cash settlement in recognition - and extinguishment - of their aboriginal rights. Scrip was distributed at different times in different places; during the 1870 Manitoba Scrip Commission, the North West Commission of 1885, the Athabasca Half-Breed Commission of 1899, and the adhesions to these commissions. In order to collect scrip, Métis people were required to file a legal declaration, or affidavit, to collect their scrip allotment. Each Métis family head would apply for scrip on behalf of his or her children, and, in some cases, for deceased relatives who were still entitled to receive scrip as descendants of original European settlers. Scrip affidavits are a valuable source of information on Métis families, and provide the "documented historical proof of Métis ancestry" required by the Métis National Council for identification and enumeration as Métis. Information they contain includes the claimant's parish of residence; the claimant's parents, and the claimant's date and place of birth. Some affidavits may also contain written declarations by claimants, which may contain additional information not required on standard affidavits. All Métis scrip affidavits (Record Group 15 - Department of the Interior) are housed in the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa and are indexed alphabetically by surname. These affidavits, which are recorded on microfilm and available through interlibrary loan, contain information on all applicants for scrip - including those whose applications were denied. Documents on Métis scrip are included in the records of the Department of the Interior - Record Group (RG) 15, housed in the National Archives of Canada (hereinafter NAC). Within these records, RG 15 Series D II 8a consists of scrip applications (1885); Series D II 8c also consists of scrip applications (1886-1906); series D II 8d comprises scrip applications for the Mackienzie River district. Scrip applications which were subject to further evaluation were placed in case files, which can be found in the corresponding registries of the Dominion Lands Branch, specifically correspondence Headquarters, Series RG 15 D II1; Manitoba Act files, Series RG 15 D II 2; and Half-Breed Files, Series RG 15 D II 3. [5]

Indian Affairs Documents

A large volume of correspondence and other information exists in the federal government records pertaining to Indian Affairs administration. The records dealing specifically with administration of Indian Affairs in Western Canada comprises Record Group 10, also known as the "Black Series". Indian agents were required to keep lists of enrolled members of the different Indian bands that signed the numbered treaties, in order to keep track of membership, and annuities and other benefits distributed. Treaty paylists can provide information on family relationships, and can also identify when individuals 'took treaty' or withdrew from treaty. These paylists are of particular interest to researchers investigating Métis family history in Northern Alberta, as many Métis families were originally part of Indian bands that signed treaties prior to the availability of Métis scrip. Within the Black Series, records for Indian bands in Saskatchewan and Alberta are housed in a number of different file series; the General Administration Records of the Manitoba Superintendency, 1879-1883 (volumes 9176-9176A); the General Administration Records of the Northwest Territories Superintendency, 1887-1909 (volumes 1144, 1303-1304, 1681); the General Administration Files of the Office of the Indian commissioner, Regina, 1883-1901 (Volume 1026). Other relevant information about individuals can be found in the correspondence and journal files of specific Indian Agencies. In this study, the records of the Saddle Lake Agency, Alberta, 1885-1912 were consulted, specifically the Agent's Letterbooks, 1885-1912 (Vols. 1569-1582); and the Agent's Journals, 1887-1910 (vols. 1567-1568). [6]

The Desjarlais Family In the Records

The earliest parish records of Red River (pre-1824) documenting specific acts performed by the priests have not survived. However, one undated transcription, listing men married by priests at Red River between 1818 and February 1831, makes references to the following Desjarlais marriages: Antoine Desjarlais (1821); François Desjarlais (1822); Antoine Desjarlais fils (1824), and Louis Desjarlais (1827). [7]

Symbols next to names on the list indicate individuals who left the country (/) or died in the country (X), implying that these individuals were Canadien by birth, as opposed to 'country-born' residents of Rupert's Land. The names of Antoine Desjarlais (1821) and François Desjarlais (1822) are followed by an "X", indicating that both men died in Rupert's Land. The Antoine Desjarlais (1821) who is recorded as having died in Rupert's Land is possibly the Canadien Antoine Desjarlais, brother of Joseph Desjarlais, who was a clerk at Pembina ca. 1804 and later operated the post at Lac La Biche prior to 1821. The last recorded reference to the Canadien freeman Antoine Desjarlais Sr. (brother of Joseph Desjarlais) in the records is Sir George Simpson's reference to "Old Dejoilais" of Lac La Biche preparing to make war on the Shuswaps and Kootenai in 1824. [8] It has been noted by genealogists such as Father Picton that references to Antoine Desjarlais, and his children, do not appear in parish records or scrip records, unlike the descendants of Joseph and François Desjarlais. [9]

The François Desjarlais mentioned in this early Red River document is likely the Canadien François Desjarlais who is recorded as the husband of Madeleine Roy, and remained in Rupert's Land until his death. He was a relative of Antoine and Joseph Desjarlais, probably a first cousin. Although genealogists such as Father Picton and Louis-Joseph Doucet have suggested that Francois is a brother to Antoine and Joseph (born to Joseph Desjarlais and Marie-Marguerite Hervieux at Contrecoeur the 7 of August, 1771), it should also be noted that the PRDH has record of a burial for one Francois Desjarlais, aged twelve, of Rivière-du-Loup. Present at the burial was the father of the deceased, Joseph Desjarlais.

The person listed as Antoine Desjarlais fils is possibly the métis son of Joseph Desjarlais and Okimaskwew, born ca. 1796. He is known to have visited Red River in 1821. [10] On the 13 of July, 1825 Antoine Desjarlais, 'homme libre' and Suzanne Allary had two children baptised by Father Destroimaisons at St. Boniface - Louise (b. 12 November 1823) and François (born 2 January 1820). [11]

The parentage of the Louis Desjarlais mentioned here is not known, though it is possible that he is a descendant of Louis Desjarlais (b. 2 July 1761), the son of Louis Desjarlais and Catherine Banhiac dit Lamontangue of Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec. The Louis Desjarlais mentioned here may be the same person as the Louis Desjarlais and his wife Françoise, who had four children baptized at St. Peter's Church, Mendota, Minnesota (near Red Lake and Leech Lake, Minnesota) on June 28, 1839 by Bishop Loras of Dubuque. The children baptized included Peter (b. 20 September 1832); Rosyle (b. 17 September 1834); David (b. 11 May 1836?); and Josette (b. 2 February 1836?). [12]


Although there is an abundance of primary and secondary source data for generating genealogical records, this material must be selected and interpreted with care. Appendix Two which follows deals with the unique characteristics of names and naming as encountered during this study, and offers approaches to interpreting this material.

  1. Desjarlais family file. Picton Papers, St. Boniface Historical Society, St. Boniface, Manitoba.
  2. Louis-Joseph Doucet, Montreal to L'Abbé Pierre Picton, St. Boniface. Letter dated 27 January 1946. Desjarlais family file. Picton Papers, St. Boniface Historical Society, St. Boniface, Manitoba. Unfortunately, some of Doucet's information is also inaccurate, as Anton Pregaldin has discovered. He has identified inaccuracies in the genealogical information pertaining to the Missouri branches of the Desjarlais family, which he has discussed in print. See Anton J. Pregaldin, "Mottin and St. Cin Families". French-Canadian and Acadian Genealogical Review, vol III, No. 1 (Spring 1971): 62-63.
  3. The many confusing references in the scholarly literature pertaining to three different men named Antoine Desjarlais are cases in point. Two of these men were Canadien; one was métis. But the references for Antoine Desjarlais in the different sources suggest that the editors have amalgamated the information for different men into one. See Appendix Three, and the footnotes elsewhere, for an extended discussion of 'the Antoines'.
  4. For further information on this collection, see Brian M. Owens and Claude M. Roberto, A Guide to the Archives of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate - Province of Alberta-Saskatchewan (Edmonton: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Province, 1989).
  5. See Jeffrey S. Murray, A Guide to the Records of the Métis Scrip Commissions in the National Archives of Canada (Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1996): iii-iv. Indexed summaries of Métis scrip records can now be accessed and searched on-line at
  6. For further information, see Peter Gillis, David Hume, and Robert Armstrong, comps. Records Relating to Indian Affairs - RG 10 (Ottawa: Public Records Division, Public Archives of Canada, 1975).
  7. See "Noms des homme qui ont été mariée par les Missionaires Catholiques depuis l'etablissement de la Mission de la Rivière Rouge en 1818 jusqu'an 15 Fevrier 1831." Undated MS, from the Red River Collection, Add. MSS 345, British Columbia Provincial Archives, Victoria, B.C. (Joanne J. Hughes, transcriber).
  8. See Frederick Merk, Fur Trade and Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968): 20.
  9. See letter of Fr. Pierre Picton, Saint Norbert, Manitoba to Monsieur Coté, dated 12 September 1947, where he discusses the family of Joseph Desjarlais and Okimaskwew, noting that another researcher, with whom he has corresponded, "Il ne m'a pas fournir aucun reuseignement sur la famille d'Antoine Desjarlais qui etait dans la même région et dans la même période." Desjarlais family file. Picton Papers, St. Boniface Historical Society, St. Boniface, Manitoba.
  10. See William Conolly's District Report for the year 1821-22 in HBCA 1M71 B/115/A/5 Lesser Slave Lake Post Journal 1821-22.
  11. See P. 5 of St. Boniface Church - Manitoba, Canada - Photocopies of Original Records Saved from Fire - June 6, 1825 - November 25, 1834. Undated MSS in the collection of the Geneological Forum, Portland, Oregon. Copy courtesy of Geoff Burtonshaw, Calgary, Alberta.
  12. See "Early Baptisms at St. Peter's Church, Mendota, MN." In Lost in Canada? Vol 3, No. 1 (January 1977): 41. See also M.M. Hoffmann published version of the Baptismal Register of St. Raphael Cathedral Dubuque, Iowa in Minnesota History, March 1927. This information courtesy of Mary Black-Rogers, Edmonton, Alberta, as recorded in her data notebooks of 1985. Mary Black Rogers, Personal Collection.