In the game L'Origo, the origins and history of Quebecers are revealed as you make your way through BALSAC's myriad of branches. This vast population database allows us to retrace French-Canadian genealogies of Quebec from recent years to the first European settlements in New France.
The BALSAC database was created by Professor Gérard Bouchard in 1972 at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UQAC). Its first major accomplishment was the reconstitution of the population of Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean from 660,000 vital records (birth, death, marriage) between 1838 and 1971.
The BALSAC database progressively included data from all of Quebec’s regions by using a linkage method of the marriage certificates from recent years to as early as the 17th century and the beginning of New France.
The name BALSAC comes from the initial letters of the first regions and sub-regions that were targeted by the project. Today, the database includes a total of three million records about almost five million individuals covering four centuries of history.
The BALSAC database is jointly owned by UQAC, Université Laval, McGill University and Université de Montréal. The use and development of the database is overseen by UQAC, under the supervision, since 2010, of Hélène Vézina, professor in the Social Science Department.
Between 1608 and 1760, under the French Regime, about 10,000 immigrants settled in the St. Lawrence Valley. The gender imbalance making it hard to develop the colony, the King sponsored close to 800 “Filles du roi” (King’s Daughters) to come to New France. Among them was Louise Gargottin, who took husband and settled down in the new country by giving birth to 6 children. Like two thirds of the immigrants that arrived before 1700, she left a lineage that can be traced to this day. Her genetic makeup has been passed on to the next generation and so forth, which means a portion of her genes is still present in today’s population.
With the BALSAC database, we were able to determine that 87% of the gene pool of Quebecers with French Canadian ancestry comes from French immigrants. Even if they were less in number, immigrants from different origins left traces in Quebecer’s genealogies.
There is at least one British founder in 90% of them and at least one Acadian founder in 60% of the cases. One person out of five has an Irish founder, and at least 14% of the cases have a German founder. To genetic contribution of these migrants, add First Nation people who were already living on the territory. In general, when looking at one genealogy, we can find ancestors from 6.5 different origins, revealing just how diverse the gene pool is!
Heredity and genes tell us—in their own way— that Quebec’s history is shaped by migrations, encounters and settlements in America. BALSAC is a remarkable tool to study the impact of the settlements on the gene pool of the province’s inhabitants.
Bherer Claude, Labuda Damian, Roy-Gagnon Marie-Hélène, Houde Louis, Tremblay Marc, Vézina Hélène (2011). Admixed Ancestry and Stratification of Quebec Regional Populations. American Journal of Physical Anthropology : volume 144, p. 432-441.
Tremblay, M. (2008). Distant Kinship and Founder Effects in the Quebec Population. Dans T. Bengtsson et G. P. Mineau (dir.), Kinship and Démographic Behavior in the Past (Series: International Studies in Population, Vol. 7, p. 259-278). Dordrecht, Pays-Bas : Springer Science + Business Media, B.V.
Vézina Hélène, Tremblay Marc, Desjardins Bertrand, Houde Louis (2005). Origines et contributions génétiques des fondatrices et fondateurs de la population québécoise. Cahiers québécois de démographie: volume 34 (automne), p.235-258.
Pierre Cyr and Mathilda Arsenault, from Caplan, married in 1912 in their native Gaspésie. Their union, which at first sight appears to be the result of individual choices, also reflects the society in which they lived.
Even if the records do not provide romantic details of when Pierre and Mathilda first met, BALSAC gives us a chance to observe certain particularities about their matrimonial choices. For example, we can tell if they were from the same region or not simply by checking their place of residence at the time of their marriage.
Between 1830 and 1930, and this is true for all of Quebec, more than 18% of the spouses came from different regions. This percentage shows important differences between regions. In Iles-de-la-Madeleine and in Gaspésie, only 6% of the couples are formed of spouses that do not come from the same region. On the other hand, in territories more recently inhabited such as Abitibi and Témiscamingue, the number rises to 40%.
In large cities, the arrival of workers and their families also contributes to the diversification of the matrimonial pool. In the cities of Quebec and Montreal, one spouse out of four marries someone from a different region.
This information on conjugal relations allows us to observe and analyze the social bonds and interconnections that have developed in a given community. This is one of the indicators that make up BALSAC's wealth of information.
Sourced from BALSAC's population database (2016): 1,608,586 individuals recorded in 804,293 unions celebrated between 1830 and 1930 on Quebec's territory.
In February 1898, young Élodie Lavoie, 18 years old, marries Adélard Gagné. This fruitful union will give birth to 22 children; one every 15 months over 25 years. During her lifetime, Élodie will have been pregnant for 17 continuous years, will have spent 2 years recovering and will have breast fed for 10 years. She was five times a grandmother before giving birth to her last child!
This kind of big family really existed, but was not the norm. Prior to 1930, fewer than 5% of women give birth to more than 16 children.
Nevertheless, women give birth to 7 children on average. The demographic reality of women is more complex than the one of the happy mother in a house full of children. Many of them try to control or space pregnancies while others embrace a life outside motherhood. To do so, they enter into religion, take over a deceased mother or are too frail to bear a child. Consider also the fate of 1 couple out of 20 who suffers from sterility despite dreaming of building a family.
By portraying the fates of these women, the BALSAC database allows us to trace back in time the histories of Quebec’s families, giving us precious information about the dynamics of Quebec’s population.
With the change in mindsets and living conditions, these realities evolve in time. In the 1960s, families have on average 4 children with women giving birth to their first child at the age of 24. Contraception allows them to choose the age at which to become pregnant.
Benjamin Simard Family - Musée du Fjord collection
Bouchard Gérard, Roy Raymond. Fécondité et alphabétisation au Saguenay et au Québec ( XIXe-XXe siècles). In: Annales de démographie historique, 1991, Grands-parents, aïeux, p. 173-201;
Gauvreau Danielle (1991). Destins de femmes, destins de mères: images et réalités historiques de la maternité au Québec. Recherches sociographiques: volume 32, numéro 3, p.321-346.
Vézina Hélène, Gauvreau Danielle, Gagnon Alain (2014). Socioeconomic fertility differentials in a late transition setting: A micro-level analysis of the Saguenay region in Quebec. Demographic Research: volume 30, p.1097-1128.
Many Quebecers claim to have among their ancestors a man named Abraham Martin who arrived in New France in 1620 and whose lands on Cap Diamant have become Quebec City’s famous Plains of Abraham. Although they can be proud to have such a man in their family tree, they are far from being the only ones. The founder and his wife, Marguerite Langlois, appear in as much as 77% of the French-Canadian descent!
The champions of ancestors, however, are Zacharie Cloutier and Sainte Dupont. These French immigrants who arrived in Quebec in June 1634 with their five children can be found in 82% of genealogies. Also among super-ancestors are Pierre Tremblay and Anne Achon, who are present in 46% of French-Canadian genealogies. They are the ancestors of all of the Tremblay in the province. The name Tremblay, carried by 1% of Quebecers, has been the most common surname in Quebec since the end of the 19th century.
Building a family tree allows someone to discover his family history over many generations. Going back to one’s origins truly shows how much lineages are intertwined and reveals why we can find common (although often exceptional) ancestors in many genealogies. By including Quebec’s marriages from 1621 to 1965, BALSAC helps us discover and unearth the history of Quebec as well as the histories of the people that made it.
BALSAC database, genealogies of 25,757 individuals whose parents married in Quebec between 1925 and 1948 for a total of nearly 600,000 ancestors, spanning 16 generations.
Duchesne, Louis (2006) Les noms de famille au Québec : aspects statistiques et distribution spatiale, Institut de la statistique du Québec, 169 p.
Roots and Dreams exhibition - Musée du Fjord Collection
To learn more about BALSAC, visit the Roots and Dreams: a fresh look on Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region exhibition at Musée du Fjord. Created thanks to the BALSAC database. Thanks to this unique scientific tool, the exhibit brings together the Saguenay society and science to provide a fresh look upon the region and its enduring myths and prejudices.
An important and active member of its community, The Musée du Fjord has won many awards for promoting science, environmental conversation as well as helping to understand biodiversity. The Musée du Fjord plays a key role as one of Quebec’s science and technology museums, as it promotes and raises awareness about the region’s and the Saguenay Fjord’s exceptional environment.