Tracking Voyageurs Ancestors

Tracking voyageurs ancestors can be a challenge.

My Cadieux ancestors settled in the late 1800s along the Ottawa River in the villages of the Pontiac QC area. The census returns made it clear that they were voyageurs — fur traders. While it was fascinating to discover they were part of that most interesting history of the North American continent — fur trading — how to find out the actual details?

A nice blog that details one person’s research on their voyageurs ancestors is Habitants and Voyageurs.  Its author shares her experiences and helpful techniques in gathering information, and time saving ideas on gathering, copying and saving research information.

The Hudson Bay Company was the royally chartered organization with rights to exploit the fur trade across most of what is modern Canada. Information on its employees, its contracts, and its trading — as well as details on the North West Company, which it acquired — can be found in the Province of Manitoba Archives. This is a rich resource of original documents as well as summaries and biographies prepared by archivists in the process of their work and studies.

I had no luck tracing my Cadieux voyageurs through the Hudson Bay databases. But I hit pay dirt when I consulted the Voyaguers Contracts database!

VoyageursDatabaseENThis database is the result of a 20 years of extracting data from reports of the archivist of the Province of Quebec and microfilms of the Protonotaire Montréal Greffes de notaires fonds — the records of the notaries who witnessed and recorded contract agreements. The initial database was started by Alfred Fortier, executive director of the Société historique de Saint-Boniface (1990-2002).

This became the starting point for a more ambitious project undertaken by Dr. Nicole St-Onge of the University of Ottawa and Dr. Robert Englebert of the University of Saskatchewan, assistant director of the project. This project was a component of the National Research Initiative of the Métis National Council.

The Voyageur database comprises some 35,000 fur trade contracts signed in front of Montreal notaries between 1714 and 1830. It is currently the single largest collection of data regarding the contracts signed by men of the Montreal fur trade. The information collected from the contracts includes: family names, parishes of origin, hiring company, length of contract, destinations, advances and wages, supplies, conditions of hire, the name of the notary, date of signing, and miscellaneous notes. The database is also available in French.

For a little of the colour of the voyageurs’ life, a nice short excerpt from the Appleton Journal, A Voyage with the Voyageurs is worth a read (available from archive.org as a PDF download).

LibraryArchivesCanada has a resource page. A number of materials are available for research at the archives.

The Metis Nation of Ontario has information on the marriage of fur traders and native peoples. This page provides material on fur trading, but also has links to other valuable resources.

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