The Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal
Montreal/Quebec Jewish Vital Records
Frequently Asked Questions
- Where do these records come from?
- How do I search this database?
- How do I know if a record in the index that you sent me is the
- I know that the event I am looking for happened. Why don’t you
have a record for it?
- The surname is not spelled the way my family always spells it.
- How accurate is the information in the index?
- What information do the records generally include?
- The date in the record does not match what I have always been
told, or the date on other records.
- The index entry has two columns – year and date and the date is
years earlier than the year. What is the difference?
- Your surname list said there were 10 occurrences of my family
name, but the index that you sent only has 9.
- How good is the record quality?
- The information that you have is incorrect. Please fix it.
- Why is it taking so long to do the search that I requested, or to
send me the record?
- You specify that you want payment in US or Canadian dollars, but
I live somewhere else and do not have easy access to these currencies.
- If this is a volunteer project, why do you charge for the records?
- Does the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal provide any
other research services?
1. Where do these
records come from?
Prior to 1994, most birth, marriage and death (burial) events in Quebec
were recorded by religious institutions. In addition, some events were
registered with civil authorities. They were supposed to create a
duplicate register every year and send it to the government. In the
early 1940’s, a French-Canadian genealogist and notary Gabriel Drouin,
received permission from the government to microfilm all of the
registers. Mr. Drouin filmed the registers for all denominations.
Genealogical Society of Montreal has indexed the nearly 60,000 Jewish
vital records in this collection. Our database also includes over
10,000 records from other sources (see question 10).
How do I search this database?
How do I know if a record in the index that you sent me is the correct
There is a list of all surnames extracted from the database on the web
If you find any surnames of interest, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
requesting a search. If it is an uncommon surname, we will send you the
entire list of entries bearing that name. If it is more common name
(with greater than 100 entries), then you must provide specific given
names or some other way of narrowing the search (such as a range of
If the information
that you need is not in the index that we sent to you, the only way to
get it is to order a copy or an extract of the record. As noted in
question 9, we are now going back and adding the date of the event to
all index entries as well as recording parents’ names and mothers’
maiden names. But until this information is accessible, ordering a copy
or extract of the record is the only way to know if it is the correct
I know that the event I am looking for happened. Why don’t you have a
record for it?
There are several
reasons for this:
The surname is not spelled the way my family always spells it.
- The record
is there, but the names are mangled or difficult to read. As a result,
it may not have been indexed correctly (also see question 5). If you
are looking for a marriage, and know the spouse’s name, perhaps we can
find it using that name.
- The record
is there but at the time, the family used a different name.
- The rabbi
neglected to record the event.
register for that year was not submitted to the civil authorities or
was lost or otherwise not available at the time the records were
the records include some deaths (burials actually), for reasons that are not clear, the
vast majority are not included. See question 6.
The spelling of names
during the era of these records was highly variable. In many
cases, individuals were inconsistent as to how they spelled their
surnames, and it is not unusual for family members to spell the name
differently from one another. The rabbis or clerks who wrote the
records spelled surnames based on their own judgement (often, they
listened to how the name was pronounced and they wrote it accordingly).
At the end of the year, they read the records and created an alphabetic
index, often spelling the name differently in the index. It is not
unusual to have three different spellings in a single record when one
compares the record itself, the signatures, and the rabbi's index.
In addition to this
variation in the original records, the microfilms were made when the
technology was new and are often of poor quality, the original
handwriting was often very poor, and the handwriting style is highly
variable, all making deciphering difficult.
Due to these
variations, we will always try to identify similar sounding names when
we do a search. However, if you know that your family spelled the names
in different sounding variations, please do let us know.
How accurate is the information in the index?
As noted in the
answers to questions 4 and 5, the index may contain errors for various
reasons. As in all genealogy research, you should always go to the
original record to verify the information if one is available.
What information do the records generally include?
Birth: Typically the record will
include the names of the child and the parents. The record often
includes the mother’s maiden name. In virtually all cases, there is a
date that is noted as the birth date (see questions 8 and 9).
Occasionally a country of origin, occupation or address is included.
Marriage: The record will generally
include the full names of the bride and the groom, the date of the
event, and usually the names of the respective parents. Mother’s maiden
names are often but not always included. Occasionally, country of
origin, occupation or address is included.
Death: The death records in
synagogue registers are in fact burial records and not the formal
record of death. As such, they do not usually include cause of death or
other information typically found in a death certificate used by a
health department. They generally include the name of the deceased, age
and/or birth date and date of death or burial. They may include a
spouse’s name. They very occasionally include country of origin or
parent’s names. At times they can include a burial location.
General: Most records include
signatures of the people involved in the event.
Notation: On our index listings the
following record types occur:- B=Birth, M=Marriage, D=Death/Burial,
The date in the record does not match what I have always been told, or
the date on other records.
can arise for many reasons. In many cases, people forgot the correct
dates, or chose to deliberately alter them. There are cases where a
birth is recorded and the date is described as being the birth date,
but in reality it was the date that the event was registered or the
date of the circumcision.
It is clear that in
some cases, the records were written in the journal after the fact, and
the rabbi may have forgotten the correct date.
The index entry has two columns – year and date and the date is years
earlier than the year. What is the difference?
The year is the year
of the register and generally the year that the event was recorded. In
a very few cases, there were so few events in a year that the rabbi
consolidated several years in one journal which typically bore the
number of the last year in the sequence. There may be cases at the very
beginning or end of a year where an event was recorded in the previous
or next year’s register.
For births, it was
very common for the event not to be recorded at the time of the event.
Some time later (often many years), the event was recorded. At times,
this happened after the birth of a later sibling resulting in the birth
of several siblings being recorded on the same register page. In other
cases, we will never know what triggered the recording of the event,
but we suspect it was that the person or family suddenly had the need
for an official record of the birth, perhaps for a marriage, or
passport application, or school entry.
When we were creating
the index, if we noticed that this was a birth that was being recorded
long after the fact, we noted the actual event date in the index.
We are also now going
back through all 60,000 Drouin records and adding the actual date to
the index for all events. At the same time, we are recording the
parent’s names in the index. It will take some time before this revised
index is complete and available.
Your surname list said there were 10 occurrences of my family name, but
the index that you sent only has 9.
Most of the entries
in our index are generally from the registers that were microfilmed in
1941-42. However, there are two other special cases.
Colton was affiliated with several synagogues over the period from 1917
to 1954. He also was a mohel who performed a large number of
circumcisions. When he created an index for the synagogue, he also kept
a record of the event in his private notebook. We are fortunate that
his family donated a copy of his notebook pages to us. In many cases,
Rabbi Colton’s entries simply echo those on the microfilms. However,
our database also contains thousands of Colton entries where the
original register was not microfilmed. For births, these entries give
no other information other than the year the event was registered, but
for marriages, they do show the spouse. Colton’s records also extended
into the 1950’s, over a decade after the microfilms were created. In at
least one known case, the year in Colton’s notebook was mislabelled.
There are many cases where the spelling of the names is substantially
different in the two versions. In cases where the same record occurs in
the microfilms and in the index from Colton’s notebooks, we may
eliminate the duplicate from the summary.
We also have a
small number of records based on Rabbi Nathan Mendelson’s notebooks.
Some of these records show only a surname, and have little details of
value. In other cases the records have substantive information.
How good is the record quality?
Most records are
hand-written, and the quality of the hand-writing varies considerable.
In addition, the records were films using very early microfilming
techniques, and the quality of the films is very variable. We will do
our best to create a legible copy, but often fields may not be clear.
We will not charge for a record if it is largely illegible.
The information that you have is incorrect. Please fix it.
At the moment, we do
not have the easy ability to alter entries in our database. Ultimately,
we plan to add or alter names if the family has better versions, as
well as add notations in case some other family member later requests
the same record. We will keep your request until such time as we can
Why is it taking so long to do the search that I requested, or to send
me the record?
We normally try to
respond to search requests within a day or so. However, due to the
volume of spam that we also receive, at times requests are deleted
inadvertently or otherwise misplaced. If you do not receive a reply
within a week, please resend it, but do include a subject line that
does not resemble spam.
We try to mail
records or extracts within one month, but this is a volunteer-based
project and occasionally we do not meet this deadline. Feel
free to send a query if you think that a request has been outstanding
for too long.
We are looking
at ways of streamlining the order and retrieval processes.
You specify that you want payment in US or Canadian dollars, but I live
somewhere else and do not have easy access to these currencies.
postal money orders could address this problem, but in many countries
they no longer exist at reasonable prices. We are looking at ways to
address this problem, but have no single, simple answer to date. Feel
free to e-mail us with your request and we will investigate ways of
solving the problem. So far, we have always found a way, although the
details differ from case to case.
If this is a volunteer project, why do you charge for the records?
Although this is a
largely volunteer-driven project, there are considerable costs
associated with this project including the cost of the microfilms, and
the microfilm reader and its maintenance. As well, we must pay for
copies, postage and other related expenses. The charges have also
allowed us to fund other projects such as our Canadian naturalization
database (more information can be found on our web site at http://jgs-montreal.org#research).
We do not charge for
our searches, although we do suggest that you make a contribution to
our society if we do extensive searches and you ultimately do not order
The microfilms are
also available at the Montreal Municipal Library. If you are in
Montreal and are a member of our society, we will provide locations for
each record allowing you to do your own copying and extractions.
Does the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal provide any other
In response to search
queries, our volunteers will sometimes provide guidance and help in
your research. Although we do not charge for these additional services,
we would appreciate a donation to the society in acknowledgement of
The Society has
an ongoing project to index Canadian naturalization records. To date,
we have done approximately 200,000 naturalizations for the period from
1915 until 1932. We are looking for volunteers to help with the ongoing
indexing. The database can be searched online. Our web site at http://jgs-montreal.org#research
has a pointer to it.