Recovering Identities from the Judicial Archives of Quebec


  • Sherry Olson McGill University
  • Mary Anne Poutanen Concordia University



Under the rigorous marriage regime of Quebec, two patterns of evasion have left puzzles in the nineteenth-century archives: an annual cohort of newborns registered “of unknown parents” and a perennial population of women whose husbands are “absent from this province and in parts unknown.” We explore the circumstances under which some of the “unknowns” made themselves known. By mobilizing a network of support for judicial recognition, they recovered or extended their personal agency. Soundings in the guardianship records (Tutelles et Curatelles) for Montréal offer insights into the social contexts of family abandonment, the challenges of survival without status, and routines of ad hoc management by authorities of church and state.

Author Biographies

Sherry Olson, McGill University

Sherry Olson is a geographer at McGill University.

Mary Anne Poutanen, Concordia University

Mary Anne Poutanen is a historian at Concordia University.