Fr. Cyprien Tanguay's Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu'à nos jours (Montréal: Eusèbe Senécal, 1871-1890) covers many of my French-Canadian ancestors from the 17th and 18th centuries. In many (most?) cases, his is the only source I have been able to find. (I'm an amateur with a very limited research budget...)

Wikipedia says:

Although his dictionary does contain some errors and occasional speculations on possible relationships for which no evidence was known to Fr. Tanguay, his work is of a high calibre and has withstood the passage of time exceedingly well.

This statement does not cite any references, so I'm not sure what experts think.

  • Do experts still consider his work to be sound?
  • How likely is my research to contain errors where my sole source for facts is Tanguay?
  • I'd also be interested in knowing if there is some collection or critique of his work that would enumerate the errors or speculations.
  • In the absence of access to original records, what are the risks of relying upon Tanguay's Dictionnaire?
  • bstpierre, I just try to stick to the facts as I know them. There is nothing wrong with being an amateur. Remember, everyone has to start somewhere, "no one can climb a tree from the top down". Great Question Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 15:33
  • 3
    Use of the term "secondary source" may be a distraction here. (See genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/1380/70) Perhaps the question could be rephrased as In the absence of access to original records, what are the risks of relying upon Fr. Cyprien Tanguay's Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu'à nos jours (Montréal: Eusèbe Senécal, 1871-1890)?
    – Fortiter
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 1:25

3 Answers 3


Sometimes it's okay to start from the bottom and work up.

In the absence of access to original records, what are the risks of relying upon Tanguay's Dictionnaire?

Approach every source knowing the information therein is subject to error, oversight and omission.

"Know thy source." The Dictionnaire is a [massive] comprehensive scholarly compilation, thus it generally provides secondary information. The entries are unsourced; if I were citing information from the Dictionnaire, the citation would include a notation that, "no further reference was given."

I assume that "absence of access to the original records," means the genealogist/family historian has not sought out underlying records and information (rather than unable to access). As with any search that is not "exhaustive," the risk is that the researcher has missed something; their reason and logic will not have been based on a full range of information/evidence.

The Dictionnaire is a key, go-to, gotta have it resource for genealogists. Those I know who work regularly with the material can't imagine working without it.

Enumeration of errors/speculation in Dictionnaire.

The Wikipedia article about the author ("Cyprien Tanguay") cites four associated works which supplement, extend or correct the original work. Three of these follow. (I did my best to locate associated entries in WorldCat. There seem to be multiple versions with different titles; you will want to investigate these further.)

J. Arthur Leboeuf and Reverend Cyprien Tanguay, Complement au dictionnaire genealogique tanguay (1975; reprint, Montreal: Publications de la Societe Genealogifque Canadienne-Francaise, 1957). Wikipedia reports this work identifies thousands of errors and omissions.

Cyprien Tanguay, A travers les registres (Montréal: Librairie Saint-Joseph, Cadieux & Derome, 1886). From Wikipeda, this is sometimes called a "bonus volume"; 300 pp. "hundreds of facts ... historically related to ancestors ... collected by Tanguay at the time of records perusal." WorldCat lists editions published as recently as 1978.

Fr. Archange Godbout, Origine des familles canadiennes-françaises (Montréal: Éditions Élysée, 1979).

Will my research to contain errors if my sole source for facts is Tanguay?

His information is subject to error and so is ours. "Facts" are the result of reason and logic. Someone who relies solely on Tanguay is probably missing out on most of the fun and reward. At least for me, there is great reward in the opportunity to solve a problem by applying my own reason and logic based on a mass of diverse sources and information.

Do experts still consider his work to be sound?

Anytime a work is held in such regard by researchers, it will be subject to criticism. Any source can contain errors; it is a bit over the top to assume a work so extensive does not contain errors, etc. A line from the Wikipedia article struck me; paraphrased here, "Tanguay's work has been supplemented by others, but it has never been supplanted."

A biography about Tanguay appears in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. The article provides some background on what became his lifelong mission to document so many families, and it says, "posterity has readily granted him another title: father of genealogical studies in French Canada."


In my opinion, Fr. Cyprien Tanguay's, "Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu'à nos jours (Montréal: Eusèbe Senécal, 1871-1890)," is a special case when considering Genealogical Proof Standards.

If the records you possess that are considered Primary Sources back up your citations from the book, it becomes a Secondary Source. But unless the primary records are presented with the citations from the book, the answer is: "no" this is not a secondary source without the primary records as described.

  • The missing part is, that he doesn't have any primary records. Therefore all he has is a specialty record not a secondary source. So, until he has Genealogical Proof then "no" this is not a secondary source, "for others and himself that also don't have primary records." Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 19:47
  • Please see @Fortiter's comment on the question, my (lightly) revised question, and the bullets included in both the original and the revision. I appreciate your answer, but it does not address the key part of my question.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 12:57
  • It might be the use the terms "primary" and "secondary" and "citations" that are confusing me. I assume Ezri means that this work is an unsourced compilation--itself a form of secondary information--developed from a study of other records. Further, I think Ezri is trying to say that researchers need to track down those otherwise unreferenced records.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 21:50

Examples of a primary source would be the actual documents of, say, birth, marriage, divorce, and death records. The certificates and documents that are original are generally considered primary sources. Secondary sources of the same would such things as the record books these are recorded in - for example, most vital records for a county/state are recorded in books for record-keeping, or an index of a sort, but don't contain the actual certificates of birth/marriage/death, etc. Another primary source might be a letter; that same letter mentioned, even copied verbatim in a history or other book would be considered a secondary source. Even though it might contain the body of the letter in its entirety, it isn't the letter itself. I hope that clears things up for you! Also, as far as citations go, they are useful because they state WHERE the information came from. Anyone can make a genealogical statement, but without supporting evidence, it doesn't make it so. If a book is written using primary sources, then those sources should be documented as such, e.g., "Letter from George Washington to Martha Washington, Sept. 19, 1777" - indicating that the information found in the book was gleaned DIRECTLY from the original letter George penned. If, however, the book cites a source - such as a record/manuscript/book/etc., in which the letter written by George to Martha was MENTIONED or even contained a photographed copy of the letter - that source would be a secondary source because it wasn't the original letter. Any body of work that cites secondary sources itself becomes a tertiary source (third source). Hope I didn't confuse you even more!

  • 1
    Thank you. This is a useful answer... but to a different question. You haven't addressed any of the specific questions in the bulleted list above.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 16:42
  • Welcome to the site, Sandra. I like the passion in your answer. We are working together to build a success format for the Q&A format. It may be hard, but it helps if we try to stay focused on the question, as suggested by bstpierre. We're all learning. You may also want to break up large blocks of text by placing separate thoughts in different paragraphs. Give the formatting a go, too.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 18:16

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