Anglicization of French-Canadian names: what led to Marsh?

+10 votes

Has anyone seen any instances of a French surname becoming 'Marsh' in English records?  I've seen LeBlanc become White, Levesque become Bishop etc - so my question is: what French surnames could possibly lead to being 'translated' as Marsh?  DesMarais? Something that doesn't mean a marshland but sounds somewhat similar?  Any ideas welcome - i'm grasping at straws here.

My brickwall is my great grandmother Theresa Adelaide Marsh, who wrote 'Marsh' with her own hand on her wedding day in Montreal in 1869.  But so far there are no traces of the parents she named as Alfred Marsh and Janet MacKenzie, and claimed they were deceased when she married.  

I seem to have an awful lot of French Canadian DNA cousins (my 'canadien/ne tag group' on Ancestry has more than 120 with a segment 20cMs or bigger). I wonder if they really all can be accounted for by my one known link to that community: my 5xg grandmother born in 1753.  I don't have any other openings in my tree (barring NPEs, of course) for any additional French Canadian ancestors except on the other side of this brick wall.

So that is why i have started to consider a French Canadian background for Alfred Marsh or Janet MacKenzie.

All thoughts welcomed!

WikiTree profile: Theresa Sword
in Genealogy Help by Shirlea Smith G2G6 Pilot (295k points)
edited by Shirlea Smith
Marche is a fairly common French name with a nearly identical pronunciation to Marsh. If you're looking in a bilingual context, you should always consider Marche and Marsh to be likely variations of each other.

Consider any possibility!   My surname LaBrash was Delziel or Deguel dit Labreche at one time.   Even the wildest imagination won't figure out all the possibilities in my experience.

Many of the census takers or Priests (English and French) were also (like the people they were documenting) barely literate and no standards of spelling were in place.  I went to school with some O'Dettes in Ontario.  Irish you might think.  Not likely.

And many changed their names from English to French and French to English (intentionally and unintentionally) even before they came to North America so Metzger became Boucher or Butcher or a variant spelled "funny".

And not only French names got changed - German, Dutch all of them.

Also when puzzled add a La the the front - or take it away.   Roy (Roi) is King   Leroy is the King.

LaFave (really Lefebvre) is theSmith so ...

Have fun.   And if you have one French ancestor; chances are good you have more.
I am not sure that Marsh is French Canadian, but I would consider Lamarche, Desmarais and Létang as possibilities. Even Marchaterre could get truncated.

10 Answers

+7 votes
According to , Marsh is of Anglo-Saxon origin. That was my mother's middle name. She was named after Jane Elizabeth Marsh whose ancestor was Colonel Joel March, Revolutionary War officer out of CT.

SurnameDB has Marsh as being the 130th most popular surname out of close to 50,000 surnames.
by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.7m points)
Thanks Frank!  And thanks for your PM! I've been looking for this family for half a century.  I'm starting to grasp at straws!
That full article includes a Godard le la Merse of the year 1194, which seems French to me.
My earliest Marsh ancestor that is known to me is John Marsh born about 1560 in Braintree, Essex, England.
+8 votes
Le Marais.
by Living Poole G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
Thanks Marion!  I will add LeMarais to my list of possibilities.
Or just Marais. It is a well-known surname in France.
+10 votes
Marche? Or perhaps that became Walker...
by Ros Haywood G2G Astronaut (2.0m points)
+7 votes
Marchand meaning merchant is a common surname in Quebec.
by Mark Burch G2G6 Pilot (226k points)
That's the one I was thinking of too.
+9 votes

Because the marriage of Thomas Sword and Theresa Marsh was celebrated in St. Matthew's Presbyterian Church, I dont think she was a french canadian.

by E Martin G2G6 Pilot (123k points)
edited by E Martin

Montréal > Presbyterian Church - St Matthew

"Québec, registres des églises protestantes, 1763-1967," images, FamilySearch ( : 21 May 2014), Montréal > Presbyterian Church in Canada St Matthew > Baptisms, marriages, burials with index 1860-1875 > image 1 of 335; Archives Nationales du Québec-Montréal, Sainte-Foy (Quebec National Library and Archives, Sainte-Foy).

Pointe St. Charles, Montreal

From: "A History of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, St. Gabriel Street, Montreal"
By Rev. Robert Campbell, Montreal 1887


1860-1867 LDS film # 2027585
1867-1899 LDS film # 2027586
+10 votes

I don't think there is any French involved, the spouse is listed as of Scottish origin on there, and St-Andrew Presbyterian sounds like a Scottish church to me.

I find a Thomas Sword living in Ontario in 1871 census:  (2nd page, top), don't know if it's the same man.  With a wife named Janet and a 15 year old son named David.

by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (702k points)
no trace of Theresa A. Marsh in 1861 census that I can find either, nor an Alfred Marsh.  Don't find Alfred Marsh in 1871 census either.  All the Sword's in 1871 census are in Ontario.

Your girl may have been an immigrant from Scotland.
Yes, she certainly might be, or she could have come up from the States.  I find it hard to believe she is so elusive at that time in history, with so many records around!  But her Scottish husband was a deserter from the British Army who around this time dropped his surname and used his middle name Robertson as his surname, so he wasn't interested in leaving a clear trail!

Definitely not the same man.  I've been looking at this Thomas and Janet and family for 30 years, trying to understand if there is a connection.  Haven't found one - my guy popped over to Canada after deserting from the British Army.  His brother Andrew deserted with him, but turned himself in and became reinstated, was in Montreal with his regiment, getting married just before Thomas got married there, and ended up staying in the army for about 20 years and becoming a drill instructor.  Andrew's wife was from the Glengarry area of Ontario, and my assumption for now is that it was Andrew's wife who made the connection for the baby Mary Janet Sword to be raised in Alexandria.  I've been combing Glengarry records and my Glengarry-connected matches for evidence of Theresa Adelaide Marsh or her mother, but so far nothing.

just been looking at what's available for immigration records prior to December 1869 when she marries, if she was from the US forget it, there are no records before the 20th century.  

If she was from Europe, the records are either ship passenger lists or the Grosse-Isle quarantine station records.  I just took a quick glance at the 1869 ships that arrived in this province, there are quite a number of them, and passenger lists one has to comb through visually, no indexation of them.
+11 votes
I would pose the question of English and/or Scottish origins for her.
by Allan Cadran G2G5 (5.1k points)
I would think so too!  But I've been looking for her for 40 years -- now i'm trying to think outside the box.  I had just concluded that she was a figment of somebody's imagination when, about 10 years ago, i finally found her marriage registration, mis-transcribed so the search engines didn't pick it up.
+9 votes
There were a lot of Scottish ancestry 7th Day Baptists who moved from Rhode Island, New Jersey and upstate New York out west over the 1850s or so, and I think 'West' included southern Canada.  This includes the Marshes my family line is named for, and in fact there is an Arthur in that tree, though he's too young to be her father:  

It might be a new place to poke around with--alas, because they're not blood, my interest in the family tree only goes back to Samuel Marsh, and I haven't previously bothered poking back much further.

(Oops, just realized how old this post was.)
by Celia Marsh G2G6 Mach 6 (68.1k points)

sometimes the late bird gets the worm because the worm stayed in bed.  laugh  One never knows if a late addition isn't what breaks a wall.  Only when a question is closed is it redundant to answer it, and this one is still open.

Thanks Celia and Danielle!  This cold case is still open -- I'm really grasping at straws.  The only reason i'm allowing for a French connection here is because it is Montreal after all, her name includes Theresa which as Therese or Theresa is much more common in an RC setting, and because i might have too much French DNA for it all to be attributed to my one and only known francaise ancestor, my 5xg grandmother.  Except for this brick wall line, there don't seem to be other candidates to explain why i have so many canadien(ne) DNA matches as i have. So i was just opening my mind to the possibility that there might be Nouvelle France lineage behind my brick wall as well.

But I've been thinking that possibly a more useful direction for me might be to browse the whole 1871 census for Montreal, starting with the Griffintown area.  Would you by any chance know which sections of the census that would be? Or the address 183 Centre, if that is not the same area?  I think i've spotted her husband Thomas Robertson Sword in an 1870-71 Directory, living at that address.   

+6 votes

I've been looking for definative proof of who John Marsh of Salem, Massachuseetts parents were in England for four years; Essex, Kent, Somerset, Devon, Lancashire ........  So I have definitely researched the Marsh surname.  The French family of De Marisco came to Ireland around 1166 and eventually migrated to the Somerset, England area, then up the coast of Wales to Shropshire and eventually around Manchester.  There was also a migration to Devon, Cornwall, Wiltshire, and up north to York, Lincolnshire, and Essex.  At that time the French were in power in England.  So, you will still find the name Marisco in the records.  Later, when the Saxons invaded many former Anglicized names were given German names, such as Merche, Mershe, Marshe and eventually Marsh, particularly in Kent, Sussex, and other southern counties.  Now, this is the crux of the matter, it wasn't until around the 15th century that people started using last names and a lot of those names were location names; de la Merse, of the marsh ...  There are a lot of marshes in England AND Ireland.  Which brings to mind a facinating book I read about the Mariscos' and the De Morres families that emmigrated to Ireland:  Genealogical Memoir of the Family of Montmorensey, Styled  De Marisco or Morres; ancient Lords De Marisco and Montmarisco, in the peerage of England and Ireland - ..., by Hervey Montmorency-Morres, pub. by J.R. Plassan, Paris, 1817.  So, you might research the French name Morres also in Ireland.  

Another interesting perspective is of the Marsh families in Northern Ireland which were immigrants from Scotland, in the 17th century, as I recall.  After the English got control of Northern Ireland they imported Scottish, (mostly Protestant) to work farms, "Plantations" and bring the Protestant religious conversion.  Interestingly, my great-grandmother, Marjorie Josephine McMullen was born in Northern Ireland,and was married in Scotland to a man that was also born in Ireland.  It's altogether possible that your people were married in Scotland or were Scottish because the Scottish are known to be Presbyterians.  

I think it was a very good idea that you check the Passenger Lists coming from Lancaster and that area because many Scots emmigrated from there.  (I found the Marisco book on GOOGLE,"Play".  It's free.)  

Anyone have definitive proof of John Marsh's ancestry?  

by Marjorie Marsh G2G Crew (910 points)
+6 votes

“In some cases there may have been a Norman origin of the name, the Norman de Marisco becoming Marsh.”

by Joshua Stewart G2G5 (5.1k points)
I wonder if deMarsco was a Moresco. The Morescos were Muslim Berbers who refused to convert to catholic when Spain did during the recoquesta around that time possibly. DeMarsco/ the Moresco?

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