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Adoption Angels: French Canadian Research

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Quebec, Canadamap
Surname/tag: Adoption Angels
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Many Americans, English Canadians and others have French Canadian Ancestors. French Canadians are those whose roots are the French who arrived mostly in the 1600's as well as some in the 1500's and 1700's. They populated what is now Québec (Canada, Nouvelle-France Québec) and the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island (Acadie, Nouvelle-France Acadie). There are also of course those French who settled in Louisiana, some in Newfoundland and those further west in Canada and the US as early as the 1600's. The Métis who were part French and part First Nations also have French names and are mostly in the Prairies (Métis).


Challenging aspects of French Canadian genealogy

  • The level of endogamy is always high and can reach absurd levels in certain communities (Saguenay-Lac St-Jean, Acadia and one of the most endogamous communities: PEI French Canadian Acadian ancestors).
  • Names changed frequently and seemingly randomly, both first and last names. Dit names are a whole area of study that to my knowledge is unique to Québécois.
  • The majority of boys were baptized with Jean Baptiste and/or Joseph as a part of their given name (French Canadians do not have true middle names) and the girls with Marie making it difficult to sort out who is who.
  • Families were very large and often used the same name for a new sibling when one had died, or even the same name for two living siblings.
  • Literacy was very infrequent, names came from various regions of France and had to be interpreted by someone from another area of France with a different dialect leading to variabilities in the spelling of any given last name.
  • Many people had two or more spouses because of the high mortality rate.
  • Parishes split frequently and someone will seem to have moved when they were simply "redistricted".
  • In some areas (PEI in particular) names became anglicized from one generation to the next in only some of the children with little indication this happened making it appear as if whole new family emerged and some people disappeared.

This help page deals with those French Canadians who originate in the area that is now Québec, the Québécois people. Much has been written about the first settlers, fur trappers, soldiers (Soldats du Carignan and others), Filles du Roi, Filles à Marier. The whole of the Québécois population (8.3 Million in Québec, 2-10 Million descendants in the US, etc. Wiki Entry Québécois) is descended from about 2,000 original colonists with a few others later on who, occasionally, were not from France.

Before entering your Québécois ancestors please review the Wikitree Québécois project guidelines on names and place names: Québécois Project Guidelines

References of use to Québécois genealogy

Two linked sites (there are links from one to the other and subscription to one gives discounts to the other) will be extremely useful to any research into Québécois ancestors, PRDH is considerd a reliable reference by Wikitree):

PRDH-IGD.com (Projet de Recherche en Démographie Humaine-Institut Généalogique Drouin) has compiled and cross referenced all of the parish registers of Québec (and notarized marriage contracts) from the first records to 1850. They have free acces parts to their site as well as pay per use acces to their database. The database is organized by Act, Individual and Family.

Genealogiequebec.com is the successor to L'Institut généalogique Drouin. Joseph Drouin was a pioneer of Québec genealogy (outside of the clergy), his Institut photographed many parish registers that are today available online through FamilySearch.org Québec Catholic Parish Registers as well as Non Catholic Parish Registers. These are digitized on Ancestry.com with some additional images, parishes and at times images of a copy of the register that is different than at Family Search.

Other Useful Research Tools

Dictionaries of Québec families (not considered references by wikitree):

  1. The most famous is the work of Cyprien Tanguay, 7 volumes representing every family up until about 1870 traced back to the original French colonists. It is digitized on Ancestry.com. There are some errors but on the whole it is a unique and uniquely useful tool. Tanguay Collection Ancestry (paid subscription). Tanguay had access to documents which have since been destroyed or lost.
  2. Recueil de généalogies des comtés de Beauce, Dorchester, Frontenac, 1625-1946 by Eloi-Gérard Talbot. A list of all the families in that particular geographic area arranged alphabetically. Digitized on Ancestry.com: Talbot Ancestry (paid subscription) or online non digitized book at FamilySearch.com: Talbot Family Search.

FichierOrigine: A French only online database of original settlers to Nouvelle-France for those whose provenance in France is known. Often will have information about parents, grandparents and siblings in France FichierOrigine. Can be used as a reference in Wikitree.

NosOrigines.qc.ca: A free online family tree that is user generated, unfortunately unsourced and unreliable but can be useful as a starting point. Not considered a reference by Wikitree.

Challenges in tracing Québécois ancestors

Last Names

Because the founding population of Québec was quite small last names quickly lost their distinctiveness. To help distinguish between families monikers and nicknames became very common, these are the "dit" names. A dit name could refer to a person's occupation, their area of origin, the first name of their father, a physical characteristic etc. Think of the particule "dit" as translating directly to AKA.

This makes it difficult to trace a person from their baptism to their marriage(s) and through to their burial as they may have been known by their last name, their dit name or both at various times in their life. It also means a whole branch of a family is known by the name and another whole branch by the dit name making it seem you are dealing with two families instead of one. Occasionally people acquired another dit name during their life.

To find which names are associated together visit the free page at PRDH:Name-Nickname associations.

Another challenge exists because literacy was quickly lost. Many original colonists could read and write but within a few generations most could neither read, write not indeed sign their name. This was compounded by pronunciation of names from one area of France being interpreted by a clergyman from an area with a whole different language or dialect writing down names phonetically the best he could. The result was a wide variation in spelling of last names between regions of Québec and at differing times such that one person could have very different spellings associated with their name during their lifetime. PRDH has a free page that will list for you all known variations of a name's spelling: Name Variations.

Finally when French Canadian names were brought to English speaking areas (ie the US) the names were sometimes spelled phonetically (Cyr= Sear) of translated (Cyr= Wax) (see Rose Cyr Dumas. Look for both possibilities when searching for the link back to the original Québécois name.

The one saving grace of French Canadian last names is that women keep their birth names their whole lives, they are referred to by their own last names through the birth of their children to remarriages and at burial. This definitely makes tracing family relationships a little easier. Just remember not to change women's names on their profile to their husband's names, those can go in other last name if you feel it should be noted.

First Names

Québécois usually had many many children, more than 10 in a family was typical. Infant and child mortality was high. One family might have three children baptized with the same name and only the last survived. At least one family had two children with the exact same name: René Patry and René Patry.

A large proportion of boys were baptized Jean Baptiste or Joseph, and girls Marie, with or without another name. Note that French Canadians do not have middle names, all of the first names are considered the first name, without hyphens (Wikitree does not like this and will give you a warning message, hit "save anyway"). Hyphens are a relatively new addition and were rare before 1850.

Finally sometimes people became known by a different first name at different stages of their life or clergy made mistakes in the registers with respect to first names and last names. All of this leads to confusion that requires confirmation of identity by reviewing family relationships in the records of several family members. Many birth and most marriage records list parents, siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents. Cousins are not as useful unless followed by the word "germain" which refers to a first cousin specifically.

The result is a difficult task of identifying just who is who with names changing, multiple people with the same name in the same time period and same parish. PRDH has sorted family relationships and is extremely useful for matching people to their correct families. Genealogiequebec is useful to identify same name couples (Joseph Roy who married Marie Gagnon for example gives 6 different marriages between 1750 and 1800) and allow you to link your ancestor to the correct couple after more research.

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