My French-Canadian Family History Research

BACKGROUND:  My awareness of genealogy began with a 1970’s letter from my cousin Donald Labranche presenting me with a completed study of his French-Canadian ancestors through the immigrants into Quebec in the 1600’s.  I put that work in a drawer and didn’t think about it again until I read a Book of the Month selection by Jeanne Westin called “Finding Your Roots” sometime in the 1980’s.  My own dedication to family history began in 1996 after a visit to Ireland and seeing my cousin Una O’Malley at the Kinnadoohy, county Mayo home from which my great-grandfather Michael O’Malley left for America during the Irish potato famine of the late 1840’s.  Since that time I have worked diligently to find out more about past family members as well as those of cousins, in-laws, children’s spouses, etc.  I am now “the family historian”.  My database includes more than 4000 people, 2800 no longer living.

My parents married in New Hampshire in 1938; their marriage was unusual for the time in that it was between a man from a pure Irish Catholic background and a woman with a pure French-Canadian Catholic background – it was a “mixed” marriage.  Until that time these ethnic communities may have lived and worked in the same town but did not marry people from the other group – they even had separate churches and parochial schools.  The French had their own newspapers.

This paper will concentrate on my French-Canadian ancestors in Canada and is meant to complement two earlier works of mine.  First, this website:  www.dickomalley.com  in which I present data on deceased relatives, immigrant ancestors, pictures, essays, maps, etc.; and a PowerPoint presentation that I have given to local genealogy societies  titled:  “Doing Genealogy in a Foreign County with examples from the French Canadians” – this talk describes how I organized a 2007 trip to Quebec where I visited towns where past relatives lived and worked.  

FRENCH-CANADIAN RESEARCH:  Samuel Champlain explored Canada in the early 1600’s ; Quebec celebrated their 400th anniversary in 2008 and Louis Hebert, the first permanent settler soon arrived with his family and settled in the city of Quebec.  Not long after, priests and nuns arrived to serve the community and to convert Indians.  Fortunately, since 1579, the Catholic church in France required that marriage and death records be kept -- this practice was continued in New France.  Quebec grew slowly from immigration from France in the late 1600’s and little more after the the French regime in North America ended with the Seven Year War in 1763. The records kept by priests are nearly complete and unique in that they cover the whole population from the 1600’s through the 1800’s.  Catholic church records served as civil and vital records in Quebec well into the 1900’s. 

My issue documenting my French-Canadian ancestors was that the work had already been done by Donald.  While I compared his results with other family researchers, they seldom disagreed.  I visited New England genealogy societies, especially the American-Canadian Genealogy Society in Manchester, NH (where Donald did his work) and the American-French Genealogy Society in Woonsocket, RI but while I learned the research methods, I did not learn a lot of new information .  I tried to learn more about people’s lives, economics, and culture  but little was written about them; the English speaking people in Canada didn’t often write about these French farmers and if the French did any writing it was in French and thus not easily available to me.  I decided to work to broaden my knowledge of these peoples, and to learn more about their lives in Quebec.

MY FRENCH-CANADIAN FAMILY RESEARCH: From Donald’s work and the visits to New England, I knew that French priests had collected and indexed this valuable early genealogy information (Tanguay, Drouin, Jette, Loiselle , etc.).

I then found that some of it was now on the internet, and available for a small fee.  The University of Montreal sponsors the Programme de Research en Demographie Historique and it claims to have all baptisms, marriages and deaths from the 1600’s to the late 1700’s. www.genealogie.umontreal.ca/en

A Redemptorist priest and genealogist, Fr. Gerald Lebel published “Nos Ancestors”  which in 24 volumes described the lives of over 800 early immigrants including my relatives Francois Dubois dit LaFrance (1642-1712) who immigrated in 1668 from Brittany and Rene Binet (1640-1699) who immigrated in 1665 from the Loire Valley.  Fortunately these books were translated into English by Thomas LaForest, a retired US Navy officer.  In his 41 books “Our French-Canadian Ancestors” , I found 10 pages each about these people, their settlement in Quebec, and their immediate family.

Another, US writer Peter Gagne wrote “King’s Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi 1663-1673”   describing how the King of France recruited and endowed over 700 women to journey to Quebec from France to marry immigrants and their descendants.  Francois Dubois’s wife Anne Guillaume was a 20 year old King’s Daughter from Paris in 1671 and with Francois they had nine children.

From Donald’s work and what I had learned I knew where our ancestors lived in Quebec.  From the 1871 Agricultural Census, available from the Library and Archives of Canada , I learned that typical farms in the communities that my ancestors lived in were: 1 house, two barns, 75-90 “arpents” , with horse, cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, etc. and they grew barley, wheat, oats, potatoes, hay, wood, tobacco, and maple syrup.  After 200 years, both families (Dubois and Binet ) had settled in St. Ferdinand d’Halifax in Megantic County only 50 miles south and across the St. Lawrence River from the city of Quebec.  We found their farms – only a couple of “rangs” away from each other.  I worked and travelled with another cousin, who was my translater.  Together we were able to find cousins, see their farms/homes, cemeteries, churches, church records, towns, etc.  We were also able to trace the three successive move of each family to new farms.
In visiting these towns, we found two types of recent local publications which gave us a good sense of the community life today and in the past.  They were: first, repertoires which summarized, organized and indexed church records of births/baptisms, marriages, and deaths/burials.  These typically covered the entire history of the parish (e.g. “Ste. Marie de Beauce, baptemes 1739-2005”, 2 volumes).  The second type of books were local histories, these gave pictures, information, celebrations, businesses, etc.  I particularly treasure the 750 page book “150 ans de Souvenirs, 1834-1984: St-Ferdinand d’Halifax”  written by a committee headed by Jeanne d’Arc Marcoux Dubois – a cousin, sister of the local priest,  widowed mother of 13, and maple sugar farmer.

These families were not adventurers, they were not the French fur trappers or Indian traders; they did not move to the West or return to France; they stayed in Quebec and farmed.  These farm families managed to keep alive with hard work, perhaps some winter work by the men in the woods, and little cash for 2-3 centuries in Quebec.  But at the end of the 19th century, things caught up with them; there was only land enough for a few of the sons.  So people were recruited and took the train south to New England textile mill towns.  My grandparents married in Canada in 1897 and then moved to Newmarket, NH .  Their first child was born in NH in 1899, and they had 11 children.  In America, their lives changed completely:  they now lived in a town, usually rented in a triple-decker apartment building; they were factory workers, paid weekly; they didn’t know the language, and had no family in town.  Eventually they had other family members living and working in Manchester, NH, Fall River, MA, and Biddeford, ME.  Their kids took the same kind of jobs until the mills closed and moved South.

Today, these US immigrant ancestor’s grandchildren and great grandchildren are much more diverse; they live all over the world, have married many different types of people, and are often professionals with advanced educations.  Most often, their children do not speak French and do not know their relatives in Canada.  In New England, many Catholic dioceses are now combining formerly French and “Irish” parishes in an economy move, or to survive with fewer priests.

For further specific information on the family, go to the SecondSite section of this website where you can search for people by surname, placename, etc. 

For me this work continues as I explore more.  While doing this paper, I discovered a connection between my daughter Anne and her husband …  my immigrant ancestor Francois Dubois (Anne's 8th great-grandfather) once received a contract (by notary Duquet) with his relative Pierre Moler dit Lallemand (Tim's 9th great-grandfather) to burn and clear a piece of land in Beaumont in 8 days for the sum of 30 livres each and 10 minots of wheat.  Until recently, I never knew that Tim had a French-Canadian background.  Who knows when I will find that they are cousins?

CONCLUSION:  I am beginning to find more about my ancestors and their lives as farmers in Quebec.  Although they led a simple life and were often poor, I feel that they contributed to their communities in ways yet to be fully discovered.

Angus Baxter, “In Search of Your Canadian Roots”, Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD, 1999
Althea Douglas, “Tools of the Trade for Canadian Genealogy”, The Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto, 2004
Tamara K. Hareven et al, “Amoskeag: Life and Work in an American Factory City”, University Press of New England, Hanover, NH, 1978
Sherry Irvine et al, “Finding Your Canadian Ancestors”, Ancestry, Provo, UT 2007
Armand LeTourneau, “Reference and Guide Book for the Genealogist”, American-French Genealogical Society, Woonsocket, RI, 2003
Douglas J. Miller, “Miller’s Manual: A Research Guide to the Major French-Canadian Genealogical Resources What They are and How to Use Them”, Quintin Publications, Pawtucket, RI, 1997

Presented to the Genealogical Society of the West Fields, Spring 2008.

For Irish farmers, civil and church records only start in the 1850’s -- if then.

In addition to Trudel, other Canadian “English” historians include: Peter Moogk, W. J. Eccles, and Allan Greer; try Amazon used books for their books on New France history and people.

One exception, Armand Chartier, “The Franco-Americans of New England: A History” translation published by ACA Assurance, Canada and Institut francais of Assumption College, 2000

Most French-Canadian genealogy books explain who these people were and how they contributed knowledge.

dit names refer to what people were called, e.g. the Frenchman; Names often changed, and people often used more than one last name.

With these large families, it is easy to get confused.  Most girls are baptised Marie and most boys Joseph, so they usually use their middle name as their call name.  Also, when children die young, their name is often reused.

From interlibrary loan of microfilm, I was able to see Binet and his father in law Perreault family census data in Ste. Marie and Dubois census data in St. Ferdinand,

An arpent is 0.85 acres.  The typical house was small; the barn much bigger.

Dubois Migration path: Quebec area, St. Nicolas/St. Antoine de Tilly (Levis), St. Ferdinand (Megantic)

Binet Migration path: Quebec area, Ste. Marie/St. Elzear (Beauce), St. Ferdinand (Megantic)

A rang is a row … farms were arranged along a row often as measured from the river.  Your next door neighbor was important to you, and often brides were selected from not too far away.

This was found in the LaForest chapter on F. Dubois.

  This is a sample, my library includes nearly 300 genealogy titles.

David Hackett Fischer, “Champlain’s Dream”, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2008

Patricia K. Geyh et al, “French-Canadian Sources: A Guide for Genealogists” Ancestry, Orem, UT, 2002

Marcel Trudel, “Introduction to New France”, Quintin Publications, Pawtucket, RI, 1997

Gerald Lebel, “Nos Ancestres”, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, 1984

Copyright © 2010 Richard L. O'Malley All Rights Reserved Thomas J. LaForest, “Our French-Canadian Ancestors”,  Lisi Press, Palm Harbor, FL, vol XX 1995, vol IX 1989

Peter J. Gagne, “King’s Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi” Quintin Publications, ©Pawtucket, RI, vol I, 2001

Gerald J. Brault, “The French-Canadian Heritage in New England”, University Press of New England, Hanover, NH,  1986


Return to Essays