Promises of royal lineage attract the attention of many. There are millions of descendants of the “king's daughters” who arrived in Quebec between 1663 and 1673. Their relationship to the king is purely financial, not genetic.
When I purchased Peter Gagne's book King's Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi 1663-1673 last year at a conference, my knowledge was minimal. I knew two things: that one of my wife's ancestors was a fille du roi, and that these “king's daughters” were not literally daughters of the king. Over 700 of these women were brought from France to Quebec between 1663 and 1673. King Louis XIV was concerned about the growth of the colony and the subsidized importation of women was seen as a way to strengthen Quebec and increase its independence from France. In 1663 the population of Quebec was only 2,500 and the gender ratio was highly unbalanced. The state importation of women would help to balance the gender ratio and eventually increase the population of the colony through the resulting births of children. These women were called filles du roi as the French crown bore the responsibility for their transportation and settlement expenses, not because they were related to the French nobility. In many cases a dowry was also provided upon their marriage and women were given a chest containing needles, thread, and other supplies to help them begin their households. A quick look at several of my wife's forebears in the book cleared up some unspoken assumptions I had about these women.
Born about 1645 in Paris, Jeanne left for Canada in 1666 after the death of her father. Her first husband in Quebec was actually not a Frenchman, but rather a Spaniard, Andre Robidou. Andre died after ten years of marriage and five children. Within five months of Andre's death in 1678, Jeanne married Jacques Suprenant and subsequently had eight more children. Many widows or widowers with small children would remarry quickly if another suitable spouse could be found--Jeanne was no exception.
Louise was born about 1648, but her specific origins in France are unknown. This is somewhat unusual, as the specific French origins are known for the majority of the filles du roi.
Marguerite was born about 1638 into a Protestant family in La Rochelle. I had assumed (incorrectly) that all the filles du roi were Catholic. Marguerite came to Quebec in 1663, but she did not come alone. She was a widow with one child, Laurent Beaudet. In Quebec in October 1663, she married Jean Rabouin. They had several children. Marie Chevreau
Marie was born in France about 1652 and came to Canada in 1665 after her father's death. In October of 1665 she married Rene Reaume. The King's Daughters and Founding Mothers includes a transcription and translation into English of the marriage contract between Marie and Rene. The contract was unusual because Governor Courcelles and several other notables signed it. The likely reason is that the Marie was thirteen at the time of her marriage. The couple had several children and Rene had several brushes with the authorities before his death in 1722.
These women have millions of descendants scattered throughout North America. Those of us with French-Canadian ancestry may be related to many of these early settlers. In fact, my wife descends from Jeanne Denot and both her husbands!
Back to The Introduction
After reading about my wife's specific ancestors, I turned my attention to the book's preface and introduction. It was time to learn more before making any conclusions. Reading or photocopying only the portion of the book that “has my name on it” is not a good research practice. Responsibly using any reference text requires that the preface and introduction also be read, not just the information or pages on the desired individual. A book of biographies such as the one I was using should include an introduction to the topic and a discussion of how the individuals were chosen for inclusion in the reference. Additionally, the reader should determine if the book contains bibliographies or citations to specific documents. Introductions may also refer the reader to additional texts and more comprehensive background material. Gagne's book provided an excellent overview of the filles du roi, including why they were sent to Quebec, how they were chosen, what the trip was like, and how they chose their suitor. It was an extremely interesting history lesson.
Not all the “king's daughters” were orphans. According to Gagne, only 11 percent of the women had lost both their parents before their emigration. One interesting distinction of the filles du roi was that only 11 percent of these women had other relatives who immigrated. They are one of the few groups of individuals who did immigrate to a new land as part of a larger chain migration. The women tended to be poor.
Women were generally taken from French institutions, recommended by various officials of the Catholic church, or (in a few cases) individuals who volunteered themselves. Most came willingly, but some probably felt they had no real choice and were hoping for a better life in Quebec. Women who wanted to immigrate to Quebec had to be of childbearing age and in good health. The majority of these women were from the northern part of France.
Those suitors who were looking for a bride had to do more than simply knock on the door of residences housing the women. They would have to apply to the directress and indicate how they made a living, how much property they owned, and how many possessions they had. The men tried to select women who would adjust to the climate and lifestyle, and the women were also allowed to ask questions of the men. A man who had a suitable residence was at an advantage over those who did not. The majority of the women found suitors, but those who did not typically had to settle for a position as a household servant. Remember that descent from the “king's daughters” does not mean a royal lineage. What it does mean, though, is that genealogy continues to be a never-ending history lesson.
A Few Links
Peter Gagne's book, King's Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi: 1663-1673
Alphabetical List of the King's Daughters
La Société des Filles du Roi et soldats du Carignan, Inc.
Louis Hébert--The Filles du Roi
Those wishing to learn more about researching French-Canadian ancestors (including the “king's daughters”) may also refer to “-French Canadian Sources
” Chapter 25. Les Filles du Roi--The King's Daughters published by Ancestry in 2002.
Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Upcoming Events for Michael John Neill
24 April 2004, Moline, Illinois
Michael will be the featured speaker at the annual Quad Cities Genealogy Conference, held in Moline, Illinois. Topics include: “Where did the Farm Go?” “Research on a Tight Budget,” “Researching the Entire Family,” and “Where Do I Go from Here?” For more information, e-mail email@example.com .
14 May 2004, St. Peters, Missouri
Michael will present an all-day computer workshop on Family Tree Maker at St. Charles Community College in St. Peters, Missouri. For more information visit www.rootdig.com/stcharles.html
15 May 2004, St. Peters Missouri
Michael will present an all day computer workshop on Online Genealogy Methods at St. Charles Community College in St. Peters, Missouri. For more information visit www.rootdig.com/stcharles.html
20 May 2004, Dearborn, Michigan
All day computer workshop, “Census Research Online,” at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan. For more information visit: www.rootdig.com/dearbornmay2004.html
21 May 2004, Dearborn, Michigan
Genealogy Computer Workshop at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan (online trip preparation, introduction to European research online, using online card catalogs, and more). For more information visit: www.rootdig.com/dearbornmay2004.html
22 May 2004
Copyright 2004, MyFamily.com.
An all day Family Tree Maker computer workshop at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan. For more information visit: /www.rootdig.com/dearbornmay2004.html