Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 10/15/2003

French-Canadian Beginnings: Part Deux

Last week’s column detailed my initial attempts to work on my wife’s French-Canadian heritage. This week we continue our preparations to track several families into Quebec.

As mentioned last week, the book I'm using to help me get started with my French-Canadian work is Ancestry's French-Canadian Sources. It recommends that researchers begin their search in secondary records and use that information as a stepping-stone to original sources. There are several finding aids that can get the researcher off to a good start, so this seems like a good idea. Like any finding aids, these sources have their limitations and should be a lead-in to additional records, not an end in and of themselves. After starting with the finding aids, one would typically begin work with the appropriate church parish records.

Loiselle Quebec Marriage Index
French-Canadian Sources also indicates the Loiselle Quebec Marriage Index is a good place to start when the location in Quebec is not precisely known, and that it is one of most important secondary sources for this region. Given that it includes most of the Quebec marriages from the earliest days into the 1900s, this seems a reasonable statement. However, I need to know something before I start ordering film, hoping to make vast discoveries. French-Canadian Sources discusses the original index and a supplement, both of which are available on microfilm through a local Family History Library and both of which must be searched if necessary. The book discusses the nuances of using the index on microfilm versus the microfiche version, an important distinction if I were ever to access the index in an alternate format. To effectively search the index though, I must have more than a name.

There are additional French-Canadian finding aids, but based upon where I am in my search, I think I will stick with this finding aid as my initial bridge into Quebec records. Later I may find it necessary to venture into other sources.

My Problems
The families that I am working on settled in Clinton County, New York, in the 1840s and 1850s and were briefly discussed in last week’s column. It is imperative that I research those families in that area as much as possible before moving further. The French-Canadian ancestry I am working on begins with Marie Desmarais/Demare, born in Clinton County, New York ca. 1895. Based upon sources in Clinton County, New York; federal and state census records; and a few carefully chosen secondary sources, I have created on paper a working four-generation pedigree chart for Marie. Speculative names are in pencil, and names I’m fairly certain of are in pen. Names in pen (along with sources) have been entered into my database. Names in pencil have not. As I’m not very familiar with the families yet, I find the handwritten chart very helpful to keep the names organized. Of course, I could always print out a chart from my database and pencil in my guesses and continue to work in that fashion. It may turn out that a few of my entries in pen are incorrect, but if I track my sources as I research, I’ll be better equipped to compare details as I obtain new information.

Based upon my preliminary research, Marie’s great-grandparents are:

  • Charles Desmarais (pencil)
  • Alexis Robidoux and Rosalie Rheaume (pen)
  • Francois Drollette and Marie Cecile Bourelle (pen)
  • Joseph Maille (pencil)

Since it appears they all were Quebec natives and married in Quebec, this is the generation where I will start to “hop” the international line.

Charles Desmarais
Marie’s paternal grandfather is known to be a Joseph Desmarais, born ca. 1820. Speculation is that his father was named Charles. Joseph’s 1860 census entry in Clinton County, New York, indicates his oldest son Charles was born ca. 1848. The fact that Joseph’s son is named Charles does not necessarily mean Joseph’s father was also named Charles. All of Joseph’s children are born (per the census) in the state of New York, later children having been located in church records. Based upon the birthplaces of Joseph’s children and the fact that Joseph’s in-laws also were in Clinton County, I’m speculating Joseph’s marriage took place in New York as well. Consequently I will not be looking for Joseph in the Loiselle Quebec Marriage Index.

There is a Charles Desmarais, born ca. 1800, enumerated in the same section of Clinton County as Joseph is in 1860. It may be worth my while to search the Loiselle Marriage Index for a Charles Desmarais married before ca. 1820 (based upon the birth of Joseph). If one is located, I will need to search those parish records for births of children and compare those names and dates with the Canadian-born children of Charles in the Clinton County census enumerations.

Alexis Robidoux
This family is fairly well-documented in The Robidou Genealogy, by Clyde M. Rabideau. Consequently, I’ve decided to delay working on this family. When I do work on the Robidoux line I will have an excellent place to start with this book.

Nazaire Drollette (son of the Francois)
Nazaire first appears on the 1850 federal census for Saranac, Clinton County, New York as a twenty-two year old native-born Canadian with an apparent wife Mary. Enumerated with the surname Draulette, the census taker indicated that both Nazaire and Mary were married within in the census year.

Nazaire’s Clinton County, New York, naturalization of 25 September 1856 indicates that he was 27 years of age and had lived in the United States since the age of 17. This combined with the census data would seem to indicate that he also was not married in Canada, unless he traveled back to marry. I’ll work under the assumption that he married in the states in 1849 or 1850. Consequently, I will not look for his marriage record in the various finding aids mentioned in French-Canadian Sources.

Several online sites indicate Nazaire is the son of a Francois Drollette and Marie Cecile Bourelle and include dates and locations. My search on this family should focus on tracking this family through church records in Quebec where possible.

Joseph Maille/Magge
Various family records indicate that Nazaire Drollette’s wife Mary’s maiden name was Maille or Magge, although no marriage record has been located. Nazaire’s 1856 naturalization includes a Joseph F. Maggie who testifies to Nazaire’s moral character and length of residence in Clinton County. Joseph F. Maggie appears in the Clinton County census enumerated near Nazaire and is of the right age to be Nazaire’s father-in-law. Armed with the information from the 1850 census, I will look in the Loiselle Quebec Marriage Index for a marriage of Joseph Maggie/Maggy/Maille of the era to have a daughter of marriageable age in 1849. If one is located, then I will try and obtain parish records to determine if Joseph’s children are baptized there and if that list of children includes a Mary/Marie and the children enumerated with Joseph in Clinton County, New York in 1850. However, before I search the Loiselle Quebec Marriage Index or any parish records, I should search the Clinton County records as thoroughly as possible in order to obtain as specific a time frame as possible for Mary/Marie Maille’s date of birth.

Ready for Tanguay?
This is one of the secondary sources frequently used by those with French-Canadian ancestors. However, there’s a time and a place to grab this book off the shelf. I’m not to that point, yet.

Cyprien Tanquay’s Dictionnaire Généalogique des Familles Canadiennes Depuis la Fondation de la Colonie Jusqua’a Nos Jour is a seven-volume set that covers French families of Quebec from the earliest settlement until 1764. While there are likely relatives of my families in this reference, it is premature to begin using this source when most of the lines I am working on have only been extended to the early 1800s. This reference is known to contain errors, some of which have been corrected in more recent compilations. However this is an excellent place to start, once my research has progressed back to where the book is applicable.

Worldconnect and Other Postings?
Of course, I could search Worldconnect and some of the various other online sites for potential information, including postings at Genforum ( ) and Ancestry’s Message Boards ( ). I should keep in mind that any such file or message postings may be incorrect and should be used as clues—not as facts.

We'll Keep Looking
In future columns, we’ll bring updates on these families including what sources were used and how those connections were made.

Editor's Note: French-Canadian Sources is available in The

Copyright 2003, 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 and Genealogical Computing. You can email him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

French Canadian Research: Part I

Other Genealogy Articles by Michael John Neill.