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The Pioneers

> Immigration fromOld France to New France
> And your Ancestor?
> About the Origins of Immigrants
> The Main Numbers of Descendants

Immigration from Old France to New France

France under the Old Régime did not supply a great number of emigrants to its colonies across the Atlantic. In fact, just 15,000 Frenchmen and Frenchwomen sailed for Canada in the seventeenth century, and two-thirds of them stayed in the colony for a short period and either returned to France or died in Canada without getting married. This was a very low number: the British Isles, with a population just over one-third of France’s, sent almost 380,000 immigrants to the New World over the same period.

  Champlain and some natives

In fact, France was at the time showing various symptoms of social discontent that should have justified a larger number of refugees fleeing to Canada, whose abundance of resources contrasted with the famine and unemployment among the poorest classes. Although France wasn’t really overpopulated, conditions there were favorable to emigration; these conditions, had they coincided with a real attraction of Canada, would have encouraged the departure of large contingents of settlers for the New World. But few French people migrated, as Canada, a distant, wild, and dangerous country, had a poor reputation. On top of this, the authorities believed that the French population was not as growing quickly as it should be – and, in fact, that it was shrinking due to wars, plagues, and general misery. In response to Intendant Talon, who had asked him to find the means to form a "grand and powerful state" in Canada, which would involve a massive wave of immigrants, Colbert said, in a sentence that was to mark the future of the country, "It would not be prudent [of the king] to depopulate his kingdom as he would have to do to populate Canada." And yet, even had departures been multiplied tenfold, the effects of emigration on the most populous country in Europe would have been imperceptible – and the fate of North America would probably have been quite different. Notwithstanding, reacting to the slow growth of the population, the King had women recruited between 1663 à 1673 to come to Canada. These women became known as «Les Filles du Roi» (the King's daughters) and they can be found in virtually every family tree of French Canadians today. Follow this link http://www.genealogie.umontreal.ca/en/fillesDuRoi.htm to access the list of women identified as «Filles du Roi» of the PRDH.

In any case, the result of this small founding population was that the French-Canadian stock grew from a relatively small number of people, about 10,000 immigrants. If we consider the male immigrants, from whom family names were transmitted through the generations, the number is reduced to about 4,500 – the total of immigrants who had at least one son who married.

And your Ancestor?

The selection of immigrants who had at least one married son defines the group of those who transmitted the names that the great majority of French Canadians wear today. Type in a family name  and you will see the corresponding list of these immigrants; the ancestor of individuals who have this name today in America should appear on it, if he settled in Quebec before 1766.

About the Origins of Immigrants

The place of birth (or of origin, the two realities often being difficult to distinguish) of immigrants is very important. The information relating to origin in the documents is often vague, imprecise or even contradictory. Professor Hubert Charbonneau has undertaken the difficult task of synthetising the available information to establish with as much precision as possible - ideally, to the parish or village - the place of origin of immigrants. His work is complete to 1759 and he is pushing forward; his new results will be added  when the data is up-dated, on a bi-annual basis. In principle, the place of origin of a French settler is identified in two ways: first are given the historical names of the parish, including its patron saint, or of the city (v.), then of the diocese (ev.) and of the province; second, in parentheses, the name of the village (if it differs from the name of the ancient parish), of the district (ar.) and of the Department as they are known today. The exact parish may be unknown, but not the diocese or the province. French settlers whose origin is completely unknown are identified by the expression "France indeterminee". Immigrants from other countries are identified using as much as possible the same rules, relating, when the place of birth is unknown, to the most ancient place of residence.

The PRDH also participates in an important project aiming to find baptisms in France of Quebec immigrants; these baptisms are available in the "Fichier Origine", which can be consulted for free. Some of the dates and places of birth in the data base were taken from this file; they are identified by: «(Fichier Origine)» or by a comment in the individual's file.

The Main Numbers of Descendants

Our ancestors are very heterogeneous in terms of their descendants. Factors that have to be taken into account are the time of settling in New France, the number of children born, the proportion of those who reached adulthood and married, and so on. With regard to reproduction, luck ruled! We have pulled from the PRDH data base the list of immigrants who had the largest number of married descendants before 1800:

Name of the ancestor

Number of married
descendants before

Zacharie Cloutier

10 850

Jean Guyon

9 674

Marin Boucher

8 502

Jacques Archambault

8 445

Noël Langlois

7 847

Abraham Martin

7 765

Pierre Miville

6 552

Pierre Desportes

6 515

Jean Roussin

4 730

Louis Hébert

4 592

This list does not include some names that are very widespread today, but does include others that are quite rare. This is because some ancestors had great numbers of descendants through their daughters, who did not transmit their family names. We therefore made a second compilation, this time retaining only the "family name-carrying" descendants of the ancestor – that is, the descendants through the males:

Name of the ancestor

Number of "family
descendants married
before 1800

Jean Côté


Pierre Tremblay


Marin Boucher


Jean Dumais


Louis Houde


Jean Guyon


Jacques Archambault


Pierre Parent


Zacharie Cloutier


Guillaume Pelletier