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North American French
by John P. DuLong

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The term North American French is what I use to designate people of French ancestry living in Canada or the United States of America.  North America of course also includes Mexico and Central America, but relatively few people of French ancestry settled there.  Therefore, for the purposes of the book I am writing on Tracing Your French Ancestry, I will be concentrating on people who can claim a French heritage in Canada and the United States.

In the past I have used the term Franco-American as an umbrella concept to cover all these French ethnic groups in North America.  However, some kind suggestions and advice I received from both Americans and Canadians on the soc.genealogy.french Usenet News group has convinced me that a better term was needed.  Franco-American was used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to identify French Canadians living in the United States.  It was occasionally expanded to include Acadians and Creoles.   The term is still used in Québec for French Canadians who immigrated to the United States and their descendants.  Despite the occasional use of  Franco-American in New England and New York, the term has become antiquated in the rest of the United States and does not apply well to people of French ancestry living in Canada.  Despite my best efforts to dust this quaint term off and resurrect it, Franco-American just will not work.  The end result is that I have decided to use the term North American French in my book on Tracing Your French Ancestry.

My definition of North American French would include all the following ethnic groups:

French Canadians:

Descendants of predominately French settlers in the St. Lawrence River valley (especially Québec), the Great Lakes, and the northern Mississippi River valley. This area includes the states and provinces of Illinois, Indiana, Manitoba, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Ontario, Québec, and Wisconsin. Historically these people were known as Canadiens or Canadiens-Français. The Francophones now living in Québec usually refer to themselves Québécois. French Canadians living in Ontario are often referred to as Franco-Ontariens, while those in Manitoba are called Franco-Manitobains. Those living in the United States were known as Franco-Américains, but now generally go by French Canadians.  For our purposes all these people are considered French Canadians because they share a common ancestral stock, whether they still live in Québec, in another Canadian province, or the United States.


Acadiens were French inhabitants of the Canadian Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The British exiled them in 1755 and scattered them to the British American colonies, the Caribbean, England, France, and even the remote Falkland Islands. Some hid in the Maritimes and eventually resurfaced there. Others escaped to Québec. Many migrated back to the Maritimes after the period of persecution. There are now thriving Acadian communities in the Maritimes, especially in New Brunswick. Some of the dispersed Acadians eventually resettled in Louisiana at the invitation of the Spanish; they are now known as Cajuns. The Cajuns have their own culture that has emerged in their Louisiana homeland. Also, some families of non-Acadian background have become accepted as Cajun.  The Cajuns remain close to their Acadian cousins because of the common ancestry and history they share.


The Créoles are descendants of French-speaking colonists in the southern Mississippi River Valley, that is, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri. In addition to these states, Illinois was also considered administratively to be a part of colonial Louisiana.  Illinois and Missouri in particular became the meeting ground for Creoles and French Canadians.   This group includes both White and Black (or Afro-Creole) people of French ancestry in these areas.  Although there are many challenges to doing Afro-Creole genealogical research, prejudice and the legacy of slavery often taints records, it is still possible for some to trace their Afro-Creole ancestors back to the colonial period using French records.

French Métis:

In Canada, people of mixed European and Native People ancestry have become known as Métis.  The Métis are products of the fur trade that bound together French voyageurs, British businessmen, and Native trappers in a common life style.  Originally this term, meaning mixed, was applied towards the offspring of French and Native People parents.  However, the term is now becoming generally accepted to mean anyone of mixed Native People and Scottish, Irish, English, or other ethnicity.  In the past, these non-French Métis were often called country born, mixed breeds, or half breeds.  In the United States, the term Métis has not been widely used.  Many, but certainly not all, Métis have Cree or Ojibwa ancestry.  Given the ongoing evolution of this term, for our purposes, I will be referring mostly to French Métis only, that is, people of predominately mixed French and Native People ancestry.  Nevertheless, given their common origins in the life of the fur trade, it is often necessary to discuss the other Métis as well.


For our purposes, Huguenots were French Protestants settled in the British and Dutch American colonies before the American Revolution.  Most Huguenots fled France in 1685 when persecution renewed in earnest. They scattered to Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and even South Africa. Many of those who came to America did not come directly from France but filtered through one of these refuges first.  Many people who can trace their ancestry back to the colonial period in North America will find several Huguenot ancestors. 

Foreign French:

These are immigrants from French-speaking lands to the United States after the colonial period. I refer to them as the Foreign French because to the Creoles, Acadians, and French Canadians--who were living here for generations--these newcomers were indeed strangers with different ways. This term for them is less awkward and confusing than saying the French from France. I will concede that is is an artificial catch-all term. Nevertheless, it is convenient. Obviously, the Foreign French do not have an ethnic identity as do the other groups we will examine. Besides immigrants from France, this group also includes any other French speakers. The diversity of this group is amazing. It covers people of French ancestry from the following areas:

bullet.gif (974 bytes) France, including non-French speaking Alsatians and Basques.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) The Caribbean (especially the islands of St-Domingue [now Haiti], Martinique, and Guadeloupe) and French Guiana.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Walloons from the French-speaking provinces of Belgium (Hainault, Namur, Liège, Luxembourg, and part of Brabant).
bullet.gif (974 bytes) People from the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland (Geneva, Neuchâtel, Vaud, and parts of Berne, Fribourg, and Valais).
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Lastly, French-speaking immigrants from the French colonies and mandates of the late eighteenth and early twentieth century, including, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, Madagascar, Réunion (formerly Île Bourbon), French India (Pondicherry), Indochina,  French Polynesia, and even Mexico.

With one exception, the book I am writing will cover all these North American French ethnic groups in the order I have listed them. The exception is that I will not deal with the late comers to North America and the people of the far-flung nineteenth and twentieth centuries French empire, that is, the Foreign French. Relatively contemporary French immigrant to North America, and the genealogical traces of colonial ventures in Africa, Asian, the Middle East, and Polynesia are beyond my expertise. Besides, few Americans or Canadians descend from these subgroups. If you have ancestry from these exotic lands, or your French family came over since 1803 (the year Louisiana was purchased), then you can still benefit from understanding how French records are used in North America, as there was some overlap in record-keeping practices across the French empire.

It is important to note that with all of these French ethnic groups, even during the French colonial period in North America, that other people always dynamically intermixed with them.  This would include New England and New Netherlands captives, as well as people from many of the European nations of England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Italy to name a few.

I realize that these groupings are somewhat artificial, especially the Foreign French category. However, it is convenient to use these groupings when discussing the North American French. Although each group has a different history and culture, they all share common French record keeping practices. For genealogical purposes it makes sense to discuss the commonalties between these groups as well as the differences. I am interested in how to conduct genealogical research on all of these groups.

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This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1995 by John P. DuLong, Berkley, MI. Created 23 November 1995. Modified 4 April 1998.