North American French
by John P. DuLong
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
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
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.
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:
||France, including non-French speaking Alsatians and Basques.
||The Caribbean (especially the islands of St-Domingue [now
Haiti], Martinique, and Guadeloupe) and French Guiana.
||Walloons from the French-speaking provinces of Belgium (Hainault,
Namur, Liège, Luxembourg, and part of Brabant).
||People from the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland (Geneva,
Neuchâtel, Vaud, and parts of Berne, Fribourg, and Valais).
||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.
This page, and all contents, are Copyright
© 1995 by John P. DuLong, Berkley, MI. Created 23 November 1995. Modified
4 April 1998.