MSS-011-Tracking Your “Nomadic” French-Canadian Ancestors


Episode 011-May 6, 2014

Because of the proximity of Québec and the northern states of America, those of us from the northern US most likely have immigrant ancestors who traveled back and forth between the two. We also find that they often had children in both places. This initial nomadic lifestyle presents a challenge when a genealogist is trying to piece together a complete family. Today we’ll discuss some strategies that may help in this area as we piece together the family of Narcisse Dufort and Malvina Blais. 

The Duford family

The Duford family-
Standing l-r: Albert, Frank, Phedora, Euclid, Melina
Seated l-r: Malvina Blais, Narcisse Duford

We’ll also look at surnames beginning with DE, DES, or D’, and discuss ways of locating these ancestors in online indexes.

Listener Offer

Maple Stars and Stripes listener Yolande Gobeil is a bi-lingual French-Canadian who has made a very generous offer to all of us.  She is familiar with “deciphering old French parochial records from the 17th and 18th centuries” and offers to “help in understanding texts or any other request to the best of my abilities.” If you need Yolande’s assistance, e-mail me and I will forward your contact information to her. Thank you, Yolande. The Maple Stars and Stripes community definitely consists of some of the most knowledgeable and selfless people in the world of genealogy.

Language Tip #11-The Long A Sound

There are several ways to make a long A sound, or at least a long A sound to an Anglo ear, in French:

  • -ais, -ait,-aix     as in     Blais  [see episode 1 :]
  • -é                      as in     Haché
  • -et                     as in     Beaudet
  • -er                     as in     Boucher
  • -ers                   as in     Angers
  • -ay                    as in     Betournay
  • -eil                    as in     Beausoleil


But these letter combinations are not always pronounced as long A in English. In America, families with the name Blais often pronounce it like the word ‘blaze.’ So searching for that name in an index would require the researcher to search not only for Blais, but also perhaps Blays, Blaze, Blase, Blaize, or Blaise.

Blais Index Entries

Blaze Index Entry

However, if someone like a census enumerator asked the family to say the name but not to spell it, he would have heard /Blay/. He may have written the name down as Blay or Bley [see episode 1 for Collet-/coll-ay/-Colley].

Blay Index Entries

Colley (Collet) Index Entries

In the HeritageQuest online census index, we find the following:

For Boucher:

Bouchay (Boucher) Index Entry

For Aubé:

Aubay (Aubé) Index Entry

For Beaupré:

Bopray (Beaupré) Index Entry

So when searching for names with a long A sound, keep in mind all the different letter combinations that make the long A sound in French, and keep in mind all the different ways to spell those sounds in English.

Tracking Your “Nomadic” French-Canadian Ancestors

In the nineteenth century especially, and particularly after the railways connected Québec with New England and the Midwest, our French-Canadian ancestors found it much easier to travel back and forth between Québec and America. They often came to America for work, saved some money, and returned home for a while. Often, children were born in both places, but not necessarily the same exact town. So tracing the baptisms and burials of family members becomes quite the challenge.

Janine Penfield, at-large board member and periodical coordinator of the American-Canadian Genealogy Society in Manchester, New Hampshire, wrote an article for the American-Canadian Genealogist, the ACGS Journal, issue number 139, volume 40, called “Narcisse Duford: What I Learned by Tracking His Moves and Finding His Children.” In my interview with Janine, we covered different strategies a genealogist could use to trace these families back and forth across the border and fill out a complete family.

Duford Children

Duford Children


1-Talk to your oldest family members first, before it’s too late, and glean whatever information you can. Go back repeatedly as you gain more knowledge and use your new information to jog their memories.

2-Analyze your data looking for anomalies. Anomalies have to be explained.

3-Work with collaterals. Researching sideways helps to go backwards with more certainty.

4-Use more than one database or source to prove the reliability of your data, and go back repeatedly to see if anything new was added. Caveat: you can go to five different sources that back up a piece of information you have found, but it does you no good if sources two through five are all based on source number one, and source number one is wrong. So take the time to learn the context of each source.

Janine used repertoires at the ACGS; resources at HisGen (the New England Historic Genealogical Society-NEHGS); BMS2000; the Drouin (available in several places and in different formats; we will discuss further in a future episode); and FamilySearch.

5-Use maps to show spatial relations. Keep track of where direct line ancestors and collaterals were creating records. Your direct line ancestor may have died in the home of a granddaughter in an entirely new location. Use railroad maps to track routes. Your ancestor may have given birth in a town along that route.

Map of the Portsmouth and Concord Railroad, shewing its connection with other railroads:

Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Lower Canada, 1860:

Map of the Stanstead, Shefford, and Chambly Rail Road, and its connections:

Telegraph and Rail Road map of the New England States:

Colton’s county & township rail road map of Ohio, Indiana, & Michigan, with parts of adjoining states & Canada; printed by Lang & Laing, 1859:

Also, know your place geography.  Janine found out that Suncook, where her mother grew up, was not a town, but part of two towns, Pembroke and Allenstown. Many of her family belonged to the church of St. John the Baptist in Allenstown, but lived in Pembroke.

6-Follow your ancestors’ travels by searching back and forth between census records and civil or church vital records.


7-Use timelines. Input the family’s vital information into a timeline to make it easier to narrow down the timeframe for movement. As you can see in the timeline below, it is much easier to narrow down the dates between which the family moved from Sherbrooke to Stoke Center, then to Lyndonville, and then to Pembroke when you can visually see it. This timeline was created with Tiki-Toki.

Duford Family Timeline

Duford Family Timeline

8-Join a French-Canadian genealogy society either near you or where your ancestors once lived. Ask your questions. Someone will be able to help.

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2 comments on “MSS-011-Tracking Your “Nomadic” French-Canadian Ancestors

  1. Karen Paradis

    Really enjoying the podcast and all of the tips!
    The timeline for Mac and iOS that I have been trying is
    I like that you are able to export to a movie and Keynote (presentation software.)
    I’m hoping to be able to use it as part of an iBooks project that I’ll make for my family.

    1. Sandra Goodwin

      Hi Karen-
      Thanks for suggesting timeline software for the Mac community. As a PC user, I’m not much help there. 🙂

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