Shake the branches of your family tree, and you may be surprised what falls out!
My sister, brother and I thought that maybe our ancestors came over the Bering Land Bridge to become the first people in the Americas. Family lore had it that my paternal grandmother, who we called Mim, was French Canadian with more than a smidge of Native American. My grandfather, Pip, who was a newspaper typesetter, actually had a faux wedding announcement printed that noted that the bride wore a gown of buckskin and carried a tomahawk bedecked with flowers.
Imagine my surprise when in March, 2002, I typed my grandparents’ names into an early genealogy website and got a hit. I emailed the contact person, and he sent a full Ahnentafel chart for Mim's parents - my great-grandparents, Alida and Louis Janotte - going back to France in the 1500s.
Over the years, I’ve been fascinated by the story of one of my ancestors – Anne de Quain. Her claim to fame is her status as one of some 800 “Filles du Roi” sent by King Louis XIV to … ahem … populate New France. In nearly 20 years since I’ve first heard her name, genealogists have uncovered a trove of records, and I’m learning to let go of a lot of misconceptions!
Anne was born to Florimond and Henriette de Quain in Usseau, Poitiers, France, and was baptized in the spring of 1645. For so long, the story has been that the “King’s Daughters” were women orphaned or without dowries (now I’m humming ‘there must be more than this provincial life!’) but it’s more likely they were recruited, often by their parish priests. According to Wikipedia:
Those chosen to be among the filles du roi and allowed to emigrate to New France were held to scrupulous standards, which were based on their "moral calibre" and whether they were physically fit enough to survive the hard work demanded by life as a colonist. The colonial officials sent several of the filles du roi back to France because they were deemed below the standards set out by the king and the Intendant of New France.
… Many were orphans with very meagre personal possessions, and with a relatively low level of literacy. Socially, the young women came from different social backgrounds, but were all very poor. They might have been from an elite family that had lost its fortune, or from a large family with children "to spare."
So, what possesses a woman barely 24 years old to leave seven siblings and trek 270 miles from Usseau to Dieppe, to board the ship Le St Jean-Baptiste with 148 other Filles du Roi and to cross the Atlantic for New France? And what must she have thought when she arrived in Quebec on June 30, 1669?
Just four months later, she was married to François Lareau, a carpenter, in a church that was built 2 years after she was born, Notre-Dame de la Paix (now the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec). Five years passed before they had their first child Marie-Anne, born April 1674. What happened during those years? Whatever it was worked itself out because they had five more children over the next decade.
And it seems they did pretty well for themselves, too. According to the census of 1681, she and François Lareau owned “1 rifle, 4 horned animals, as well as 15 arpents of land.”
Anne de Quain’s death was recorded on February 6, 1734, and she was buried the next day at Notre-Dame de Québec. According to the burial record, she was “In a very old age and in childhood for a few years, about 90 years old.”
Twenty years ago, when I first read the name Anne de Quain, I wondered about the things she didn’t have that would have made a life in New France appealing – wealth? A family? Prospects for marriage? As I’ve learned just a few more tantalizing details about her, I think more about the things she likely had in abundance: courage, curiosity, and faith.
Who would I be today – 8 generations later – if Anne de Quain hadn’t boarded the St. Jean-Baptiste 352 years ago? As I continue to leap into experiences, challenge myself, and try to learn something new every day, I like to think that Anne de Quain’s legacy is living on in me.
What traits have your ancestors given you?
Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
For further reading:
Lonely Colonist Seeks Wife: The Forgotten History of America's First Mail Order Brides - by Marcia Zug
Excerpt from Duke Journal of Gender and Law Policy (Fall 2012), published in Sent by the King, Newsletter of La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan (Spring 2017).
Colleen M. Ryan is an