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Unraveling French Canadian Ancestry

Bergeron Family Crest

Bergeron Family Crest

As I wrote in my previous post [The Interwoven Vine -- an Adoptee's French Canadian Ancestry], working with inbred populations is very challenging for everyone but especially for adoptees.

A Small Braided Victory

With all of the above in mind, I’ve recently been comparing the trees of my DNA matches from FTDNA and 23andMe on AncestryDNA by building, borrowing or replicating the trees of those that have shared with me, setting myself as my cousin on AncestryDNA and then looking at the first 4-8 pages of my matches. I’d look at more but it’s a matter of time and, in the case of the French Canadians, avoiding inbreeding confounding by not going to matches based on smaller less sure segments. I’ve made progress on several fronts but I want to share an example of interwoven trees.

A woman who’s maiden name was Brassard, we’ll call her Mrs B, and whose maternal line is Prince is one of my closer cousins (predicted 4th cousin range 3rd-5th) on 23andMe. I was lucky that her daughter popped on one day long enough to send me a enough information that I was able to build a tree for her which is easier because she’s French Canadian. I ran that tree against my top matches at AncestryDNA. One match there, we’ll call them D (predicted 4th-6th cousin), has an overlapping tree with Mrs. B back at 1685 on the Brassard line. That would make D my 7th cousin and I suspect we have a different most recent common ancestor (MRCA) because all of the other predictions there appear to be much more accurate than that.. so I will keep seeking the MRCA for D later.

I found several more distant matches with various Ancestry cousins all along the Prince line and all right at that 1675 borderline. But then came Mr. P… he is predicted 5-8th and I now know he’s my 5th cousin one time removed. His common ancestors with B is Antoine Grandmaison dit Theriault and Emilie Vaillancourt they were born circa 1790 along Mrs. B’s Prince line. Now that I’m looking at the right line of Mrs. B’s I remember my 4-6th cousin RK who had only a single name on her tree, a Bergeron. When I had searched for that name, I’d found her longer tree and remember that she had a Prince line but that I’d dismissed it. I went back and looked at it to remind myself why I’d rejected it and found that her Prince line was English. I would have left it at that, except that Bergeron is a French Canadian name and they tended to marry French Canadians. So I started looking into her Tree.

Propagated Mistakes

As we all know, there are often mistakes made at Ancestry that then get propagated by many people. The hints are very useful but if something doesn’t make sense [like a 3 year old giving birth to a child, or a complete name change with no note explaining etc.] it’s best to check it out. In this case, someone had conflated Elizabeth Prince, English immigrant with Eleanor Prince Canadian immigrant and a dozen other folks had accepted the hint without checking it out. I first verified her maiden name by finding her gravestone in Nebraska, which clearly said Eleanor not Elizabeth. By looking at states the children were born in I was able to determine that they had lived in Illinois for almost 2 decades and while I could find other Princes there, I couldn’t find her.

Message Boards

Genealogy message boards and the Google are great places to find info like this and sure enough there was a whole group of folks that were researching a John Prince and Eleonora Leblanc in Nebraska. I couldn’t find information on a child Eleanore but it seemed likely considering Eleonora’s name. Armed with this new surname, I did more searches both within Ancestry and the general net. One clue led to another and I discovered that the John (Jean Noel) Prince I could track in Illionois was the brother to a Francois Prince and that they had both married Leblanc sisters! Francois had married Lucie and there, among their brood, was Eleanor Prince. Born Canada 1856, moved to Illinois 1858 the same year as Jule Bergeron, then moved at the same time the Bergeron’s did to Nebraska where she married Jule Bergeron (who’s listed in the census as Jule Bergen.)

But nothing when you’re an adoptee is that easy.

RK’s Prince line was easy to trace once I’d found her Canadian family. Unfortunately, the conjunction of the two LePrince (aka Prince) lines from Mrs. B and RK didn’t come together until 1689 at Jean Prince married to Jeanne Blanchard! I think I ground off a quarter inch of tooth enamel after that discovery. So the next day, while relaying my highs and lows to one of my sympatico cousins, I’m writing up tree info for him when I suddenly realize that the answer is not Prince, but Bergeron! Once again, two Bergeron sisters had married into the LePrince family two generations back from the Prince/Leblanc double cousins. This time, Marie Cecile Bergeron had married Pierre LePrince and  her sister Madeleine had married Michel Prince all circa 1755.

Another Knot

Not complex enough? How about this: Michael Prince’s mother is Isabelle Forest and her sister Anne is Pierre Prince’s mother. So what does all this complexity do to a cousin prediction? Interestingly, these kinds of braided cousins, unlke cousins who match you on several distinct lines which also happens frequently in French Canadian populations, do not overestimate the MRCA beyond the braid. By which I mean, if your estimated cousin is a 4th cousin and all this braiding of families happened back in the 6th to 10th cousin range, it shouldn’t affect your estimated cousinhood because you a always start with a potential half of the DNA of any ancestor. However, it does compress your cousinhood from further back by potentially refreshing older DNA segments. Thus, if you’re predicted to be a 5th cousin and the braiding ended with your 4th great grandfather you better take that prediction with an unhealthy spoonful of salt.

Chretien Family Crest

Chretien Family Crest

So Who Am I?

So what conclussion have I drawn from this? Currently, I do not believe my MRCA to RK is on the hard won LePrince line although it is surely part of the tale because I have other distant matches that lead back to the very end of the LePrince line. As interesting as all that was (I HAD to straighten it out once I saw the error.. I’m a bit compulsive that way) RK has two French Canadian lines. The Prince/Bergeron line on her father’s side and another one on her mother’s side. The line on her mother’s side  is a Christian/Lebeau line that originates in Quebec, moves through Ontario and ends up right here in Detroit before some of them moved on to Minnesota and then Nebraska. There are several generations , depending on which line, who lived, died and left children behind right here where I was born. As in real estate, in genealogy it’s Location Location Location! That is unless you have a railroad man, a sailor, a missionary or a traveling salesman in your tree.

For now, the working theory is that John Baptiste Christian b 1805 and Adelaid Gagnier b 1814 are my great great great grandparents! This is very exciting because it’s the first French line I’ve confirmed in the area. I do have a Rose line that’s French Canadian here, but it’s unclear if I’m related on his French Canadian side or through his mother’s German side! Unfortunately, I now have to work forword through 13 children of this pair and try to identify intersectiosn with other cousins trees that I’m related through to establish a more recent pair. Let’s hope there’s no braiding on this line! I should mention that although this seems the most reasonable starting point, as I’m predicted as KR’s 4th-6th cousin on AncestryDNA, I’m willing to move that back a generation or two if necessary. If I have to move back several generations, my work will increase exponentially too so I always start optiimisticly. I’m not clear on how AncestryDNA is handling matches on both sides of the family. Because they are phasing the data, they can tell which side a  match comes from and hopefully are giving clean MRCA side only in these cases. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here until I hear/discover otherwise. As always, nothing is written in stone, until it’s written in blood.

Happy hunting!

Sources: History of New France

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One Response to "Unraveling French Canadian Ancestry"

  1. Susan says:

    Kasandra I think you’re a genius! I only ever understand about half of what you write on DNA, but it’s very fascinating.