I recently took on a little research project for a family, who really didn’t expect to find much. They were aware of many recent immigrants to the United States, and so figured any research out of the country would be less than productive. But, what I DID find was amazing – something I had never been involved with before, which was early French Canadian genealogy. And wow, talk about resources! French-Canadian genealogy is primarily based upon meticulous marriage records that were kept from the earliest days of the French presence in Canada. My own personal research included some Acadians who ended up in Louisiana, but this line was unexplored territory to me!
As I researched, and followed the line back and back, I discovered that it linked into a group known as “les filles du roi” – literally, “the daughters of the king.” These were women who were shipped into the colony of New France because there were only men there and it’s difficult to colonize with only one sex. New France was originally populated by French companies which were promised rights to the resources of the land if they settled and developed it. Colonization to them meant business, which in turn meant that the settlers were male: shopkeepers, soldiers, workers, sailors and priests. Wives and children really didn’t contribute other than to be more mouths to feed, which was difficult in establishing the colony. So after 50 years of trying, there still wasn’t a good, established colony for France to claim the land with. The population numbered perhaps 2,750 – compared to the British Colonies which had already grown to 100,000.
So the French crown took over development from the companies, and King Louis XIV aggressively began to encourage growth and families with incentives to encourage marriage and children. In an attempt to balance the overly-heavy male population, between 1663 and 1673, the King sent off to New France between 700 and 1000 women of marriageable age. The first group of 36 filles arrived in Quebec on September 22, 1663. These young ladies came primarily from Paris, Rouen, and other northern French cities. A girl was required to present her birth certificate and a recommendation from her local priest or magistrate stating she was free to marry. The girls had to be of child-bearing age, and be “healthy and strong for country work, or that they at least have some aptitude for household chores.”
Each had a trousseau of practical items, among them a taffeta handkerchief, a pair of stockings, a pair of gloves, four shoelaces, needles pins and thread, scissors, two knives a small amount of cash. After they arrived, they received some clothing and provisions. Some had small dowrys, and those who did not were provided one by the King.
All of les filles landed first in Québec, where many remained. 133 went on to Montréal and 75 to Trois-Rivières. They stayed in dormitory-style buildings under the care of a female chaperone who taught them practical skills which would help them in their future marriages. Suitors would come to the house and the chaperone would oversee their meetings. Every woman had the right to refuse a marriage offer from a prospective suitor. After the two agreed to marry, they would have a marriage contract drawn up, and the wedding normally followed within 30 days. On average, the time between arriving and marriage was four to five months.
After marriage, the King also gave each couple an assortment of livestock and goods to help their marriage start smoothly. Incentives in the form of annual payments were given to families who had more than 10 children.
Because of the encouragement from the government, through their children, these women are the ancestors of possibly millions of North Americans. The scrupulous record keeping that has survived to today allows us to have excellent opportunities for genealogical research. I was truly excited to learn about this new genealogical treasure trove.
An online list of the King’s Daughters can be found at http://www.fillesduroi.org/src/Filles_list.htm
King’s Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi, 1663-1673 by Peter J. Gagné. Pawtucket, RI: Quintor Publications, 2001. pp. 15-42
“Les Filles du Roi.” The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia. McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, Canada. 1998.