The nicknames and “dit names” of French-Canadian ancestors

In France, nicknames were added to surnames to distinguish between families with similar names living in the same geographical area. When immigrants coming from France settled in New France, this custom continued. Some immigrants, mostly soldiers, already had an alias or a “dit name” when they arrived while others acquired a “dit name” after they settled in New France.

How were “dit names” created?
“Dit names” were created by taking a person’s family name, adding a nickname that described one of the individual’s unique characteristics, and connecting the two with the word “dit,” for example, Miville dit Deschênes.

These nicknames were based on the following:

  • physical characteristics (Le Fort, Le Roux);
  • moral characteristics (Le Bon, Le Sage);
  • trades (Le Boucher);
  • places of origin, including country, province, city, town, village (le Picard, Le Normand);
  • places of residence (Du Val, Du Puis);
  • first names of ancestors (Deblois dit Grégoire, Fasche dit Robert);
  • actions (Ladébauche, Ladéroute).

Until around the 1850s, both surnames and “dit names” were used in records. After that time, only one of the two names was used.

Lists of “dit names” and their associated surnames can be found in the publications and websites that follow:

  • Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu’à nos jours (AMICUS 21710319) by Cyprien Tanguay, volume 7 (also available online on the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec website);
  • Dictionnaire des familles du Québec, (AMICUS 3994211) by René Jetté;
  • Répertoire des noms de famille du Québec, des origines à 1825 by René Jetté and Micheline Lécuyer (AMICUS 8402862).

Other relevant websites

Conduct your own research using AMICUS
Do your own search for “dit names” in AMICUS by title or subject using terms such as “name,” “family name” and “France.”

Validating your ancestor’s arrival in Canada before 1865

So you have searched the immigration records prior to 1865, and still no trace of your ancestor? If you didn’t find your ancestor’s arrival before 1865, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has other genealogical resources that can assist in confirming an ancestor’s arrival in Canada.

Where did he or she settle?
Is he or she listed in census returns? LAC’s collection of census databases, which can be searched by a person’s name, can confirm an individual’s presence as early as 1825. Perhaps a reference exists for one of the parents (recorded as the head of the family) or for a sibling.

Many early settlers submitted petitions to obtain land where they could establish their family in Upper Canada or Lower Canada. LAC’s databases provide references to land transactions that give the person’s name, the date of the application and the county or township within a province.

Perhaps he served in the military?
Muster rolls, pay lists and various registers can reveal useful information when tracing former military personnel. Have a look at the Military page where many finding aids are searchable by name. For example, the RG8, C Series (British Military and Navy Records) includes records about Loyalist regiments, the War of 1812, and the Canadian militia. The documents for the RG8, C Series have been digitized and are searchable by name on our website. Refer to the Help pages for explanations of the records.

Life events in records
The date of arrival in Canada can be estimated by searching birth, marriage, and death records for first occurrences such as the birth of a child to confirm the presence of the family in a location. Consult our previous blog on how to search for Birth, Marriage and Death Records.

Published sources
Family histories, historical atlases and other published works can be searched in AMICUS, LAC’s online catalogue. It is also possible that your ancestor lived in a location that published a city directory.

The genealogical community
Many genealogical societies have resources specific to where your ancestor settled. Finding aids that describe a location are valuable tools when searching for ancestors.

Happy discoveries!

Your ancestors and the War of 1812

During the War of 1812, many French Canadians fought under the command of Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry in the Canadian Voltigeurs, a light infantry unit. The Voltigeurs’ main battle exploit was the Battle of the Châteauguay, which was fought on October 26, 1813, when some 1,700 Canadians helped drive back more than 3,000 Americans, preventing a major attack on Montréal.

Here are a few avenues for research that will help you determine whether your ancestors were among the Voltigeurs:

Library and Archives Canada has many documents on military service, including documents related to the War of 1812. Drafted mainly in English, these include muster rolls and paylists, along with land claims and petitions scattered throughout the collection. However, there are no military service files for specific individuals, unlike what is available for the First World War.

The starting point for your research is to find a contract of service, which all Lower Canada militiamen had to sign before a notary. This was the case for Joseph Auclair (1794-1861), who took part in the Capture of Detroit and in the Battle of the Châteauguay. This document provides physical details and the name of the regiment and of the commanding officer. The Notarial Records page explains how to find this key document.

Certificate of enlistment of Joseph Auclair by Jean-Baptiste-René Hertel de Rouville, captain, Canadian Voltigeurs unit, drafted before the notary Charles Pratte, December 27, 1812, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Certificate of enlistment of Joseph Auclair by Jean-Baptiste-René Hertel de Rouville, captain, Canadian Voltigeurs unit, drafted before the notary Charles Pratte, December 27, 1812, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

You can also find references to medals awarded to veterans of the War of 1812 in our Medals, Honours and Awards database. With a bit of patience, you will be able to locate the name of your ancestor on paylists, also called Nominal Rolls and Paylists. Many militiamen were also granted land. These grants, announced in The Quebec Gazette, were confirmed by land patents, which can be found in our Lower Canada Land Petitions database.

Lastly, to save you time, it is very important to read the search help pages carefully to find out how documents are organized.

The 1940 National Registration File

Are you looking for a Canadian ancestor or someone who was living in Canada during the Second World War?

Since most sources for that time period are still subject to access or privacy restrictions under Canadian legislation, Statistics Canada’s National Registration File of 1940 is an alternative to census records that can provide you with some answers. This very valuable source for genealogists and family historians is the result of the compulsory registration of all persons, 16 years of age or older, between 1940 and 1946.

If the person has been dead for more than 20 years, and you can provide proof of death, you can order a search of these Statistics Canada records. Please note that research fees, based on an hourly rate, apply.

If you cannot provide a copy of a death certificate, other types of documents indicating the date of death are accepted, such as obituary notices published in newspapers.

The registration included all persons who were 16 years of age or older, except for members of the armed forces and religious orders, or those confined to an institution. If a person died between 1940 and 1946, their questionnaire might have been destroyed. A different form was used for men than was used for women.

The questionnaires provide particulars such as address, age, date and place of birth, general health, and occupation. For immigrants, key details such as the year of arrival in Canada and their parents’ country of birth are given.

A similar national registration was undertaken during the First World War, in June 1918; however, those records have not survived.

What if the person is not listed in the 1940 registration?

As mentioned above, perhaps he or she served in the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force or the Canadian Army. Our previous article, From Enlistment to Burial Records Part II: the Canadian Forces in the Second World War, describes how to search for individuals who served in the Canadian Forces.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Did your ancestors come from China?

Do you ever wonder who your first Chinese ancestor was and when he or she left China and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your family’s Chinese heritage?

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. For instance, you will find a page specific to genealogical research for the Chinese people. It provides you with historical background information, archival and published material from our collection, as well as links to other websites and institutions. This page also contains a link to the Immigrants from China database which provides access to more than 98,000 references to Chinese immigrants who arrived in Canada.

If your ancestor came to Canada between 1865 and 1935, you might find his or her name on the passenger lists.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Did your ancestors come from Germany?

Do you want to know who your first German ancestor was and when he or she left Germany and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your German origins?

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on the Germans. This page provides you with historical information, archival documents and published material from the Library and Archives Canada collection, as well as links to other websites and institutions.

If your ancestor came to Canada between 1865 and 1935, you might find his or her name on the passenger lists.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Did your ancestors come from Russia?

Do you wonder who your first Russian ancestor was and when he or she left Russia and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your family’s Russian heritage?

If so, the LAC website is a great place to begin your research. For instance, you will find a page specific to genealogical research for the Russians. It provides you with historical background, LAC’s archival collections and published material, as well as links to other websites and institutions.

If your ancestor came to Canada between 1865 and 1935, you might find his or her name on passenger lists.

Tip:

Tracing your Russian ancestor in Canada is the first step. Joining a genealogical society is an ideal way to begin your genealogy research.

Learn where and how to begin your research at Library and Archives Canada by watching this short orientation video: Orientation Services for Clients at 395 Wellington.

For more information on recent announcements at LAC, visit “News.

Did your ancestors come from Italy?

Do you wonder who your first Italian ancestor was and when he or she left Italy and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your family’s Italian heritage?

If so, the LAC website is a great place to begin your research. For instance, you will find a page specific to genealogical research for the Italians. It provides you with historical background, LAC‘s archival collections and published material, as well as links to other websites and institutions.

If your ancestor came to Canada between 1865 and 1935, you might find his or her name on passenger lists.

Tip:

Tracing your Italian ancestor in Canada is the first step. Joining a genealogical society is an ideal way to begin your genealogy research.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Royal Tour: The Duchess of Cornwall’s Canadian Ancestors

Did you know that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and wife of Prince Charles, has among her ancestors a Premier of the Province of Canada and two New France pioneers, Zacharie Cloutier and Jean Guyon?

How is this possible?

It’s simple. The Duchess of Cornwall’s great-great grandfather, William Coutts Keppel (1832-1894), visited Canada and married Sophia Mary MacNab (1832-1917), on November 15, 1855, in Hamilton, Ontario.  She was the daughter of Sir Allan Napier MacNab (1798-1862),  Premier of the Province of Canada from 1854 to 1856, and Mary Stuart.
As we continue to climb Mary Stuart’s family tree, we discover the names of Zacharie Cloutier and Jean Guyon.

You can find many archival and published materials regarding these historical figures in our collection; some are digitized and available online. Try finding them by “Searching all”!

Learn more about Allan Napier MacNab’s career by consulting the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Do you wish to know if you have someone famous as an ancestor? Learn more by discovering our Genealogy Services!

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Did Your Ancestors Come From the Netherlands (Holland)?

Do you wonder who your first Dutch ancestor was and when he or she left the Netherlands and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your family’s Dutch heritage?

You will find on our website a specific page about genealogical research for the Dutch. It provides historical background, main LAC archival collections and published material and links to other websites and institutions.

If your Dutch ancestor came to Canada before 1865, a good starting point would be to consult the three following databases:

If your ancestor came between 1865 and 1935, you might find his name on passenger lists.

Tip:

Tracing your Dutch ancestor in Canada is the first step. Joining a genealogical society is an ideal way to start your genealogy research.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!