Famous Cousins

I am fascinated by the genealogies of others and I spend a fair amount of time trying to see where our lineages might connect.  By 1666, there were about 8,000 persons living in New France, and most of us with French Canadian ancestors are descended from someone within that small group (often multiple folks in that population).

When I first began studying my family’s history, I was reading about the “Plains of Abraham” in Quebec City.  Many of you may know this battle during the French and Indian War was actually part of the Seven Years War between France and England.  This conflict in 1759 between General Wolfe of the English forces and the Marquis de Montcalm who commanded the French, led to the English rule of these territories a year later.   The battlefield was most likely named after Abraham Martin, a fisherman and river pilot, who arrived in Quebec about 1635, with his wife Marguerite Langlois (or Langlais).  He is my 8X great-grandfather.   Anne Martin, who came to New France as a Fille A Marier, and married Jean Cote in 1635 in Quebec may be his sister and she is also one of my 8X great-grandmothers.  (I think that makes me doubly descended from their parents, Jean and Isabelle.)

When family names pop up in my genealogy, I always see if i can connect to a famous person with that name.  As I found Dionne ancestors, I immediately wondered whether I was related to Celine Dionne.  I am (6th cousin)!  Later discoveries included links to Robert Goulet, Angelina Jolie, and Hilary Clinton, among others.  In a recent episode of “Who Do You Think You Are” I discovered that Tom Bergeron and I share the Huguenot ancestors that are mentioned in his story.

When the Lamoureux sisters first appeared on the U.S. Women’s Hockey team in the 2014 Olympics, I figured they must be related.  After some research I discovered a link with my 6X great-grandfather, making them my 7th cousins.  I was so excited to see them again in the 2018 season, and was proud of their role in helping their team bring the Gold Medal home from South Korea.

I imagine inviting my famous cousins to a family Thanksgiving dinner – who might show up?   How would I set up the seating?  Would Tom sit next to Celine?  Would Jocelyne and Monique sit next to Hilary?  Would my grand-daughters sit next to Angelina?   Although unlikely, as a friend often comments “it could happen!”

Although I find it fun to make these famous connections, my main genealogical focus is telling the stories of ancestors who left France and England to come to a New World.  They left cousins and community, often with no real sense of the road ahead, to create a new life.  Their spirit lives on through their descendants, famous or not, who journey forth one day at a time making new families and building new communities.

Happy cousin hunting!

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A cousin at every turn

I always thought that I was 100% French Canadian (or as I’m starting to say, Franco-American, since all my ancestors came from France to North America before 1800.)  Several years ago, I learned that one of my ancestors, Claude Matthias Phaneuf, was actually Matthias Farnsworth in Groton, Massachusetts.  He was captured and brought to Montreal as a young boy during Queen Anne’s War.  He was adopted into the French community in Quebec and married into my family tree.  So there is a small slice of me that is also English.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to visit the town of Groton to see what we might discover about Matthias’ family.  Our first visit is always a cemetery, and there is an “Old Burying Ground” in Groton that seemed like it might be the right place.   Many of the graves had been photographed and posted through FindAGrave, but I like to see for myself.   I also like to drive through town to see what I can see of the landscape and local history.

On Main Street, we drove past the Historical Society and saw a sign that mentioned a tour that would take place two days later.  Since we were still in the area, my husband and I, joined by my sister, returned to check it out.  The tour of the renovated “Boutwell” house (the current home of the society) was excellent, and we enjoyed the history it shared of one of the town’s leading citizens.   The tour group was small, and as we moved from room to room, folks mentioned why they were visiting.  We discovered that a distant (probably 6th or 7th cousin) relative was also on this tour.  Darwin introduced himself and where he was from, and we started having a conversation about our common ancestors, the Farnsworths.

As a Franco-American, I know that I am related to every other person who can trace their ancestry back to Quebec in the 17th century.  I often meet 6th, 7th, and 8th cousins whenever I start a conversation about ancestors.  This was the first time that I found a cousin through my Massachusetts Bay Colony ancestors.  It made me realize how many more cousins I have yet to meet.    And reconfirmed my feeling that searching for our past can connect us in the present, because I sincerely believe that we are all related.

Happy cousin hunting!


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One of my favorite genealogy projects is figuring out if someone is related to me.  The two most common terms used to describe related ancestry are degree and removal.

  • Degree is the level of kinship.  First cousins have the same  grand-parents.  Thus “first” is the degree of relationship.  Second cousins have the same great-grandparents, etc.  The degree is one number more than the number of greats we share.
    • If Jane’s grandfather and grandmother are also my grandparents, we are first cousins.
    • From there, take the number of greats we share (like 6x great-grandparents (great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents) and add 1 to get the number of our “cousins” relationship (this would be 7, and that makes us 7th cousins).
  • Removal indicates that our ancestors are not at the same level of ancestry.  Once removed means that our common set of ancestors is different by one great.  Or that my great-great-grandparents are your great-grandparents (or vice versa).  The degree of kinship is based on the lowest number of greats.
    • If Jane’s great-grandparents are my grandparents, then we are 1st cousins once removed.  “Removed” describes the difference in the levels between Jane and I.
    • If Jane’s 6x great-grandparents are my 4x great-grandparents, we are 5th cousins twice removed.  The 5th degree comes from taking my 4x great and adding one.  The removal comes from the difference (6-4=2).
  • Other terms used to describe cousin-ship:
    • Half cousins share only one of the grandparents (for example, we share a great-grandfather, but we are descendants of different grandmothers.)
    • Double cousins share both sets of grandparents (for example, my father’s brother married my mother’s sister, their children would be my double first cousins.)
    • Paternal indicates that we are related through my father’s line.  Maternal means we are related through my mother. 

If you want more information on cousin relationships, this article from Wikipedia gives some excellent examples: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin.

Almost all people who have French Canadian ancestors are cousins, so if I find out you have that background, I will try to determine our connection.

Happy cousin hunting!


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He had it coming…

I trace my roots back to Gillette Banne who was a Filles a Marier – one of the first women to come to New France in 1649 (at age 13 or younger).  Her first husband died after they had only one child, but she remarried Jacques Bertault, a locksmith, within a couple of years (at age 17).  Jacques and Gillette had six children.

Their daughter Elisabeth (or Isabelle Elisabeth) was married at age 12 to a drunk and a scoundrel (apparently).  Gillette tried to poison him, and when that was unsuccessful, she and her husband, Jacques, beat him to death.  They were convicted of the crime and sentenced.  So Gillette was one of the first criminals hanged in New France (at age 36)!

Isabelle later married my ancestor, Noel Laurence and had 8 children.

These fascinating stories continue to hold my attention.  What would I have done watching my daughter being beaten and starved by her ‘erstwhile’ husband?  As the 6 Merry Murderesses from the musical “Chicago” say “He had it coming, he had it coming, he had it coming all along – it was a murder, but not a crime….

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My Ancestor, Charlemagne

Tracing ancestors for me is a labor of love. I love to find ways to connect to the history of the past. Today, I celebrate my ancestor, Charlemagne [2 Apr 742 – 28 Jan 814].
One of my favorite quotes about him: “ Charlemagne was able to offer the cultureless and… almost completely unenlightened … a new enthusiasm for all human knowledge. In its earlier state of barbarousness, his kingdom had been hardly touched at all by any such zeal, but now it opened its eyes to God’s illumination. In our own time the thirst for knowledge is disappearing again: the light of wisdom is less and less sought after and is now becoming rare again in most men’s minds.” [ Lewis Thorpe, tr., Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne, 1969:49f.]
Although translated in 1969, the original Life of Charlemagne by Einhard was written about 820 CE.
You might know him as Charles the Great, King of the Franks, King of the Lombards, and Emperor of the Romans. But to me, he is just my 34th great grandfather…. (He probably is yours as well!)
If you want to know more about Great-Great-Great… Grandfather, you can check out this Wikipedia link:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlemagne
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