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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Daughters of the King

A long time ago - a very long time ago - I had to take a course in Canadian History. Like a lot of compulsory history courses, it mainly consisted of names, dates and battles. Not particularly interesting.

One of the groups we studied were "Les Filles du roi," the king's girls. I took a mild interest in these "girls for marrying" - enough to remember the relevant facts for the final exam - but it really didn't mean much to me at the time.

I didn't begin to enjoy history until my university days.

Then, about 15 years ago, my cousin did some genealogical research on my mother's side of the family and discovered that, in the 17th Century, an ancestress of mine had been one of the filles du roi.

The term "filles du roi" was exclusively applied to the young women of marriageable age and capable of bearing children, who emigrated to New France - now the province of Quebec - between 1663-1673. They were so called because their transportation, settlement expenses, and dowry were assumed by Louis XIV's royal treasury. They were destined to marry the habitants, or settlers, of New France.

The dowries of these girls were quite interesting when you consider all the hardships these girls were to face - setting up housekeeping in such a harsh new land. Here are some of the items that were given to a typical fille du roi:

1 velvet-lined chest; 1 taffeta kerchief; 1 ribbon for shoes; 100 needles; 1 comb; 1 white thread; 1 pair of stockings; 1 pair of gloves; 1 pair of scissors; 2 knives; about 1,000 pins; 1 bonnet; 4 laces; and 2 silver livres.

Upon arrival in New France, the girls were taken by nuns, either to Ville Marie (now Montreal) or to Quebec City, where they received training for marriage.

Since I live in the Montreal area, I wanted to find out as much as possible about these girls, particularly my ancestress. There's a wonderful museum, the Maison St. Gabriel, where the girls who arrived in Montreal lived before their weddings. It's now a museum, and I've been there many a time. Unfortunately, I've not yet been able to locate my ancestress, leading me to the conclusion that she probably arrived in Quebec City, rather than Montreal.

It's a bit of personal historical research I plan to delve into as soon as possible.

15 comments:

Patricia Barraclough said...

I'll have to check into this. Am not sure when my french ancestors came to settle here, but one set is currently near Montreal and one near Quebec City. I think even the irish relatives came to the U.S. via Canada. My family lives on the Canadian border in New York about 65 miles from Montreal. My grandparents' generation still spoke french in addition to english. My brother did some family research, but am not sure what he found out.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Patricia, if your family settled near Montreal and Quebec City, there's a possibility they might have been original settlers. As for your Irish ancestors, if they emigrated during the Famine, it's very possible they came to the U.S. via Canada. British ships leaving Ireland woould have sailed to British North America, rather than the United States.
Good luck with your research, and thanks for stopping by!

Pat McDermott said...

Fascinating history, Cynthia. Good luck with your search.

Cynthia Owens said...

Thanks, Pat. I'm already planning next summer's trip to Quebec City!

Brenda said...

The history behind this book is great! I'd love to read a copy.

dancealert at aol dot com

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

What fun, Cynthia! I wish you success with your search.

Cynthia Owens said...

Thanks, Gwyn, one day I hope to get a story out of this.

Tess said...

Very interesting, Cynthia :) I remember learning about the filles du roi as a child as well (I went to school in Ottawa) and one of my fave books was The King's Daughters by Suzanne Martel. I still have my copy.

So cool about your ancestress possibly being a fille du roi - lots of luck with your genealogical research (another hobby of mine, when I have time).

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Tess, it's nice to hear from a fellow Canadian! I read that book, too. I can't wait to visit Quebec City and find out if my ancestress really did arrive there.

Kathryn Albright said...

Hi Cynthia!
This is the type of "history" that intrigues me too. I found your list of things for the girls' trip quite interesting. Fascinating post!

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Kathryn, thanks for stopping by. I love it when I can "personalize" history, and the fact that one of my ancestors was an original settler here makes it even more special. There's even a family story, on my dad's side, that one of our ancestors discovered Canada some 25 years before Jacques Cartier arrived. I'd love to somday find out it that's true!

Tess said...

Cynthia - Quebec City is just gorgeous. I haven't been there in many years, but I still remember it really well. The history is just everywhere, especially in the streets around and below the Chateau Frontenac. And the crepes, well, make sure you go to a creperie to eat after absorbing all the history!!

Cynthia Owens said...

Thanks, Tess, I'll remember that! I was in Quebec City years ago, but that was before the research. I loved the "old" flavor of the city, the cobblestones, and, yes, the food too!

Nancy said...

Cynthia, this is awesome information! I had no clue about this gem of history, and I do hope you find the records on your ancestress!

Light,
Nancy Haddock

Cynthia Owens said...

Thanks, Nancy, I do plan to try to find her this summer. It's a little bit of personal research I've put off long enough.