Filles du Roi
By Nancy Battick
Is there a Fille du Roi in your family tree? If you have French-Canadian ancestry, the odds are strong that there is at least one or more of these Daughters of the King in your family.
Descendants of these nearly 800 brides are found in Canada, New England, Louisiana and wherever French Canadians migrated for work — or in the case of the Louisiana Cajuns, were forcefully deported.
New France, as Canada was known, was settled long before the English came to Jamestown and Plymouth. Colonists were soldiers and the Catholic church was strong in these settlements, which helped keep order. It was important to France that her colony survive and prosper, but for that to happen there was a need for women settlers to migrate, marry and raise families.
While some women, called marriageable women, did migrate to New France on their own, there was a desperate shortage of brides. One source I found stated that by 1666 there were 719 single men in New France and only 45 unmarried women.
The French king, Louis XIV, approved a plan to remedy the situation. His officials recruited women of marriageable age with good character but who had little prospect of a marriage, due mainly to poverty, which meant they lacked a dowry. The Filles du Roi were all volunteers. Each was provided with a dowry, personal items, material goods and, upon marriage, a sum of money, several domestic animals and the means for her and her husbands to start a farm and family immediately.
The women arrived in New France between 1663 and 1673. Single men eagerly met each vessel at the docks and supervised courtships began. It’s important to point out that the women weren’t forced into marriages and had the choice of husbands, rare for that time period. Most were married within a month.
A dowry was a sum of money or land given to the groom by her family, or in this case the king, when a woman married. In the past women considered themselves blessed if their family could afford dowries for them. Coincidentally, in some parts of the world, men paid for a bride. Bride price usually took the form of cattle or other goods, and the bride’s father usually chose the man who could pay the most.
If you believe you’re a descendant of one or more Filles du Roi, you’re in luck. Lists of the names of these women, their husbands and the date of marriages are all online. Check out cyndislist.com and search, or just use a search engine. You can track your descent through parish records. Records of the so-called marriageable women who came on their own are also available. You may well find you descend from both groups.
If you’re not sure if you have a Daughter of the King in your tree, check out the sources. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find. In the meanwhile, bonne chance.
Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.