My grandmother Mathilda Audrienne Nicolle
Researching French ancestry can be very difficult and frustrating. The language and geography barriers, finding the exact towns your ancestors were from (and you need to know them too), learning to read very difficult and sloppy handwriting, how and where to turn to for help and the time and patience to pursue your goals. Yet you can do it. I did. When I started out, I didn’t know French, and knew absolutely nothing beside the countries they came from. Today, I’m almost at the end of all my research, a bitter sweet realization. It’s been very rewarding. And it can be for you too. I thought it would be a good idea to share with others how to research French Ancestry, I’ve written tutorials that I hope will aide you in your search. In the meantime..

Let’s Talk French Genealogy!

In your research, you may have come across individuals with seemingly two surnames with ‘dit’ in between them.

Quoting from Denis Beauregard’s article from

“A “dit name” is an alias given to a family name. Compared to other alias or a.k.a. that are given to one specific person, the dit names will be given to many persons. It seems the usage exists almost only in France, New France and in Scotland where we find clans or septs.”

Example: Pierre Verger dit Bertaut. IN this case, Bertaut is the ‘also know as’ name, but in other cases it might be something different. Why are there ‘dit’ names? Which name do you record as the ‘true’ surname? It can be complicated, especially if one is used in one record, while the other is recorded in a different document. Though ‘dit’ names are used in France, most of them seem to be widely used in French Canada. If you’ve been tracing your ancestors in Québec, you, most likely, have come across “dit” names.

I highly recommend reading Denis Beauregard’s article explaining ‘dit’ names and spelling variations.
Click Here for the rest of the article

Now, the late Frank R. Binette, has also written an article explaining ‘dit’ names and how they originated, that conflicts with Denis Beauregard’s explanation. He states that ‘dit’ names are not alias, a.k.a. nor nickname.

The article is called:

“What in the World is a “dit” Name?”
by Frank R. Binette
(from “Lifelines Volume 11, Number 2, Whole Number 21,1994)

You can read it here

What is the correct explanation? Though, the historical explanations are invaluable, I believe (and this is just my belief) the common usage in French Canada aligns with Mr Beauregard’s, as an ‘also known as’ But you decide..

If you’re searching through the vital records of Belgium at you’ve no doubt run into pages upon pages upon pages of documents that seemingly have no rhyme or reason, as if someone took a bunch of miscellaneous documents and shoved them in between the vital records. What a mess. What are they? Why are they there? Are they worth the tedious effort to go through them? The answer is; yes. They can be a gold mine of info.

The documents are annexes attached to marriage records; birth, death and additional information pertaining to the married couple AND their parents, but also documents on military service. Rather bits and pieces. While searching through or microfilm from the Family History centers, for a marriage record of your ancestors, the documents are placed either before or immediately after the *year*.

The military or militia document annex is valuable as far as physical description is concern. Not only will it describe height, eyes and hair color, it will also record facts of other facial features, i.e. nose. It will also list the parent’s names and place and year of enlistment, and how long served.

So when you come across a marriage record, look at the annexes for lots of genealogical goodies..

The Archives of Belgium are now online for free. Though there are the civil registers, most of it contains the parish records from anywhere from the 1500s or 1600s on up. You will need to register (it’s free) in order to view the records. On top of that, most of the parishes records have indexes. Wowsy! Online Archives of Belgium

Exciting news for those looking for French Canadian ancestors! Family has uploaded Québec Church records to their server! Not all years for certain parish’s are uploaded, and at this time, they’re only partially indexed. So it is limited in search, but the records are browseable.
Quebec, Catholic Parish Registers and Quebec, Births and Baptisms, 1662-1898
All Free!

Q: What’s worse than sloppy written records in French?
A: Sloppy written records in Latin!

In the old European world, the Catholic Church and parishes were the registry for all vital records; baptism, marriage and burial, until the French Revolution that is. Parish Priests were well versed in Latin, and certain parts of France and in Wallonia, records were written by them in either in Latin or French. In French Canada, older records are also written in Latin. Not only indicator words; date, type of record, relationships, and even the names of countries and towns. So what to do? Here are a few things:

Download this Latin translation list from Wallonia asbl website here

As always, read and study the words, and the form of writing. Another good website for Latin word translations is Latin Word List From Bookmark or print out the list.

Download free (with some restrictions) ‘Latin for Beginners’ e-Books by Forgotten Books. IN fact they have several ebooks on learning a foreign language. There is a small subscription plan to ($2.99 a month for 10 books) download books with no restrictions at all.

Learn Latin fast

You can also try Learn French fast

Here are some common Latin to French first names:

Anna = Anne
Antoinii/Antonius/Anthonius – Antoine

Bernadus = Bernard

Catherina – Catherine

Franciscus = Françoise
Francisco = François

Jacobus = Jacques
Joanna = Jeanne
Joannis – Jean
Josepha – Joséphine

Ludovicus – Louis
Ludovica = Louise

Maria = Marie
Marguerita = Marguerite
Michael = Michel

Petrus = Pierre
Philippi = Philippe

Stephanus = Stephane, Etienne

Oh, that dreadful and horrible time! I shudder to think of the depravity the people of France had sunk to during the Reign of Terror. I’ve always wondered if any of my ancestors were involved as victims or as perpetrators. Did you? I came across this webpage and gingerly went through the names list to see any surnames. Are there any of yours?