Kinsearching February 26, 2012




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     When studies are conducted on the European background of the United States population today, much of the information usually pertains to English, Irish, Scottish, and German forebears. But did you know that more than 10 million Americans claim French ancestry? On the 2000 U. S. federal census, 8.3 million--three percent of the total population--declared French ancestry while 2.4 million--0.9 percent--claimed French-Canadian lineage. Therefore, it makes sense that one of the newest additions to the popular “Genealogy at a Glance” series is French Genealogy Research by Claire Bettag.

     As genealogists would expect, Bettag’s publication provides in a condensed manner an overview of the basics for tracing ancestors in France and offers suggestions for finding and utilizing critical resources in that country. Dividing the material into eight main sections, the guide begins with a brief summary of the French presence in the New World. Major “waves” of immigration include early explorers, traders, and settlers; Huguenots (French Protestants) fleeing religious persecution; refugees from Canada, the French Revolution, and the St. Domingue (Haiti) insurrection; and nineteenth-century political refugees. Unlike the continuous influx of large ethnic groups, the French tended to come in small numbers or individually. Huguenots primarily settled in Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia. Other groups of French descent resided mainly in Louisiana, the Midwest, and New England. The author points out that passenger arrival records in North America are usually better sources of information than extant French passenger manifests.

     Since most records initially sought in genealogical research were created at the town level, the identification of an ancestor’s place of origin in France is crucial; knowing the name of a province or region is not adequate. Bettag furnishes tips about resources that may help to pinpoint the town. She also discusses French family names and the challenges (like the usage of the “dit” name in French Canada) they can pose. To help with some of the problems, she mentions surname variations and inconsistencies that researchers should keep in mind as they trace their family branches.

     A large part of the rest of the material concerns various types of records utilized in family research. After explaining the political organization of French archives, the compiler analyzes in more detail the major record groups and tells where they are located. These resources include parish registers prior to 1792, civil registrations after 1792, notarial records, censuses, land documents, and military records. Next, she focuses on France’s most important repositories and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. After emphasizing that the majority of departmental and municipal archives and libraries now have online digital collections, the author provides a list of useful websites. At the end of several segments is a bibliography for further reference.

     Although tracing French families can be difficult, Bettag tries to supply as much helpful information as possible in the limited space. The four-page laminated French Genealogy Research will serve as a convenient, streamlined manual for seeking elusive ancestors in France.

     To the guide's price of $8.95, buyers should add the cost for postage and handling charges. For U. S. postal mail, the cost is $4.50 for one item and $2.50 for each additional copy; for FedEx ground service, the cost is $6.00 for one copy and $2.50 for each additional item. The guide (item order 479) may be purchased by check, money order, MasterCard, or Visa from Genealogical Publishing Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260, Baltimore, MD 21211-1953. For phone orders, call toll free 1-800-296-6687; fax 1-410-752-8492; website

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