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In a previous article, we learned that the ethnic French Canadian population is descended from a surprisingly small amount of immigrants.
The influence of this small number of immigrants can still be seen in the frequency and variation of last names in Quebec to this day.
For example, here is the list of pioneers that have the most married descendants before 1800 (this list was compiled using the PRDH database):
|Name of the pioneer||Amount of descendants
married before 1800
|Zacharie Cloutier||10 850|
|Jean Guyon||9 674|
|Marin Boucher||8 502|
|Jacques Archambault||8 445|
|Noël Langlois||7 847|
|Abraham Martin||7 765|
|Pierre Miville||6 552|
|Pierre Desportes||6 515|
|Jean Roussin||4 730|
|Louis Hébert||4 592|
This list does not contain some of the most common names used today, and also includes some names that are rarely seen nowadays. This is because while some of these ancestors had a lot of descendants, most of these descendants were female. Thus, their last names were not transmitted through the generations. We have compiled a second list limited to patronymic descendants of these pioneers, which in other words refers to descendants through the male side:
|Name of the pioneer||Number of
married before 1800
Let’s now compare this list with the most common last names used in Quebec in 2006:
We find half of our previous list among the top 25 most common names in Quebec today. The impact of these few pioneers is undeniable, even to this day!
And your pioneer ancestor?
The PRDH offers a free tool that lists all the pioneers for a given last name. If you have a French Canadian name, you can enter it here and obtain a list of pioneers for that name, assuming they arrived in Quebec before 1766.
How to determine which pioneer is your ancestor
Oftentimes, a last name can be linked to several pioneers. For example, two Desjardins living in Quebec today will not necessarily share the same pioneer ancestor; one may descend from Antoine Roy dit Desjardins, who arrived in Quebec in the 1660s, and the other from Pierre Desjardins, who only arrives in Quebec in the 18th century.
The only way to determine which pioneer is your direct ancestor is to do your ascending genealogy, starting with your parents all the way back to your first ancestor on Quebec soil.