In TLC’s season finale of “Who Do You Think You Are?”, comedian and TV host Tom Bergeron discovered the origins for his father’s French Canadian roots. I found it a powerful show filled with history, adventure and more than one emotional discovery.
Bergeron started near his home in New England, where genealogist Kyle Betit showed Bergeron a family tree he’d already researched (wouldn’t it be great if all ancestral journeys started that way?). I had to rewind to make sure I heard correctly—those names and dates were all from Quebec church records. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. I wish my family had church records going back nine generations.
To me, this show helped prove why just collecting names and dates shouldn’t be all we do with genealogy resources. Mining them for history can really help you fill out your ancestral story. The search focused on Marguerite Ardion, born in La Rochelle, France, in 1636, and why she migrated to Quebec. The number of original records used was phenomenal.
For example, the account of the siege of La Rochelle was an example of using period sources to understand a family’s experiences at a point in time. Bergeron’s 10th-great-grandparents were in La Rochelle when French forces held the city. Bergeron viewed a firsthand account of the siege in A Journal of the Last Siege of the City of Rochel: Begun the 20 of July 1627 by Pierre Mervault. This moving and graphic account of the circumstances inside the city gave Bergeron a glimpse into what his ancestors would’ve experienced.
Learning where to look to discover more on your ancestor’s family history can be hard, but so very rewarding. There’s a great video in Family Tree Shop, Top Ten Tools for Social History, that will help you get started.
In Quebec, Bergeron learns about Marguerite’s important status as a Filles du Roi, literally, “daughter of the King.” These unmarried women, about 800 in total, came to New France from 1663 to 1673 to start families in the new colony. Marguerite was among the first to arrive. These women are held in high regard today; Bergeron learned that being a Filles du Roi descendant is similar to having a Mayflower ancestor in the United States.
This episode made me a little jealous. I don’t have French Canadian ancestors that I know of. If you do, Family Tree Magazine’s French Canadian genealogy guide can help you find the right resources.
Now the waiting game starts for next season. I DVRed the summer episodes, and I’ll be spending the fall reliving my favorite moments waiting impatiently for “WDYTYA?” to return.