“Who Do You Think You Are?”: Melissa Etheridge Discovers Her French Canadian Roots

By Diane Haddad

We don’t often hear family histories involving 18th-century French fur trappers living along the Mississsippi River. But that’s what singer Melissa Etheridge discovered in last night’s season-concluding episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?

Etheridge’s mother had already researched a family tree back to Quebec in the early 1700s. So Etheridge headed to Quebec City to find out more about her sixth-great-grandfather Francois Janis. In the episode, we’re told that the French were “pre-eminent takers of censuses.” I believe it, after seeing a published version of a 1716 census that named everyone in the household, their ages and relationships, the man’s occupation and the street they lived on:

This census data appears in volume 8 of Répertoire des actes de baptême, mariage, sépulture et des recensements du Québec ancient (click here to see library holdings in WorldCat for the original French publication and here to see an English-language guide to using it at the Family History Library).

At the Quebec National Archives, Etheridge digs through court documents about her fifth-great-grandfather’s sister Charlotte, who became pregnant as a teenager. Her father pressed charges against the baby’s father in both ecclesiastical and civil court. The couple eventually wed, although we learned the baby died.

You can find French Catholic church records for both Quebec and the early United States, both from the Drouin collection, at subscription site

Family Tree Shop has Family Tree Magazine’s guide to French Canadian genealogy research, which covers church and other essential records. We also have the Genealogy at a Glance cheat sheet to French Canadian research.

Etheridge’s fifth-great grandfather, Francois’ son Nicolas, migrated by water routes to the heart of the Midwest, where her own father grew up several generations later. He first traveled to Kaskaskia, a French fur trading town on the Mississippi River, now in Illinois. Nicolas made a good living but had to move his family across the Mississippi into Spanish territory after the Americans gained claim to lands east of the river.

Need help tracking ancestral migration routes? Check out our on-demand video class, Hints for Solving Migration Mysteries.

» Guest post by Sunny Jane Morton, Family Tree Magazine contributing editor