Tracing Your Family's Roots


The materials presented in the genealogical section of this program pertain exclusively to the Acadian exiles who braved south Louisiana's forbidding wilderness to carve out a new homeland for themselves and their descendants, now known as Cajuns. You are undoubtedly here because you wish to unearth your family's origins and determine what role your ancestors played in the founding of this New Acadia. Despite the remarkable popularity of genealogy among Louisiana Cajuns, many Cajuns have only vague and often inaccurate conceptions of their respective family histories. This confusion stems in large part from the failure of Louisiana's schools to teach the history of the state's various French-speaking communities and from the tendency of outsiders to label all French-speaking whites as "Cajuns." Indeed, most Louisianians of French descent know much more about the Pilgrim Fathers of Massachusetts Bay than they do about their own forebears.

Popular confusion about Louisiana's Acadian community is compounded by the tendency of outsiders, since the mid-nineteenth century, to label all lower-class, French-speaking whites as "Cajuns." The scholarly community has recognized this fact by differentiating between Acadians, the original French settlers of the Bay of Fundy Basin and their modern descendants, and Cajuns, persons who have come to share the synthetic culture created by the interaction of various French groups in South Louisiana over the pst two centuries. Hence, many Louisianians of non-Acadian French backgrounds have legitimate Cajun identities, even though they have no biological ties to the Acadian exiles. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of persons with non-Acadian surnames legitimately claim Acadian descent through their maternal lines, for intermarriage was a powerful force in Acadiana's French melting pot.

Don't get discouraged. It's fairly easy to determine where you fit into the picture. In French Louisiana, surnames are usually the best indicators of ethnicity. Acadian surnames are quite distinctive, and, with notable exceptions, these surnames are generally not duplicated within other local French-speaking groups. (Though some branches of the following common south Louisiana families, for example, have non-Acadian origins: Benoit, Bergeron, Bernard, Blanchard, Bourgeois, Daigle, Doucet, Dupuis, Granger, Jeansonne, Landry, LeBlanc, LeJeune, Lemoine, Louvière, Martin, Michel, and Pellerin.) Bona Arseneault, author of Histoire et généálogie des Acadiens, the most comprehensive genealogical work yet published on the Acadians, identifies 1,246 families who resided in the major settlements of pre-dispersal Acadia. (See appendixes at the end of this file.) Most of these families, however, were transient soldiers and artisans who were stationed at the French military bastion of Louisbourg on modern-day Cape Breton Island. Though Louisbourg was technically part of Acadia, its residents did not generally consider themselves Acadians, and only a handful of their descendants presently identify themselves as Acadians. See Appendix B at the end of this file for a list of the Acadian families who made their way to post-dispersal Louisiana. Though the Louisiana list includes a tiny portion of all surnames carried by pre-1755 French residents of the modern Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, the Acadian families that migrated to Louisiana during the Grand Dérangement, as the terrible dispersal of the Acadian population is commonly known, had the longest tenure in Acadia's original settlement area. Co-existing and intermarrying within these settlements for approximately 120 years, these families consequently shared an Acadian identity to a far greater extent than the transient population, and their descendants alone have borne and preserved that Acadian identity to the present. Members of these remarkably prolific families which are also represented in the other major Acadian communities constitute at least eighty percent of the modern Acadian population. Most of the surnames not represented in the Louisiana list were carried by French military personnel who served temporarily at the fortified bastion of Louisbourg on Ile Royale (modern-day Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia) before the installation's capture by British forces in 1758.

If you didn't find your surname or the surname of your maternal or collateral lines in these two lists, your Louisiana ancestors made their way to the state as part of other French migrations. The first of these migrations began in 1699, when Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville established Fort Maurepas near Biloxi Bay, thereby laying the foundation for the French colony of Louisiana. In the following years, the colony initially expanded eastward to Mobile and later westward to the Mississippi River. Colonial development remained focused along the banks of the Mississippi River following the establishment of New Orleans in 1718.

The French pioneers of early Louisiana came to be known as Creoles. The term Creole, which simply means indigenous to an area, was applied to the American-born children of European colonists, the American-born children of African slaves, and products of Louisiana, including the Creole pony and local varieties of onions and tomatoes. Because the number of immigrants to Louisiana was reduced to a small number of soldiers after the early 1720s, Louisiana's Creole population became an ever-greater percentage of the total population as the eighteenth century progressed.

The native Creole population was supplemented by thousands of refugees from the black revolution in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), who migrated to Louisiana between 1791 and 1809. These refugees, who were also commonly identified as Creoles, were responsible for bringing to New Orleans, where most of them settled, many of the cultural characteristics commonly associated with the Creole community, including an aristocratic mentality, the Creole language, and a passionate love of French opera.

Following in the wake of the the Saint-Domingue refugees were thousands of French immigrants who migrated to Louisiana after each political or economic upheaval in la belle France. A small, but significant number of Bonapartists, supporters of Napoleon Bonaparte who fled France following the emperor's downfall, made their way to Louisiana, often after failed attempts to settle elsewhere in the United States.

The Bonapartists, in turn, were followed by tens of thousands of French immigrants, who migrated to New Orleans, the second leading antebellum port of entry, in search of a better economic opportunities and greater political freedom. Perhaps as many as 50,000 French citizens debarked at New Orleans between 1820 and 1900. These immigrants were called the Foreign French by Louisiana's established French-speaking populations. Many, perhaps most of the Foreign French, remained in the New Orleans area; many thousands of these French immigrants, however, opted to start life anew elsewhere in the Mississippi Valley. Many of the early Foreign French immigrants were shopkeepers who formed the nucleus of the mercantile communities in many newly formed South Louisiana towns, while most of the mid-to-late nineteenth century French immigrant families were farmers.

Most of the transplanted families, Saint-Domingue refugees, Bonapartists, and Foreign French immigrants who fanned out into the rural South Louisiana parishes have come to be identified as Cajun over the past century. This identity was based as much upon the families' assimilation into local Acadian society through intermarriage as upon their consistently low socio-economic status, which, by the end of the Civil War, had become the principle descriptive means of identifying Cajuns. Because they were poor and French-speaking, they were viewed and identified by the world as Cajuns. Thousands upon thousands of modern Cajuns consequently have no genetic links with the Acadian exiles.

If you are one of those individuals, do not despair, for the genealogical research techniques that we shall now discuss will also assist you in tracing you family's background. As mentioned earlier, surnames & family names are critically important to your genealogical quest because of the ethnographic information that they convey. The importance of the surnames, however, is matched by that of given names and nicknames. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, many Louisiana families like their counterparts in France itself utilized a traditional French naming convention: many, if not all of the girls in a family carried a particular name, often Marie, as one of their given names. Thus, it was common to find daughters with such names as Marie Jeanne, Marie Louise, Marie Elizabeth, Marie Carmelite, and Marie Magdeleine all in an individual family. Many families employed a corresponding naming convention for their sons, usually utilizing the names Louis or Jean. As a result of these French naming practices, many women, and virtually all of the men, were known by nicknames, which proved a much more effective means of identification.

Male nicknames usually appear in contemporary documentation as "dit" names. The "dit" literally means "called," but the French nickname signified much more than the modern American term "alias." In French Louisiana, individuals sometimes identified so completely with the nicknames, that the nicknames supplanted their original family names as their surnames. Even in the late twentieth century, Cajuns are often startled to find, upon reading obituaries, that the names by which friends and relatives had been known all their lives were nothing more than nicknames. These Acadian and Cajun "dit" names are often the only means of distinguishing family members who carried similar given names, especially when a man is identified solely by such a generic given name as "Jean", a name probably shared by his brothers.

Nicknames often provide tantalizing hints about the personality of your forebears. French nicknames often called attention to an individual's physical or personality traits: mulatre, dark-complected, petit, short or of slight build; tranche-montagne, swaggart; and sans chagrin, easy-going. Some "dit" names were clan designations, such as Beausoleil in the Broussard family. Other nicknames identified a person's geographical origins; such nicknames are particularly important for Acadian exiles.

Women were far more subtle in the usage of their nicknames. Their nicknames rarely appear in the documentary record, and then only when they took the form of another common given name.

These naming practices had been commonplace throughout the pre-dispersal Acadian communities. Louisiana's Acadian exiles, however, did not perpetuate the common pre-dispersal Acadian naming convention. In pre-dispersal Acadia, Cyril Thibodeau would have been commonly identified by his friends and relatives as Cyril à Olivier, meaning Cyril, the son of Olivier Thibodeau. This practice has survived to the present in Canada's Maritime Provinces, but it was not perpetuated in post-dispersal Louisiana. The loss of this naming convention is unfortunate, because it makes identification of individual exiles and their progeny considerably more difficult for modern genealogists.

The functional illiteracy of many records keepers compounds the problem of identifying individual ancestors. There was no attempt to standardize the spelling of Louisiana French names until the early-to-mid-nineteenth century. Before that time, French surnames were rendered phonetically by the official recording a civil or ecclesiastical record. Because the "o" sound which is a common final syllable in surnames found in the Centre-Ouest region of France, the ancestral cradle of most Acadian families can be rendered phonetically in more than a dozen ways, Acadian surnames are rarely spelled the same way twice, even in successive records. The surname Breaux, for example, appears in a variety of phonetic forms: Bro, Brau, Braud, Brault, Braut, Braux, Brot, Breau, Breaud, Breaux, Breauld, and Breault. Contrary to the self-effacing Cajun myth of the late twentieth century, the "eaux" ending did not evolve from the practice of appending an illiterate Cajun's mark ,i.e., an "x" to the end of his/her surname at the end of a civil document. The "eaux" ending was the preferred spelling of Acadian surnames for influential Judge Paul Briant of St. Martin Parish in the early nineteenth century. In the prairie parishes, this spelling was applied to virtually all Cajun surnames ending with the "o" sound in the 1830 census, and the spelling has remained the standard means of rendering Cajun surnames ever since. Parishes east of the Atchafalaya River were slower to adopt the newly standardized spellings of Cajun names, and hence the phonetic renderings persisted until well into the nineteenth century.

Civil commandants of the late eighteenth century, who were often functional illiterates, applied similar phonetic spellings to given names. Thibodeau became Tibaudau or Tibaudot, for example. In addition, Spanish priests, who never successfully mastered the spelling of French surnames, frequently hispanicized Acadian given names in ecclesiastical records, as did Spanish military officers in some post records. Thus, Pierre LeBlanc frequently became Pedro Blanco; Jacques Brun became Santiago Moreno.

Misspellings are not the only pitfalls confronted by genealogists and historians. Researchers must always be continuously vigilant for all manner of human errors. Historical personages were no less prone to error than their modern counterparts. Notaries, scribes, pastors, and clerks recorded what they thought they heard not necessarily what deponents or witnesses actually stated. Dates are sometimes recorded in error.

As a consequence, smart researchers always attempt to verify every verifiable fact in their genealogies. Never depict as factual any statement based upon a single bit of unverified information. Always try to examine every ecclesiastical and civil document pertaining to an ancestor for precisely this kind of supporting evidence.

What types of information do you need to find and verify? At the very least, you should be able to document three watershed events in your ancestors' life cycle: births, marriages, and deaths. Catholic church records constitute the most reliable and, in some geographic areas, the only means of documenting these personal milestones. When church records are unavailable, you will have to rely upon probate records, family bibles (generally unavailable for Catholics), marriage licenses, tax lists, and census reports. Census reports then, as now, are notoriously inaccurate. an individual's stated age often varies by several years from one decennial census report to the next. For example, consecutive census reports might indicate that Alexandre Hebert of Ward 25, Lafayette Parish, was 21 years old in 1850, but 34 years of age in 1860. The 1870 census is particularly unreliable. hence, you should regard census reports as nothing more than approximations providing very rough guides to birthdates. Census reporting became considerably more accurate at the turn of the twentieth century, as census takers began to record birthdates reported by each person enumerated in the census rolls.

In recording important dates in your ancestors' life, you should use the international form utilized by most genealogists: day, month, and year. Hence, October 12, 1952 would be cited in your genealogy as 12 OCT 1952. Utilizing the foregoing form for dates will greatly reduce any chance of confusion if the genealogy your are compiling is to be used by other members of your family or other genealogists.

The fact that your family tree will be of interest to other family members, even distant relatives, raises an important point about your research. Just how comprehensively do you need to explore your family's history. Should you attempt to list everyone born in your family since your family entered the modern documentary record? Should you trace only your paternal line (your father's family), your maternal line (your mother's family), or, instead, the lines represented by your four grandparents? Only you can make this decision. Bear in mind that your options are limited solely by your spare time, energy, and interests.


Printed Resources


Most public and university libraries have extensive genealogical collections that place at your fingertips information that, for earlier generations of genealogists, required years of dedicated research and thousands of dollars to compile. What are the most valuable resources in these genealogical collections, and how do I utilize them?

Most genealogists begin their individual quests for genealogical information with the compilations of abstracted ecclesiastical records published over the past twenty-five years. For persons of Acadian descent, Father Donald J. Hébert's Southwest Louisiana Records and South Louisiana Records series are easily the most valuable compilations.

Father Hébert's published abstracts of ecclesiastical materials are complemented by additional records guides and transcriptions of genealogical materials in the genealogical magazines listed below:


Acadian Genealogy Exchange, 863 Wayman Branch Road, Covington, KY 41015. One of the premier Acadian genealogical publications.

Attakapas Gazette, Center for Louisiana Studies, P.O. Box 40831, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, LA 70504-0831. This regional journal for the area encompassed by the modern parishes of Lafayette, Vermilion, St. Martin, Iberia, and St. Mary publishes materials on history, genealogy, folklore, and landmarks.

La Voix des Prairies, P. O. Box 664, Ville Platte, LA 70586. A genealogical and historical publication for the Evangeline Parish area.

Le Baton Rouge, P.O. Box 80565, SE Station, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-0565. Le Baton Rouge is the official publication of the Baton Rouge Genealogical and Historical Society.

Les Voyageurs, P.O. Box 517, Destrehan, LA 70047. This publication of the German-Acadian Coast Historical and Genealogical Society is a valuable source of information regarding Acadian pioneers along the Mississippi River.

Louisiana Genealogical Register, P.O. Box 82060, Baton Rouge, LA 70884-2060. An excellent source of genealogical information from serious researchers.

Louisiana History, Center for Louisiana Studies, P. O. Box 40831, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, LA 70504-0831. Consistently ranked as one of the best state history journals in the nation, Louisiana History furnishes genealogists with the latest historical findings, written by leading Louisiana Studies scholars.

N'Oubliez Pas, P. O. Box 108, Opelousas, LA 70571-0108. Quarterly publication of the Imperial Saint Landry Genealogical and Historical Society.

Raconteur, P. O. Box 44370, Baton Rouge, LA 70804. This publication, supported by Le Comité des Archives de la Louisiane, a group of volunteer supports of the Louisiana State Archives and Records Service, keeps genealogical researchers abreast of new documentary collections housed or catalogued at the state archives.

Southwest Louisiana Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 5652, Lake Charles, LA 70606-5652.

Terrebonne Lifelines, Station 2, Box 295, Houma, LA 70360. The best source of genealogical information for the area formerly encompassed by Lafourche Interior Parish (modern Lafourche, Terrebonne, and Assumption parishes).


Manuscript Resources


As the compilers of these published records will readily tell you, the abstractors are not infallible. Materials gleaned from published sources should always be verified by an examination of the original documents cited in the pertinent ecclesiastical abstracts. You need not travel to the original repositories. Most churches provide records retrieval and copying services, and The Official Catholic Church Directory will furnish the relevant address and telephone numbers needed to contact the parish records repositories.

For access to eighteenth or nineteenth century church records, you may have to contact south Louisiana's diocesan repositories:


Archdiocese of New Orleans, including the modern civil parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and Washington.

1100 Chartres St.

New Orleans, LA 70116-2596

(504) 529-2651

Established in 1793, the Archdiocese of New Orleans originally included all of the territory within the present state of Louisiana..


Diocese of Alexandria, including the modern civil parishes of central Louisiana.

4400 Coliseum Boulevard

P.O. Box 7417

Alexandria, LA 71306

Established in 1853.


Diocese of Lafayette, including the modern civil parishes of Lafayette, St. Martin, St. Landry, Iberia, Vermilion, Acadia, and Evangeline. Much of St. Mary.Parish falls within the Diocese of Lafayette.

Diocesan Office Building

1408 Carmel Ave./P. O. Box 3387

Lafayette, LA 70501

(318) 261-5639

Established in 1918, the Diocese of Lafayette formerly included the territory now encompassed by the Diocese of Lake Charles.


Diocese of Baton Rouge, including the modern civil parishes of Pointe Coupée, Ibeville, Assumption, St. James, Ascension, East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, St. Helena, Livingston, and Tangipahoa.

1800 South Acadian Thruway

P.O. Box 2028

Baton Rouge, LA 70821

Established in 1961.


Diocese of Lake Charles, including the modern civil parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, and Jefferson Davis.

Chancery Office

414 Iris St.

P.O. Box 3223

Lake Charles, LA 70602

(318) 439-7400

Established in 1980.


Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, including the parishes of Terrebonne, Lafourche, some of St. Mary, and Grand Isle. The diocesan archives are located on the Nicholls State University campus.

205 Audubon Avenue

Thibodaux, LA 70301

Established in 1977.


Cemetery Records


The information provided by ecclesiastical birth, marriage, and burial registers is sometimes supplemented by information found in tombstone inscriptions. WPA workers compiled some cemetery listings in the 1930s, but most of the cemetery listings available in print were compiled by genealogists since the early 1970s. (Consult the bibliography for a listing of these published cemetery listings and other genealogical materials.)


Courthouse Records


To put flesh on the skeletal genealogy that the church records will permit you to construct, you will have to mine the records of the parish courthouses. The civil records are located in the Clerk of Court offices. These materials include naturalization records, procurations, mortgates, sheriff sales, marriage licenses, conveyance records, probates, wills, succession inventories, and assorted other legal instruments containing bits of biographical data about your ancestors. Naturalization records, of course, provide full documentation regarding the acquisition of citizenship by immigrants. These records exist only for the period of American rule, and hence they are of interest only to genealogists seeking information regarding nineteenth and early twentieth-century immigrants who married into Acadian/Cajun families. Procurations are civil instruments investing the power of attorney in another party. These records are of interest to Acadian/Cajun genealogists working in the nineteenth century, for it was common for adult residents of southwestern Louisiana to empower close friends and relatives to transact business for them in New Orleans. Mortgage records provide considerable information regarding the business dealings of specific ancestors.


Genealogy in Cyberspace


The most powerful genealogical programs for personal computers can now accommodate more than 1,000,000 individuals in their databases - more than enough to satisfy the demands of even the most persistent and industrious genealogical researchers. Genealogical researchers, however, should exercise great caution when using these resources. Many such databases lack documentation, and the research that produced the genealogies is highly suspect. Be sure that the genealogy file(s) that you are using was created by reputable, trained genealogists.


Appendix A: Acadian Surnames

Appendix B: Acadian Families Known to Have Immigrated into Colonial Louisiana

Appendix C: Some Common Creole Surnames

Appendix D: Surnames of Some Saint-Domingue Refugee Families

Appendix E: Surnames of Some Bonapartist Refugees

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