The story of Esther Brandeau known to many as the first person of Jewish origin to set foot in New France exemplifies the situation that many possible Jewish emigrants faced when they arrived in this northern land today known as Quebec Esther Brandeau was the daughter of David Brandeau of Bayonne France Esther disguised as a boy Jacques La Fargue arrived in Quebec on the ship “The St Michel” in 1738 Esther remained true to her Jewish faith and was eventually returned to France in 1739 But she did remain for about one year and numerous attempts to convert and welcome her into FrenchCanadian Society were made
The question that remains is were there others? How many others did come and eventually convert to Catholicism? The presence of Sephardic families throughout Latin America is well documented and recorded Next to no official documentation on the presence of Jews in New France exists New research from a variety of angles is hoping to dispel the myth that Jews did not come; exploring the possibility that they came in substantial numbers to this new land far away from the persecution that existed for them in Europe
The existence of Jews in France dates back to Roman times After the Roman conquest of Jerusalem thousands of Jewish captives arrived at Bordeaux Arles and Lyons Through the middle ages their fate was often tied to the ruler at the time and many Jews were forced to move from region to region based on the politics of the day Unlike Spain this was not a golden age for Jews living in France Nevertheless they existed and thrived until 1305 when Phillip IV the Fair expelled 100000 Jews from France They were allowed to return in 1315 under Louis X Large numbers of “Marranos” came to southwestern France in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries They settled many cities; Bayonne Peyrehorade Bidache Bordeaux and La Rochelle in the southwest They also settled in Rouen Their numbers were large but eventually dwindled Where did they go? Many used France as a way stop to other more established Jewish centers like Amsterdam But many others also assimilated into French society; and some believe made their way to New France
So how can researchers determine whether there were Jewish people of France that made their way to New France? Approaching this difficult task has been a raison d’áªtre for Deborah Jensen head of the Canadian Anusim DNA project at Family Tree DNA Jensen hopes to combine genealogical and historical research along with YDNA and mtDNA results of French Canadians to demonstrate the presence of Jewish ancestry in New France one day giving them their rightful recognition among the first settlers
The research has yielded some surprises including a possible Ashkenazi heritage among some of the first settlers Take my family for example My first ancestor Jean Ducas came to New France from the deep southwest of France so far south his listed origin was only a few miles from the Spanish border The surname Ducas is quite rare but mainly considered of Ashkenazi origin a name carried by some Jewish families originating from the Rhine region of France The DNA testing confirmed a middle eastern heritage for my paternal line haplogroup J2 which is the most common haplogroup assigned to Jewish people overall 23% among Ashkenazi and 28% among Sephardim But further research into the surname showed it was most likely linked with these families of Alsace Many of the Jewish families of Alsace were merchants and had been living and trading all along the routes of St Jacques Compostelle (The way of St James) The name Ducas appears in records in Nimes Toulouse Auch Pau Tarbes St Jean de Luz and Tudela those in Nimes and Toulouse found in the 1808 census of Jews These families were also identified by Juan Carrasco Perez Professor at the Public University of Navarra as likely of French origin even though many were living in Navarra Spain
The DNA testing also showed a series of DNA results indicating middle eastern origins among other families from more northern areas of France like the historical province of Perche Many of the surnames bare a striking resemblance to common Ashkenazi surnames of today There is also the case of the Gautron dit La Rochelle family test which came out as a 100% match to the “Levite Modal Haplotype” in haplogroup R1a Seeing as the LMH shows its origins in Eastern Europe why was this ancestor carrying the same DNA markers in La Rochelle France? R1a is relatively rare in Western France Many of the J2 results show a close or exact match to other wellknown DNA markers like the “Cohen Modal Haplotype”
There are also some common Sephardic surnames found in French Canada like Rodrigues Dassylva Miranda Cardinal among many others DNA test results for one Rodrigues participant also indicated a Middle Eastern origin haplogroup E3b Overall French Canadians show about 14% Y DNA in haplogroups J E3b and G DNA groups associated with the Mediterranean and Middle East These numbers can be seen as quite average for a country like France which is also a Mediterranean country but given that many of the settlers of New France came from northern France they could be considered significantly higher than average
In 1808 France issued the “Decree of Bayonne” which forced Jews to take and keep a single surname This decree lead to many census lists of Jews from all over France and gave Deborah Jensen and her team an excellent window into which names were taken and which bore a resemblance to names found in French Canadian society The task in the months ahead will be to find participants with surnames found on these lists to submit for a DNA test Should the results show an affinity with Middle Eastern groups then the hard work of proving a Jewish background can begin
The settlement of Sephardim in France along with their seemingly quiet dispersal coincides timewise to the settlement of New France Furthermore many of the settlers of New France came from cities like Rouen La Rochelle Bordeaux and Bayonne cities with known Sephardic settlement and subsequent dispersal The project has its hurdles Names were often changed to assimilate with French society and records on the movement of Sephardim in France are sparse Many people don’t see the settlement of Quebec as having a significant founding Jewish population; maybe it is not a very popular theory in some circles Deborah hopes to eventually show conclusively combining this historical and genealogical data with DNA that many of French Canada’s first settlers shared a Jewish ancestry one that was suppressed in a region essentially run by the Catholic Church
Through my DNA affiliations have I discovered an ancestral history hidden from me and others for hundreds of years. This realization is overwhelming.
I was born and raised Catholic. History has since been altered.
This information is helpful in understanding the activity of Jews and French during this era. I don’t like to jump to conclusions but I see some helpful facts in my searchings.
I’ve always wondered whether the Joao Rodrgues and Susanna de la Cruz were escaping he Portuguese Inquisition. It didn’t make sense for someone from Lisbon to go to Quebec. Very interesting!
It’s likely they were. Lisbon had a jewish ghetto and many fled to avoid persecution. Pedro DaSylva is an ancestor of mine (from Lisbon to Quebec as well) was born in a Lisbon ghetto and came to New France. I also have seen Rodrigue listed as a common name for crypto-jews. The timing of his departure from Portugal also supports the idea of escape.
I’ve been doing so much research around this after discovering hebrew names (Abraham, Moise, Rachel, Levi, Jakob, etc.) and subsequently sephardic jewish DNA through my “French catholic” Canadian family tree. Interestingly as well, many of these families seemed to intermarry AND many were listed as converts form calvinism (which I’ve read was a faith that some expelled jews converted to in order to avoid catholic mass and subsequently, suspicion. Additionally, many were from professions (lawyers, doctors) in France. This heightens my suspicions as jews were not allowed to own land and tended to enter professions as a result. I am convinced that I have many ancestors who were in fact crypto-jews and that they were forced to hide their faith to save themselves and their families. I would love to shine a light on their true history and unearth what was buried. Anyone with any further information to add, please message me!
There is an interesting transition as well… 1755 is an important date to most Acadians- many whom where Crypto-Jews and would not submit to an English monarch. I am curious whether there is any documentation of those fleeing Acadian that ended up in New Iberia, Lake Charles, and New Orleans.
One of my siblings recently got results from an ancestry dna test that came back 23% European Jewish. We had no idea. My research led me to my surname Durand, which is French but also of Jewish origin. I wonder if somewhere along the way the Jewish part was forgotten and time erased it until now.
There is definatey a connection to the Hugeunots as well. Jacques Cartier is suspected of being Hugoenot also he is from St. Malo home to other promenant Huguenots and suspect Sephardic Jews. He is know to have spent his last years translating Portugeusse. Acadiens settled in St. Malo after 1755 before going elsewhere Columbus is suspected Hugeunot and Spanish with dubius orgins. I think it is very clear that this a goup of people that for generations have been on the run searching for their Eden.