by Dave Toupin
with the assistance of Jane Cote, Michelle Kolbe, and Susan Scheffer
During the early 1990s, before the World Wide Web, the Prodigy personal service offered a variety of bulletin boards, one of the few services doing so through the Internet at the time, including a board for those interested in French Canadian genealogy. On that board, during 1992 and 1993, a discussion started among members that led to the founding of our association. As we learned about the filles du roi (King’s Daughters) who came to undeveloped and dangerous 17th century New France starting in 1663, founding members Yvonne Weber, Jane Cote (both in California), Keith Lambert (Virginia) and I (New York) discussed the need for a family heritage society that would honor French Canadian family history and especially these courageous young women.
As Jane recently recalled, we were “four complete strangers, from four different parts of the country,” and “we were all researching our French Canadian ancestors;” it was “tedious and time consuming, most was done by snail mail, assuming you even knew where or who to contact for any information about your ancestors.” Jane noted the excitement and ease of being able to access family history information online for the first time, and how “we shared a common ground, we had an early [French Canadian] ancestor who was referred to as a King's Daughter [...] these amazing pioneering women.”
We decided we wanted to honor our family histories in the same way that the Mayflower Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution did for those of English descent. We realized that in the USA there was little knowledge of the history of these courageous women, and that little attention was being paid to the female ancestors in most family histories despite their critical importance to the foundation of the Canadian colony. So we chose to honor the filles du roi and to found a society for that purpose that would follow and promote proper genealogical research procedures.
Some participants on the board also noted the important role that the Carignan-Salières regiment played in protecting the colony from raids in the early 1660s by men of the Iroquois nations. Many of these soldiers settled in New France in 1668 and married filles du roi after the regiment’s work was completed. Thus we agreed to establish a society with the mission of honoring both the filles du roi and the Carignan soldiers and their descendants. Potential members were asked to submit their lineage with supporting documentation. Those with proof of lineage were issued a certificate suitable for framing. This was a way to promote a sense of pride in French Canadian heritage while also advocating for education about both the history of these ancestors and good genealogical practices.
Jane recalls: “It was quite an undertaking given the fact that this was entirely new territory for all of us, strangers from different parts of the country, how to begin...” We set about collecting information about these ancestors and how to review and approve lineages. Several individuals assisted us, including Bill Holman who generously provided us copies of many published articles on these subjects. Several important contemporary publications were invaluable to this work, including René Jetté’s Dictionnaire généalogiques des familles du Québec (1983), Yves Landry’s Les Filles du roi au xvii’ème siècle (1992) and Jack Verney’s The Good Regiment (1991).
It took many months to organize, given we lived far apart, but we finally took concrete steps in 1994. We selected a name and I incorporated the group as a not-for-profit in New York in 1994. We decided to publish a newsletter (now a journal) to members called Sent By the King, reflecting the voyages of the filles du roi (starting in 1663) and the Carignan soldiers (in 1665) to Quebec as initiatives of King Louis XIV, and to hold all of our meetings online, given the (then) new ability to communicate by email and the dispersion of our new members throughout the USA (and eventually Canada and beyond). Jane recalls, “Somehow it all came together and we finally established a society that would honor our great-grandmothers as they deserved to be.”
The excitement produced by this initiative among French Canadian family history enthusiasts was palpable. Our first Secretary Michelle Kolbe (Arizona) recalls how her sister, co-president Yvonne Weber, was at lunch with her mother and her five sisters, telling them about this society she was helping to create to celebrate their female ancestors called the “King’s Daughters” and what it was about. Yvonne told her, “All of a sudden, $20 dollar bills were being passed down the table to me and they were all saying, ‘I want to be a member!’ They were so excited and so was I.”
Susan Scheffer, one of our first members, recalls that in June 1994 she attended a session on “King’s Daughters and Casket Girls” at the National Genealogical Society’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas. She had researched her Cajun ancestors in Louisiana and had discovered a French Canadian in the mix. She told me recently that she had thought at the time, “Wouldn’t it be fun to find out if that single French Canadian could lead me to discover a King’s Daughter or casket girl on my family tree? And sure enough, he did!!” Susan noted that the information she received at that NGS session about where to look for her connections led her to our Société and she easily found her ancestors who qualified her for membership in our association.
Our first annual meeting was held by email in November 1994. Yvonne and Jane were co-presidents, and Keith was vice-president. I served as treasurer, reviewed applications, and opened a PO Box in New York. Michelle was secretary. The “Premier Issue” of the newsletter was published in December 1994 without a cover. The group’s mission, conceived by Yvonne, was printed at the top of the first page (as it still is on the cover of the journal). Keith was the editor of the newsletter. The newsletter carried brief descriptions of the filles du roi and Carignan soldiers; a book review of Verney’s tome on the regiment; information about books on the King’s Daughters; an article about fille du roi Marie-Madeine Raclos; an appeal from the editor for help (a continuing need today!); a request for queries; and a list of our first members with town and state of origin.
Current members who were on the original membership list are: Sunny Branch, Bette Locke, Susan Scheffer, Daniel Stevens, and our current and long-time treasurer/genealogy chairperson Bev Sherman, in addition to founding members Jane Cote, Michelle Kolbe and me. In 1995 Yvonne Weber became president, Jane 1st vice-president, and Bev 2nd vice-president and editor of the newsletter. Bev made significant improvements to the newsletter’s style and format.
By 1998 Dottie Hanussak became our secretary, Cathy Cadd handled applications, LeRoy Valyou helped with publicity and Yvonne was editing the newsletter with the assistance of Beth Demeo and later Mary Michaud. In the fall of 1999, Yvonne created our first website. In 2000 Yvonne added glossy color covers to the newsletter. In 2001 Elaine Smith began reviewing applications. Newsletter duties were shared by Jerry Breton, Gary Brodeur and George Sopp. Volume VII of the newsletter featured the first article by our later (2010) historian Peter Gagné. In 2002 Bev became our treasurer, and the address of our organization, including the newsletter, PO Box and banking shifted to Virginia.
Sadly Yvonne Weber passed away; I then became president. By 2004 Antoine Dozois was our newsletter editor, Harry Lazarus our secretary, and Elaine Smith the vice-president and genealogy chairperson. In 2005 Dorothy Hauschild and Harriet Kankash became the editors of Sent By the King, with Dorothy switching to secretary. Bernice Heiter handled distribution of the newsletter in 2007. In 2008 Rick Hudon, our current secretary, took on that job as well as that of webmaster, and he revived and updated our website. Also, Bill Kane became vice-president and worked on distribution of the newsletter, as he has done since then. In 2009 Bill convinced us to raise the level of professionalism of our publication and call it a journal (Volume XII), and Richard Rossi became Genealogy chairperson.
In 2012 Jeannine Sills, who had been preparing certificates, became our president. Bev Sherman began handling the review of applications as genealogy chairperson, and our journal committee expanded to include Bill Kane, Jim Carr and Harriet Kankash, adding Susan McNelley by Volume XVII. Sadly Jeannine passed away in December 2014. I then resumed the presidency. In 2017 Michele Nadeau Hartmann joined the journal committee and Susan McNelley became our webmaster and spearheaded a revitalization of our website, now a secure site: https://www.fillesduroi.org.
We invite anyone with memories of their first contact with our association or its early days to send us your information. We are especially interested in copies of any postings from the Prodigy bulletin board from those early days, as they are not available online.