The Irish in New France

Guest blogger and Ancestry Canada Advisory Board Member: Sharon Callaghan

Quebec has seen the arrival of many Irish migrants over the centuries. The most well-known of these events are those of the 1840s famines, however it was long before that when the Irish first set foot in Canada, making their way to the shores of New France – modern day Quebec – as early as the seventeenth century.

Various reasons accounted for Irish migration. Quite a few were soldiers in French armies; others were fleeing English rule at home or seeking religious freedom. Records available to researchers in what is now Quebec can hold information on anyone regardless of origin, including those created during the New France era. Due to differences in languages, accents, or literary skills, many Irish ancestors’ names were adapted in some way by recording agents, such as clergy, census takers, etc. In New France, Irish birth names were unfamiliar to religious and civil authorities. For records purposes, they often substituted a similar-sounding French name or made use of the word Irlande (Ireland) as a dit (aka) name or as the actual last name of an individual.

The Tanguay Dictionary

Result for Tec Cornelius Aubrenan – Vol. 1, Sect. 1: A-Hel; Page: 15 Ancestry – Quebec, Genealogical Dictionary of Canadian Families (Tanguay Collection). 1608-1890

One of the main resources for researching ancestors in New France is the Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes de Cyprien Tanguay. This dictionary, commonly referred to as Tanguay, is regularly mentioned as a source for those researching French ancestors. However, like other Quebec records, Tanguay does not only list those of French origin. It includes others, like the Irish.

Consider this example of Tec Cornelius Aubrenan listed in Tanguay with the year 1670, when he married Jeanne Chartier. It clearly shows him as born in Ireland to Connor O’Brennan and Honora Jeannehour and lists his children’s names as well. This migrant was, in fact, Teague Cornelius O’Brennan from Kilkenny. The (1) after his name refers to a note at the bottom of the page showing family name variation. A common one for him was Aubry but watch for first name variations, too. In his case, Thecle is often used.

Searching Dictionary

Tanguay can be found on the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Quèbec (BAnQ) website as part of their digital collections and can be browsed for free. It can also be searched by ancestor’s name on Ancestry’s Genealogical Dictionary of Canadian Families (Tanguay Collection). Hint – Remember to make use of the ‘Sounds like’, ‘Similar’ or ‘Soundex’ options.

Early Irish Immigration

The presence of Irish migrants is normally evident in records from New France. They were well-documented like the rest of the population, whether it be in baptisms, marriages, burials, censuses, legal documents, etc. The first record of the early Irish arrivals, or others, was often their marriage. Other records also exist, reflecting their ancestors’ lives and mentioning their Irish origin.

Sample Irish Migrant Cases

Jean-Baptiste Riel – He is shown in Tanguay in 1670, the year he married Louise Cottu. His Irish origin in Limerick and parents Jean-Baptiste and Louise Lafontaine are also included, as well as details on his children. His name variant in Tanguay is Réel, but Rél or Lirlande has been shown in records. This migrant was in fact Jack Reilly. He is the recognized direct ancestor of Louis Riel of Manitoba, Canada.

Entry for Medard Riel, 1838 Marriage Contract-Notary Repertoire Jean-Olivier Leblanc, Joliette, Quebec. Ancestry – Quebec, Canada, Notarial Records, 1626-1935 Collection.

Irish origin can be found in many record groups, for instance those of Quebec notaries. One result, for a descendant of Jean-Baptiste, is indexed in a notary’s 1838 repertoire. Even generations later, the dit Lirlande inserted after his name in his marriage contract attests to the family’s Irish origin.


Origin File for Jean Houssye/Hussy/Bellerose. FichierOrigine – Directory of acts of French and foreign emigrants established in Quebec from the beginning to 1865.

Jean Houssye dit Bellerose – He is listed in Tanguay with the year 1671, the year he was married in New France to Marguerite Du Provinlieu. The entry clearly shows his birth in Dublin, Ireland to Mathieu and Elizabeth Ougan (Hogan-remember ‘sounds like’). This migrant was Jack Hussey – name variations can appear with or without the ‘dit’ name or Ousy. This migrant arrived in New France as a soldier with France’s Carignan-Salières Regiment. There is also a record for him on the website of Fichier Origine. This database, which includes files on migrants to New France and later, can be searched for free at



Note that individuals are only included on the database once verified as a migrant based on specific criteria listed on the website. Hints – Use Google Translate or another translation tool to convert French pages to English and try name variations.

Jean Lahaie – His entry in Tanguay appears with the year 1697, the year he married Marie-Madeleine Schouarden in New France. It refers to his birth in Ireland to Thomas and Catherine Willow. This migrant is John Leahey – the Tanguay note indicates some name variants of Lehays, Lahey and De La Haye. Even at his death in 1738, his origin was reflected with Irlandais (Irish) written after his Lahaye name in the parish burial entry.

Interestingly Lahaie’s wife was also a migrant. In Tanguay and their marriage, it is shown that she was born in Salem, N.A. (Nouvelle-Angleterre – New England). Tanguay’s note for her name shows variations of Souart and Swarten. However, according to her Fichier Origine file, she was Mary Swarton, who’d arrived in 1690 as a captive from Beverly, Massachusetts.


Entry for Jean Lahaye, 1738 Burial Record-St-Joachim in Pointe-Claire, Quebec
Ancestry – Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968.

Thimothée Sullivan – In Tanguay he appears in the year 1720 when he married Marie-Renée Gauthier. The entry indicates his Irish origin, born to Daniel and Elizabeth Macarthy in Cork, and his children. He was Timothy Sullivan, the Sylvain name in the Tanguay note is by far the most common variation. His life, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, seems to have been at times questionable.

Note that his Gauthier bride was the Widow Dufros de la Jemmerais, who already had several children. One of them was Marguerite d’Youville, the foundress of the congregation Soeurs de la Charité (Sister of Charity), more commonly known as the Soeurs Grises (Grey Nuns).


Consider All Records

Result for Timothée Sylvain – Catalogue of Catholic Immigrants from the British Isles before 1825. Ancestry – U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s

Lesser-known record sources also exist, sometimes hidden within known collections. A good example is Ancestry’s U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Searches of all the above migrants produced results with the source information indicating the New France era. One example is Timothee Sylvain’s arrival in New France, according to the source bibliography Catalogue des Immigrants Catholiques des Iles Britanniques avant 1825 (Catalogue of Catholic Immigrants from the British Isles before 1825). Other example bibliographies in this collection for the above migrants include such references as Premiers colons du debut de la colonie jusqu’en 1700, about the first colonists from the colony’s beginnings until 1700, and Les colons de Montreal de1642 a 1667, about Montreal’s colonists between 1642 and 1667.

The above cases are just a few of the Irish in New France. As evidenced by them, researching what are believed to be French ancestors might turn up a surprise. But, for any other ancestor traced back to early Quebec, check all the records regardless of what origin you know or suspect. Remember to try different types of name variations, anything from spelling differences to sound similarities. Emigrants of other origins, Swiss, for instance, can also be found in records from New France. Searching through them could lead to new discoveries about an ancestor.



Sharon Callaghan

Montreal born Sharon Callaghan is an Ancestry Canada Advisory Board Member. Her interests as a writer, genealogist, and lecturer (website benefit from an enthusiasm for history and research. After serving in the Canadian Forces, she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and minor in anthropology, going on to gain a newfound interest for writing. Her decades-long passion for family history led her to discover mostly Irish and French ancestors settling Quebec. Sharon is the author of a historic nonfiction Paths of Opportunity and articles in a writers’ association newsletter and publications of genealogy societies. She has given talks to university writing classes and presentations at genealogy workshops and conferences on Quebec record resources.

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