The Atlantic

How One Woman Brought the 'Mother's Curse' to Canada

Old French Canadian genealogy records reveal how a harmful mutation can hide from natural selection in a mother's DNA.
Source: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale / Library and Archives Canada

The first King’s Daughters—or filles du roi—arrived in New France in 1663, and 800 more would follow over the next decade. Given their numbers, they were not literally the king’s daughters of course.

They were poor and usually of common birth, but their passage and dowry were indeed paid by King Louis XIV for the purpose of empire building: These women were to marry male colonists and have many children, thus strengthening France’s hold on North America.

And so they did. The became the founding mothers of French Canadians, for whom these women are a source of historical pride. A. So is a roller-derby team. French Canadians can usually trace their ancestry back to one or more of these women. “French Canadian genealogy is so well documented, it’s just a piece of cake to trace any line you have,” says Susan Colby, a retired archaeologist who comes from a French Canadian family and has done some of that tracing herself.

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