French Canadian Presence in the Us Prior to 1900: the Use of Surnames to Overcome the Lack of Ethnic Variable in the Census

Danielle Gauvreau, Concordia University
Marie-Ève Harton, Université Saint-Boniface and Concordia University

Immigration to the US since the mid-nineteenth Century has contributed to the industrialization of this country as well as to its development west of the Appalachian and the Mississippi. One of these migratory flows originated from Canada, including from French Canada located for its most part in the Province of Quebec. This movement reached a peak around 1880 but lasted until the Great Depression of 1930. The study of this migratory movement in the US represents a challenge since no information is available in the census prior to 1900 to identify this specific population. As part of a recent project about Francophone populations in North America, work has been done to create a dictionary of French-Canadian surnames, including their alterations and English translations, which we can now apply to American census microdata since 1850 (IPUMS data). This project replicates, on a much larger scale and with a more systematic tool, the work done by a few authors to study French-Canadians in specific locations, for example R. Vicero on New England, Y. Frenette on Lewiston and M.E. Harton on Manchester. Our objectives in this paper are threefold: first, we explain the approach used to build the dictionary; second, we present the results of tests we ran with the 1910 census to validate the dictionary; and third, we provide results based on its application to the 1850 and 1880 census microdata. In addition to contributing to a better understanding of the migratory movement from both a Canadian and American perspectives, this work may be methodologically relevant to study other migratory flows that originated from other countries at about the same time.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 22. Overcoming Limitations in Big Data