Whenever we research the family history of a celebrity for Who Do You Think You Are? there is always the concern that there may not be adequate records to build a full family tree. Fortunately, when the assignment came to research Tom Bergeron, known to be of French Canadian ancestry, we were confident that we would be able to build a good tree, at least on the Bergeron line. That’s because records in France and French Canada are remarkable and have been lovingly preserved.
Progress on the Bergeron research moved quickly. The parish registers of Québec give the names of each bride and groom’s parents, so family lineages are relatively easily assembled. We quickly traced Tom’s ancestry back to his first immigrants from France, including several of Les Filles du Roi (The Daughters of the King) who were recruited in Europe and immigrated to Canada between 1663 and 1673 to satisfy the need for European women to build a sustainable colony. One woman in particular stood out: Marguerite Ardion, a widow from La Rochelle, one of the main ports of embarkation for Nouvelle France (today’s Québec), made the difficult ocean crossing in 1663, then promptly remarried and raised a family in Québec. There are many records of Marguerite and her children in Québec, but we wondered if we would be able to find much about her in France.
We were able to locate her 1636 baptismal record online. Surprisingly, she had been baptized a Protestant, but all of Les Filles du Roi had to swear that they were loyal to the Catholic Church before they could emigrate! This was a surprising turn of events.
Protestant Baptism Marguerite Ardion 1636
La Rochelle had been a bastion of Protestantism and economic independence until the government in Paris decided that La Rochelle was too independent and laid siege to the city in 1627 and 1628. The population of 20,000 starved to only 5,000 by the end of Le Siege de La Rochelle. Fortunately, an eyewitness account of the siege was preserved and published in 1648. It includes the information that not a horse, sheep, goat, dog, cat, rat, or mouse was left and that people were eating boots, doublets, and even parchment. Marguerite Ardion had been born after the siege but was still baptized Protestant!
Her parents were Pierre Ardion and Suzanne Soret, per the baptism record, and a search in La Rochelle located a copy of their 1623 marriage contract, which survived the siege! They were from prosperous Protestant homes, and the contract runs two full pages.
1623 Marriage Contract Ardion/Soret
There must have been more to Marguerite’s story, and fortunately, a record that explained what had happened was preserved. On 1 January 1659, Marguerite Ardion renounced Protestantism and swore allegiance to the Catholic Church.
1 January 1659 Abjuration Marguerite Ardion
But if Protestantism had been so important to the family that they continued as Huguenots even after the catastrophic siege, why would Marguerite renounce her family’s faith? The answer was in another document: the 12 January 1659 marriage contract of Laurent Beaudet and Marguerite Ardion. She was marrying a Catholic! This contract shows the couple had very little in the way of worldly wealth. Laurent was a shoemaker (Pierre Ardion had been a master stonemason), and there was not much mentioned in the way of property; the contract was less than a full page. So the Ardion family was no longer so prosperous.
12 January 1659 Marriage Contract Beaudet/Ardion
Records for Marguerite were now found among the registers of the Catholic churches of La Rochelle, including the baptism record of Laurent and Marguerite’s son, Laurent, who was baptized at St-Nicolas-de-La-Rochelle in 1661. It was only two years later that Marguerite arrived in Nouvelle France and married Tom Bergeron’s ancestor, Jean Rabouin. We were not able to find a burial record for her first husband, Laurent Beaudet, the shoemaker, but she was definitely described as a widow when she arrived in Québec. Did her infant son survive to go with her? Fortunately another marriage contract held the answer.
1663 Marriage Contract Rabouin/Ardion
Neither Marguerite Ardion nor Jean Rabouin had much in the way of material wealth to bring to their household, but Marguerite was one of the few marriageable European women in Nouvelle France, and she wisely took the opportunity to negotiate a marriage that ensured her infant son’s future: Jean Rabouin promised to look after Laurent Baudet until the age of 15 years, providing him with food, shelter, clothing, etc. Laurent had not only survived to make the journey, he had survived the ocean journey and would live to raise a family of his own in Québec.
Marguerite Ardion bore Jean Rabouin eight children before dying around the age of 43. The last record that mentions her as living is the baptism of her daughter Marie-Angélique Rabouin, who was baptized on 28 September 1677 at Nôtre-Dame-de-Québec. Jean Rabouin was described as a widower when he remarried on 8 September 1678 at Saint-Famille-de-l’Île-d-Orléans to Marguerite Leclerc.
Even though almost four centuries have passed since the events of Marguerite Ardion’s life, knowledge of those events has survived because of the value the French place on recording and maintaining their history. Whether in Old France or New France, whether Catholic or Protestant, the French are a remarkable record-keeping people.
Learn more about Tom’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 9|8c on TLC.