Vachon french

Keywords: vachon, france, genealogy
Description: Description of Vachon family in France and Canada. This is a mirror copy of Pierre Vachon's work which was on the web in 1999-2000 but is no longer available.

If you are the kind of person who, when visiting a city for the first time, immediately consults the phone book to see if there are other Vachon or Pomerleau individuals living there, you may have wondered if we are all descended from the same people, how your surname ever came about and been curious about where all this first originated. If your family name is Pomerleau, you may have also wondered how it is related to the Vachon family name.

According to several French authors (See bibliography), the use of family names became generalised in France around the first millennium and many suggest that the family name of Vachon and similar spellings (such as Vacher, Vacheron, Vacheresse, Vachin, Vachen or Vacion) all appear to be related and of the same origin, namely that of Vacher, being the name given in French to someone who traditionally looks after cattle (e.g. this is the definition of that word in the 'Petit Robert' Dictionary). For example, the term Vacheron would be the diminutive of Vacher and used to designate a young person doing this same work. Most authors suggest that Vachon is a simply a contraction of Vacheron.

In New France, the tradition was for the oldest boy to keep the name of the father, in this case - "Vachon", while other males adopted a different combination. For example, in Paul Vachon's family, one boy chose Vachon dit Laminée, while another chose Vachon dit Desfourchettes, and finally one chose Vachon dit Pomerleau. Of these combinations, one lineage completely died out: this is Vachon dit Desfourchettes. In the other cases, some descendants discarded Vachon and others the Laminée or Pomerleau. In the early 1800's, to avoid confusion, the provincial government of the day passed legislation forbidding combination names and, today, only the Vachon and Pomerleau names remain in use and thus, one might say: all Pomerleau's are really Vachon's in disguise.

Some other spellings of the Vachon family name appear to be variations of the basic root, as for example, Vashon Island off Seattle in Washington State is based on Captain James Vashon for whom it was named when Admiral Vancouver prepared the cartography of the Pacific coast of America (See references concerning Peter Puget, by Robert C. Wing). The "sh" in this English spelling simply replaces the "ch" of the French. According to this source, Captain Vashon's ancestors were Huguenots (i.e. Calvinist Protestants) who emigrated to the Midlands in England when the Edict of Nantes giving protection and recognition to the Protestants was revoked about 1670. Other Huguenot Vachon families emigrated to Ireland about the same time and two of them later became mayors of Waterford.

In North-America, persons with the family surname of "Vachon" are generally not related to individuals named Vacher, Vashon, Vacheresse or Vacheron. Family ties to these names, if any, could perhaps go back to the European origins of the name itself or to the 1600's in the case of Vashon Huguenots.

In 1993, a computer programmed to show the current distribution of family names in France that was situated at the entrance of the Georges Pompidoux National Archives in Paris and it showed that, in the last census in France (1991), the Vachon spelling was first to be found most often in Marseilles and areas to the south-east, secondly in Lyon, thirdly in Paris and lastly in areas to the north and west of Paris where, incidentally, our own ancestor originated from. A small explanatory note, printed on the screen added that, over the centuries, the geographical concentration of family names in France had varied very little from the earliest origins and that the current concentration was a good indicator of where the name first emerged. This information corresponds largely with the suggestion of some private-for-profit genealogical sources that the Vachon family surname originated in the south-east of France, in the old province of Dauphiné that corresponds today to the combined departments of Isère, Drÿme and Hautes-Alpes.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Vachon family name - or some variant of it, has been reported in England, Switzerland, and northern Italy. Also, the Mormon church records include some Vachon, Vashon, Vacher, Vacione listings in these same locations.

In North-America, the greatest concentration of Vachon surnames appears to be in the province of Québec where the name first originated and more specifically in the geographical proximity of Beauport, Charlesbourg and Québec City. Elsewhere in Québec, important concentrations can be also found in several locations; for example in Beauce county and the eastern townships, in Montréal and its urban satellites, as well as Abilibi county. Outside Québec, Ottawa and the surrounding counties to the south in eastern Ontario also have sizeable concentrations.

The number of persons with Vachon and Pomerleau family surnames is growing rapidly in the United States, most do not speak French, and their numbers may soon surpass the those of Canada.

The Paul Vachon enigma is this: Paul crossed the Atlantic ocean, probably between 1640 and 1650, and was first listed in the early records as a stone mason and within five years was a very successful farmer, a not unusual career pattern in those times. Ten years later, however, Paul Vachon was also a recognised notary and a financial administrator, professions that required an ability to read, write and count. This is unsual for those times and it suggests someone who was somewhat familiar with trade practices and who, perhaps, came from the rising bourgeoisie in Europe at the time. The fact that there were some practising royal notaries with the Vachon surname residing in Roche-sur-Yon, when Paul Vachon was born, suggests that he had relatives who may have given him instruction and whom he could use as role models when he came to New France.

Some claim that there had to be some other connections to nobility and wealth. But, we know very little about Paul Vachon's parents - Vincent Vachon & Sapience Rabeau - who came from la Copechagnière in the Vendée. This is little village was reportedly named for the woodsmen who cut oak trees in the nearby Grala Forest in Medieval times, meaning literally, "coupe-chêne" or oak cutters. However, religious wars in the sixteenth century. and later, the wholesale devastation of churches during the Revolution, have ensured the destruction of most records that would be helpful to us today and one of the problems we face in the Vachon family genealogy is to establish a link between Paul's parents and other Vachon families in France.

Paul Vachon married Marguerite Langlois, a daughter of a navigator who had accompagnied the famed explorer Samuel de Champlain to New France. Together they raised and educated twelve children - seven girls & five boys, among whom was one of the first priests to be ordained in New France, who built the first church at the Cap-de-la-Madeleine pilgrimage centre near Trois-Rivières, Québec, still standing today.

According to the genealogy done for Monseigneur Alexandre Vachon, around 1950, there were (perhaps still are) two main branches of the Vachon family in Dauphiné - in the south-east of France - that were accorded a title of nobility by the King of France in the 1300's. One branch was called Vachon, seigneurs de Belmont (this is the lineage of Francois de Belmont et de la Roche), and Vachon, seigneurs de Belgrade. In that same genealogy, the author (the noted Québec genealogist Drouin) claimed that our ancestor Paul Vachon was related to the Vachon de Belmont et de la Roche lineage and, in this connection, indicated that one of these was one François Vachon who had been President of the Parliament of Grenoble. However, Drouin never indicated how he came to that conslusion.

Was Paul Vachon really a descendant of one of this branch? More research needs to be done to develop and prove that this is the case. In any event, with the current state of historical knowledge, it would be pretentious to use the coat of arms of any of the Vachon nobles in France. The Association of Descendants of Paul Vachon has had a coat of arms created and it would be prefereable, and more honest, to use it with their permission.

As pointed out earlier, Paul Vachon came to New France, about 1650, from the small town of Copechagnière in the Vendée region of the old province of Poitou in France. The small community, made up of 500 persons or so, still exists but is so small that it had no hotel or restaurant when visited in 1993. And, while there was no one by the name of Vachon living there at that time, quite a number of Vachon families could be found in the surrounding communities: i.e. Chavagne-en-Paillier; Mouchamps; Saint-Georges-de-Montaigu, all of which are within fifty kilometers of La Copechagnière.

At the Copechagnière mairie (city hall) one can consult two reproductions of parchments listing baptisms that are dated 1631-2 & 1637-8 and these show that Paul Vachon's parents - Vincent Vachon & Sapience Rabeau (& not Vateau as is sometimes written) - also had two other children: Jehanne & Marie. In addition, four lines down from the top of one of these parchments, can be noted an entry for the baptism of a daughter of Denis Boielleau and Catherine Vachon. Although, we have no other reason to think so, one might, surmise that this Catherine Vachon was related to Paul Vachon, both being from the same small town.

One street in la Copechagnière is today named Vachon in honour of Paul Vachon and this was done at the request of Monseigneur Alexandre Vachon, bishop of the Ottawa diocese who visited France in the early 1950's. In 1993, a small stone monument was erected near the sports complex, also in honour of Paul Vachon.

For those who are curious about these things, the secretary of the Mairie of Saint-Georges-de-Montaigue, a community situated not far from la Copechagnières, was a person named Denis Vachon. Also, the Mayor of the small rural commune of Mouchamps, also not far from Copechagnière, was a Vachon. Chavagnes-en-Paillier, about six miles from Copechaniere has accommodation for visitors and has some Vachon listings in records held at the mairie that date back to the early seventeenth century. Roche-sur-Yon, which is the principal city of the department where la Copechagnière is located, has a number of resident Vachon families. Finally, the departmental Archives located there also hold records of two Vachon notaries of the early 1600's, who practised in that town and records of their notarial writings are available for perusal.

Besides Paul Vachon, two other persons with the same family surname are reported to have come to New France: the first is one named Pierre Vachon who preceded Paul's arrival by a few years and who, according to the annals of the Jesuit fathers, died by drowning while accompanying a priest crossing the Saint Lawrence River in a canoe around Québec city. This Pierre Vachon was a young man of about twenty and was not married and thus had no descendants that we know of. He is reported to have originated from a small town in Normandy.

The second is Mr. François Vachon de Belmont, an accomplished musician and professional architect who headed the Sulpiciens congregation as a secular priest (also the Grand Séminaire in Montréal) in the late sixteen hundreds and early seventeen hundreds. This extraordinary man left his mark on the city with the creation of structures and gardens surrounding the property the congregation. The architectural drawings he prepared still exist. As a clergyman, it is assumed that he had no descendants.

Some commercial genealogy establishments in the USA refer to another Vachon who would have come to America in the early days. This may have been Pierre Charles de François de Vachon, born at Puy-en-Velay in the Loire Valley on the first of January, 1743, who joined the Auvergne regiment as a volunteer in 1757, and took part in the siege of Yorktown and was decorated for bravery. However, it is known that this man was living in France as a pensioner at the time of the Restoration and it is highly unlikely that he would have raised a family in the United States.

It would appear, therefore, that we must look principally to Paul Vachon and Marguerite Langlois to explain the large number of people with the Vachon surname who make up our large extended family in North America today.

At the end of this text, there are some biographies of notable Vachons throughout the ages. There are a number under preparation that will soon be added including a music composer for the violin, an admiral the the British navy, a French aviator from the First World War, one of the first catholic priests in New France, and others. If you have suggestions, please contact me with details.

Over the years, many of Paul & Marguerite's descendants emigrated south, perhaps in search of adventure, a new job or even possibily a kinder climate. Although most persons with the family surname Vachon can be found living in Québec and the New England States, persons with the same name can be also found in many other places in the United States, including California and even Hawaii.

Fortunately for us living in in North America, the main trunk of the Vachon family tree is well established, thanks to the Catholic church in Québec that maintained, over the three intervening centuries, exceptionally good records of marriages, baptisms and burials in the province. These records have been re-recorded by the Québec government and can today be consulted in many central libraries in that province, for example, in Montréal, Québec, and Hull, besides having been published in a number of reference books.

The main task of Vachon descendants in North America is, as a consequence, to establish a linkage of their branch of the extended family to that main family tree trunk in Québec, which is itself extremely well documented. Once that is done, they will then have established - and documented - their family tree back to 1650. The Association of Paul Vachon Descendants is in a good position to assist with the identification of Québec based information (See the reference section for their address).

All of the following sources are mainly in the French language but efforts to make information available in English for English-speaking descendants - including this text as an example - are currently being made. There are some good commercially available English language manuals focussed on how and where to search for your ancestors in French-Canada. Other suggestions will be considered.

For information on the origins of French surnames see Dauzat, Albert. "Dictionaire Ðtymologique des noms de familles", Librairie Larousse. 1951; Also, Dauzat, Albert. "Les noms de familles en France", Guenégaud, Paris 1949; and, finally, Cellard, Jacques. "Trésors de noms de familles", Bélin 1983.

For general information on how to research ancestors in Quebec see: Langlois, Michel. "Cherchons nos ancêtres", Québec Science, P.O. Box 250, Sillery (Québec) GIT 2RI

For general information on Vachon family history in Quebec see: Lebel, Gérard. "Nos ancêtres", Les Presses de Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré 1988; Also, Langlois, Michel."Nos ancêtres Beauportois", Published by: la Société du patrimoine des Beaucerons, 139, rue Sainte-Catherine, Ville Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, Beauce-Nord, (Québec) GOS 2VO

For information on Admiral Vashon and the Island of the same name off Puget Sound, WA, USA see Pages 15 & 31 of Peter Puget, by Robert C. Wing published by Gray Beard Publishing in Seattle WA.

For information on Pierre Vachon and the American Revolution see: Dictionaire des officiers de l'armée royale qui ont combattu pendant la guerre d'indépendence 1776-1783; Capitaine Gilbert Bodinier, Château de Vincennes, 1983.

Cercle Généalogique Vendéen, Citée de la Vigne-aux-Roses, Bat. H 307 bis - 85000 La Roche-sur-Yon, FRANCE

L'Association des descendants de Paul Vachon, Daniel Vachon - President; 58, des Castels, Lévis (Québec) G6V 2B7; Fax (418) 833-2262.

Source. This page is a copy of Pierre Vachon's original 1999 document editted for current W3C HTML5 and CSS3 standards. The original URL for this information was at: which no long exists.

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