Position statement of the Association des Charron et Ducharme inc.

 On the origin of our ancestor Catherine Pillard


Our association brings together the descendants of Pierre Charron and Catherine Pillard who were married in Montreal on October 19, 1665, and  subsequently gave birth to 12 children (4 sons and 8 girls), from which sprang an impressive number of descendants spread throughout North America.

Needless to say, we are very much interested in the origin and the lives of these pioneers. Since Pierre Charron was from Meaux, we conducted in-depth research in the archives of Seine-et-Marne where the city is located. This research added two centuries to the history of our family and led to the publication of a volume in 2009[1]. We also feel the same interest about everything that concerns Catherine Pillard.

While it was admitted up to now that Catherine was a King's Daughter from La Rochelle[2], new information has raised a doubt about that. With this text, we intend to provide an update on the issue and present the position that the association has adopted after three years of reflection and research.


Grounds for doubting her origin

The doubts about the origin of Catherine Pillard were raised in a series of three articles in Le Chaînon, a publication of the Société franco-ontarienne d’histoire et de généalogie, in the Fall of 2007 (vol . 25, no 3), the Winter of 2008 (vol. 26, no. 1) and the Spring of 2008 (vol. 26, no 2). These articles are available on their website at: http://dna.brasdorfirstnation.com/menu.html.

Based primarily on the findings of the mitochondrial DNA analysis of some of Catherine Pillard's matrilinear descendants, the authors of these thoroughly documented and referenced articles, Raymond Lussier, Thomas McMahon, Johan Robitaille and Suzette Leclair, concluded she was of Algonquian Siberian ancestry (see the outline on genetics in the next section). Bear in mind that they descended from three distinct daughters of Catherine Pillard, but mostly from her eldest daughter also named Catherine.

In support of their conclusion, the authors also mentioned that the written documents refering to Catherine Pillard often contained ambiguities about her family name which was written in different ways throughout her life (Plate, Pilliat, Platte, Pilate, Pillart, Laplat, etc.).

Another bit of information to add to this issue: an extract from the first register of the Notre-Dame de Montréal parish dated November 25, 1651, regarding the baptism of Ouenta, a five-month old baby, daughter of Du Plat and Annengthon, who was named Catherine. Born into the small community of Montreal, this girl could possibly have grown up about, and eventually marry Pierre Charron under a borrowed identity, that of Catherine Pillard.

What about genetics?

You may recall that the mitochondrial DNA, known as mtDNA, is transmitted from a mother to her children but only their daughters can retransmit it to their own children.  Their sons cannot retransmit mtDNA, hence it is passed down from daughter to daughter.

mtDNA contains markers known as haplogroups which vary from one population to another because they were subjected to change from the time our distant ancestors left Africa 100,000 years ago. For example, Amerindian haplogroups are different from those of Caucasians, Africans or any other group. Analysis of the haplogroups can determine when approximately, a group of people separated from another, and confirm with relative precision what human group a person belongs to (on her mother's side) and, as a corollary, the group her matrilinear ancestor belonged to. Thus, if it can be shown that the mtDNA of Catherine Pillard's matrilinear descendants is characteristic of Amerindians, it would be certain that Catherine would also be of the same origin.

What about genealogical data?

Of all the acts and documents concerning Catherine Pillard, only two refer to her origin. The first one has long been known: it is the act formalizing her marriage to Pierre Charron. It can be found in the very first register of the Notre-Dame parish in Montreal. Catherine Pillard is represented as « daughter of Pierre Pillard  and Marguerite Moulinet, from La Rochelle, Notre-Dame-de-Cogne parish ».

The second was brought to our attention recently by Mr. Guy St-Hilaire, MGA. This act relates to the second marriage of a widower Sébastien Brisson dit Laroche, hitherto second husband of Catherine Pillard, January 13, 1709 in Repentigny. This act was reprinted in the October 2010 issue of le Trait d'union (Vol. 18, No. 1).

The officiant stated in the act that the husband was « the widower of Catherine Charon, from the city of La Rochelle ». This is a detail of great importance because 57 years after her first marriage and five years after her death, it confirms that Catherine who is identified by the name of her first husband, was effectively from La Rochelle.

Actions taken by l'Association des Charron et Ducharme

Obviously, our association was prompted into action by doubts about the origin of Catherine Pillard as well as by contradictions between genetic and genealogical data. In our search for facts, we had only one purpose: to contribute where possible to the clarification of her origin. Whether the conclusion turns out to be that Catherine was French, Amerindian or of any other origin, we do not much care about because no one chooses his or her ancestors. However, it seemed to us, as it does now, that we needed to reconcile the information derived from genetics and that obtained through genealogy, without presuming a priori that one or the other was untrue. With that in mind, we undertook the following actions.

1) Inform our members.

             The questioning of Catherine Pillard's origin was the subject of a first article in our bulletin, le Trait d'union, as early as February 2008 (Vol. 15, No. 2) where the baptismal certificate dated November 25, 1651 mentioned above is reproduced. Other articles followed taking stock of developments in this matter: June 2008 (vol. 15, no. 3) February 2009 (vol. 16, no 2) June 2009 (vol.16, No. 3) ; October 2009 (Vol. 17, No. 1); October 2010 (vol. 18, No. 1).

2) Confirm the mtDNA analysis.

             At the outset, we felt it was necessary to confirm the initial analysis by conducting additional independent tests. We solicited the participation of matrilinear descendants of Catherine Pillard by publishing articles in le Trait d'union (February 2008), in Le Chaînon (Spring of 2008), and finally, in the Mémoires, bulletin de la Société généalogique canadienne-française (vol 59, no 1, Spring of 2008).

             By definition, we sought candidates descended from one of  Catherine Pillard's eight daughters, then from their daughters, and so on until today but few people know their matrilinear ancestry so that, although many responded to our call, only one of them met our requirements. The Association paid the cost of the mtDNA analysis for this member. The results were similar to those obtained by the original group of researchers. We concluded there was no need for further research.

3) Determine the origin of Catherine Pillard's mtDNA

             The characteristics of Catherine Pillard's mtDNA having been established by that of her descendants, the question remains about its significance and how it relates to a likely origin.

             To do this, we consulted Dr. Jacques Beaugrand, Ph. D., director of the Projet ADN d’Héritage Français. In his research, Mr. Beaugrand came to the conclusion that these characteristics indicate a Siberian origin. His unquestionable conclusion has been the subject of a long article in le Trait d'union in June 2009 (vol. 16, no 3). M. Beaugrand ended the article with these words: «Unknowingly, Catherine Pillard carried in her mtDNA a signature which appeared 50,000 years ago, between the Black Sea and the Aral Sea ». The argument submitted by Mr. Beaugrand is convincing, but complex, and we invite readers to refer directly to this blog for more information: http://ggdna.blogspot.com/.

4) Genealogical sources come into question all over again

             In our follow-up of this matter, we have been fortunate to learn that Ms. Gail Moreau-Desharnais, a reputable genealogist, was in the process of establishing an exhaustive chronology of all acts, contracts and other documents involving Catherine Pillard in one way or another, in order to highlight the links, if any, that have existed between her and Amerindians.

             Ms. Moreau-Desharnais has identified and analyzed in detail more than 60 records, baptismal certificates, marriage contracts, etc. A large part of this voluminous research was published in le Trait d'union of October 2010 (vol. 18, No. 1). To sum up, no such relationship has been identified.

5) Research at the source: La Rochelle

             It would obviously be very useful to have a baptismal certificate formally confirming that Catherine Pillard's parents at the time of her birth were the same as those attributed to her on her first marriage certificate. Unfortunately, the baptismal certificate generally recognized as her's, taken from the parish register of Ste-Marguerite de La Rochelle, dated March 30, 1646, represents her as the « daughter of Pierre Pillard and Marguerite  ... ». The absence of her mother's name is evidently regrettable as this information would clearly have made the connection between the baptism and the marriage of Catherine Pillard. Nevertheless, such gaps are not uncommon, even in more recent times.

             In an attempt to fill this void, the Association has mandated a French professional genealogist, Jean-François Viel, to carry out extensive research in the religious and civil archives of La Rochelle. This research was conducted in the fall of 2010 and the results published in the February 2011 issue of le Trait d'union (vol. 18, no. 2).

             The research confirmed that the name Pillard (sometimes spelled Pillat, Pilhact, Pilhat), was present in La Rochelle, if not widespread. Like other researchers before him [3], Mr. Viel singled out Pierre Pillard and Marguerite Bouricaud, a couple who had had several children baptized.  In the opinion of Mr. Viel, they were more than likely the parents of Catherine Pillard, herself baptized in 1646 at La Rochelle. Note that a burial record has not be found for this Catherine.


             Various hypotheses have been put forward to reconcile genetic and genealogical information about Catherine Pillard, some by the very authors of the challenge to the French origin of Catherine Pillard. We will make a brief review of the hypotheses below and add our comments.

1) Catherine Pillard was a Amerindian quietly assimilated [4] into the French population of Montreal.

Comments. This hypothesis is not a priori improbable, but it raises many difficulties. First, it is not based on any document, as shown by the analysis of Ms. Moreau-Desharnais. Second, with Montreal's population amounting to only 625 in 1665 [5], it assumes that many Montrealers would have agreed to participate in the fraud, including the priest and the many witnesses to the marriage where she is represented as originating from La Rochelle. Third, it implies that people were aware of Catherine Pillard born in La Rochelle, whose identity someone else could safely assume. Fourth, there is no reason for such deception, many Frenchmen having married Indian women without it creating any problems. Fifth, it does not include the genetic considerations raised by Mr. Jacques Beaugrand, aforementioned.

 A link as been made between a five-month old child baptized in Montreal November 25, 1651 and Catherine Pillard. Baptized under the name of Catherine, Oenta was, according to the register of the Notre-Dame parish, the daughter of a man named Du Plat and of Annengthon. But we know nothing of this child, except the information found in her baptismal certificate. True, the father is named Du Plat and Catherine was often known by similar names as we have seen above. However, the spelling of the name Pillard also varies in the acts found in La Rochelle.

While we're on the subject of names, take note of the presence in Quebec in February 1652 of a certain Pierre Plet less than three months after the above-mentioned baptism and at a time of the year when it was impossible to enter or leave the colony; his presence is corroborated by a notarized contract [6]. We do not intend to link the two documents; nonetheless, the coincidence is interesting.

The fact that an objection has been issued after publication of the first bann of Pierre and Catherine's marriage has also been cited as supporting her Amerindian origin. Unfortunately, the reason for the objection has not been preserved and we will never know the final word on this story. For our part, we believe that this objection was related to Pierre Charron's protestantism rather than Catherine Pillard's potential Amerindian origin.

2) Catherine Pillard was a Amerindian taken to France and brought back to New France as a King's Daughter.

Comments. This hypothesis is also theoretically possible. Champlain himself had adopted three young Amerindian girls he wanted to take with him to France in 1629, without success [7], yet many other similar cases are reported throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and even beyond. It is conceivable, for example, that shortly after, the young Ouenta called Catherine mentioned above was brought to France, returning later to New France as a King's Daughter.

Nevertheless, this hypothesis faces several of the objections of the first one.

3) Catherine Pillard was the daughter or granddaughter born in France of an Amerindian brought to France at an earlier period.

Comments. This assumption eliminates many of the difficulties we face with the first two hypotheses. If this were the case, Catherine Pillard would be a Frenchwoman, born in La Rochelle, but would be of Amerindian origin.

We know that there were regularly Frenchmen in the St. Lawrence River valley from at least 1534 and probably even earlier. It is quite possible that these visitors, fishermen and merchants brought Amerindian women in France, particularly in the area of La Rochelle. However, there is no documentation supporting this fact about the mother or grandmothers of Catherine Pillard and this hypothesis faces the conclusions of Mr. Beaugrand.

4) Catherine Pillard descended from a Siberian lineage that would have immigrated to France in a more or less distant past.

Comments. The authors of the original articles had serious doubts about this hypothesis but, as we have seen above, it is the thesis proposed by Mr. Jacques Beaugrand who supports it with a more refined genetic analysis.

Position adopted by l'Association des Charron et Ducharme

             After three years of reflection and research, the board of our association has come to three conclusions which are based mostly:

 • on genetic considerations made by M. Jacques Beaugrand;

 • on the two documents showing Catherine Pillard being from La Rochelle, namely the act of her marriage to Pierre Charron, October 19, 1665, and the remarriage of her second spouse Sébastien Brisson on June 2, 1722.

 • on the analysis of documents produced by Ms. Moreau-Desharnais.

 a) Catherine Pillard was definitely a King's Daughter who arrived in Montreal in the fall of 1663 on a ship from France which has not yet been precisely identified [8].

 b) She was presumably the daughter of Pierre Pillard and Marguerite Bouricaud and was baptized in Ste-Marguerite de La Rochelle on March 30 1646.

 c) From a matrilinear perspective, Catherine Pillard was descended from a woman brought from Siberia (alone or with a family or even a larger group) into Western Europe at a date impossible to specify, at least for the time being.


             The uncertainty about the origin of Catherine Pillard has caused a widespread questioning in our association. We believe that the conclusions we have reached strike an appropriate balance about everything we know concerning Catherine Pillard, whether from a  genetics or genealogy perpective.

             Does this mean that this position is cast in stone? Not by a long shot. For instance, the discovery of other documents such as a boarding list in La Rochelle or her marriage contract with Pierre Charron could contain valuable information confirming or refuting Catherine's origin, or further development of genetics knowledge could help us in identifying her genetic ancestry more precisely.


[1] Charron families from Meaux and allied families.  Acts and contracts from the XVth, XVIth and XVIIth centuries.

[2] See particularly « Les Filles du Roi en Nouvelle-France », by Silvio Dumas (SHQ, 1972) and « Les Filles du Roi au XVIIe siècle », by Yves Landry (Leméac, 1992)

[3] Among others, Archange Godbout in « Familles venues de La Rochelle en Canada ».  RANPQ, tome 48, 1970

[4] As per the terms used by Jacques Beaugrand on his blog

[5] Sulte, Benjamin : Histoire des Canadiens-Français, vol. 4, p. 80.

[6] An account by Pierre Plet, working for Nicolas Marquardt of New France, his master. Registry of Audouart dit St-Germains, 1652-02-03

[7] Trudel, Marcel : Ce qu’il reste à connaître de Champlain. Mémoires de la SGCF, Vol. 58. no 3 (Fall of 2007), p. 195.

 [8] Landry, Yves: Les Filles du roi au XVIIe siècle. Montréal, Leméac, 1992, page 127.

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