De, Du, Des, Le, La and and sometimes Les

Working with groups of names that span the entire country gives a wonderful general perspective, sort of from the 50,000 foot level, that you just don’t get by working with only one tribe.  Both the WWI draft registrations and the Carlisle Indian School records have provided this type of perspective.  It also helps that I’ve transcribed the Indian school records into a spreadsheet, sorted it by surname and then copy/pasted the names in to the Native Names document.  This allows me to see all of a particular surname across all tribes and groups of similar surnames together.

Something I’ve noticed is that the French influence is far, far greater than I had ever realized.  I’ve been a “student” of Indian history and culture for some 30+ years now, and if this has escaped me, it may well have escaped others as well.

Since the British did win the wars, we speak English in the US.  We tend to think of the US as an English colony – we have English laws and as a country we feel closer historically to England than France.  But the French, especially in the north country, were the first, often by 100 years or so, to visit and establish relationship with Native tribes.  They traversed the St. Lawrence seaway, the Great Lakes and tributaries in birch bark canoes.  The reach of the Hudson Bay company, a fur trading organization, was phenomenal, reaching as far as the Siouian tribes in the Dakotas and Montana.

Often traders lived among the tribes for long periods of time, sometimes permanently.  They left behind their DNA and then eventually, their surnames as well.  The French didn’t stop trading when the British entered the scene.  The French were still quite active along the northern waterways into the 1800s as is evidenced by the Ottawa Half-Breed Census of 1836 and death records later in the 1800s we well. 

This activity level becomes evident in the surnames adopted by the northern tribes’ members.  Many spoke French as their second language, not English.  Surnames that begin with De, Du, Des, Le, La and Les in French are quite evident.  These lists of names are quite lengthy and much higher in proportion to the English names than one would typically find in the general population.  Translate these names and they become much like the English/Native names we find today.  For example Le Roi = the king or simply king.  Of course, Le Roi becomes LeRoi which becomes Leroi which becomes Leroy when it’s anglicized.

One more thing became obvious.  Not all northern Indians stayed in the north.  Members of the DuBray family are typical and are found in Montana and South Dakota as well as in Oklahoma.  If you’re working with an Oklahoma family, and the name looks French, that could well be a hint as to the location of the original genesis of the family. 

Given this finding, I would also suspect that were tribal members (or descendants) to test their DNA, many would discover that their paternal ancestors were European, and indeed French.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in History, Names. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to De, Du, Des, Le, La and and sometimes Les

  1. blzlovr says:

    My maternal DNA is B2. I come from a long line of “half-breeds”, French-Canadian fur trappers that married Menominee, Winnebago, and (1) Lakota/Dakota Indians. Names include De LaRonde, Grignon, La Bathe, La Batte, Eechauwaukak, Wah-Pah-Sha, Flight of Geese, Hopokoekau, Decorah, and DeKaury. My GG-Grandfather, Antoine Grignon, wrote a memoir about his life with the Indians. John T. De La Ronde also has written a memoir. These families settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

    Antoine Grignon

    John T. De La Ronde

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