Who's your mommy?

When I started on Ancestry, I had paper copies of the lineage of my father and mother's paternal families as well as a little information about my father's mother's family, which of course was my her father's family.

See a pattern?

We sometimes know about the people from whom our parents' surnames come. But how much do we know about maternal lines? With rare exception, a father passes his family name to his offspring, and the mother's family name (which came from her father) disappears. It can be difficult to trace maternal lines because the surname changes every generation. And yet I am no more related to the settlers whose names my grandparents bore than I am to any of my other seventh and eighth great-grandparents.

Fortunately, French women, including settlers, did not take their husband's name. If I can find baptismal, marriage, and burial records, the surname will be the same. And thanks to good record keepers and Ancestry, I have found a lot of records.

I trace up the top/left of my Ancestry tree, and it follows what I had on that piece of paper, the one line of my father that leads to the namesake settler. I trace up the bottom/right of my tree and I land at Anne Asselin, a seventh great-grandmother, from whom I am descended via all those generations of women. I can follow the women's lines to reach the original male or female settler or Indigenous woman who married a settler as easily as I can follow the men's lines.

Despite Ancestry's pink and blue default icons (easily replaced), a visual depiction of a family tree is an equalizer between the sexes. I'm chuffed that I can trace matrilineal forebears. In fact, because genetic paternity is (or was then) far more difficult to establish with certainty than maternity, the line of male descent that a surname indicates, the one we tend to cite when we say "my family," might be more about legality than genetics. And it was ever thus.

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