SARANAC Quests for some to discover if their ancestors walked with French explorer Samuel de Champlain nearly 400 years ago have begun with small steps. Local residents gathered at Saranac Town Hall Jan. 26 to trace the roots of their ancestors during a free workshop conducted by Julie Dowd, librarian of the Keeseville-based Northern New York American-Canadian Genealogical Society. The workshop was held to help people determine not only if their ancestors explored the continent with Champlain, but if they inhabited the earliest French settlements of Quebec or Acadia, Nova Scotia, as well. Saranac town historian Jan Couture, who is also a third-grade teacher at Saranac Elementary School, hosted the event. Ms. Dowds grandson 15-year-old grandson, Kevin Stewart from Ellenburg, was also on hand to lend his technological expertise. Attendees wore two name tags one bearing their own name and another the name or names of the French-Canadian ancestors they were tracing. More than 100 local families have already traced their French-Canadian ancestors back to those who walked with Champlain. That list can be viewed by visiting the NNYACGS Web site, and includes former Clinton County Legislator Celine Paquette and Mrs. Coutures husband. Mrs. Couture was able to trace her husbands ancestry back 400 years in about four hours. Interestingly, a list of non-locals who can trace their ancestry back to those earliest settlers includes recording artists Celine Dion and Madonna. The NNYACGS office currently has a collection of family trees that trace their roots back to those who lived with Champlain on display in their lobby. Their office is located in the Keeseville Civic Center on Main Street in Keeseville. The collection includes trees from across the northeastern United States and Canada. Another display, limited to local families, may be viewed in the lobby of the Clinton County Government Center on Margaret Street in Plattsburgh. During the workshop, Ms. Dowd explained how easily French-Canadian ancestry can be traced using modern records, data base tools and Internet searches. All attendees received a hand-out of the Web sites Ms. Dowd has found to be most helpful. She recommended participants begin with the RootsWeb World Connect Project at http://worldconnect.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi. Several computers were set up around the room, and Ms. Dowd used a projector to project her laptop screen on to a large screen during her instructional presentation. Besides using the Internet searches, Ms. Dowd stressed using primary sources. French Canadian genealogy is like shooting fish in a barrel, she said, because there is so much documentation. You can literally trace ancestry back to the 16th century in an afternoon. Churches kept careful records of every birth, baptism, marriage and death. Newspapers obituaries also contain much helpful information as they usually list parents, husbands, wives and surviving children and other relatives. The NNYACGS has turned old church records and newspaper obituaries into hard-bound books. They have between 30 and 40 of these books that may be used as references at their office or that can be purchased. They are also offering a paperback book, French-Canadian Genealogical Research," for purchase. Ms. Dowd gave a thorough overview of databases and also spent time instructing participants how to create a family tree diagram using computer programs. Her enthusiasm was contagious as she spoke about what fun they were all going to have working on this project. She pointed out some of the fascinating things they might discover such as famous distant relatives or how their ancestors last names changed when they crossed into the United States. She personally recommended the Family Tree Maker program, which retails for $30 to $40. There was a break midway through the presentation for participants to spend time searching through the many books Ms. Dowd brought or to begin ancestry searches on the computers. The break also gave everyone an opportunity to sample authentic French Canadian food. Refreshments included cretons (a pork spread), tortiere (meat pie), maple syrup cookies, and tarte a sucre (sugar pie), which was as beautiful as it was delicious as each piece was topped with a dainty fleur de lis. The workshop was the first of what Ms. Dowd hopes will be many in area towns leading up to the North Countrys Samuel de Champlain Quadricentennial Celebration, which will commence in 2009, 400 years after Champlain arrived at Lake Champlain in 1609. Ms. Dowd and Mrs. Couture are hoping a gathering of those whose ancestors walked with Champlain will be part of that celebration. Those interested in tracing their French Canadian heritage, or who would like to have a workshop held in their town or village, may contact NNYACGS by visiting their Web site,
. A similar workshop will be sponsored by the Saranac chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution at St. Peters Church in Plattsburgh Saturday, Feb. 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Feb. 23 workshop will differ in that participants will be tracing their heritage back to the American Revolution. For more information about that workshop, contact Pam Meyers via e-mail at
. More information about the upcoming Quadricentennial Celebration will be available at a discussion at the Peru Free Library, 3024 State Route 22, Peru, Friday, April 4.