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How My Mother's Family Got Its Name

Updated on February 24, 2012

The Original Name

My mother's paternal line is named Cadore, and I remember her telling me that the original name was Dutour. Mom didn't know how or when the name change occurred; she said family legend had it that her first ancestor to arrive in the U.S. from France, Francois Dutour, was on the lam from the police and changed his name to make a fresh start. Thanks to the family research tools available to us today, and contact with a distant cousin during my research, that has proven to be a fireside tale, and I now know the real story.

The Frank Cadore family.  My grandfather Oscar is standing at the right.
The Frank Cadore family. My grandfather Oscar is standing at the right.

The Search

Before I began my family research some years ago, I knew my mother's father's name--Oscar Henry Cadore--but not the names of his parents or siblings. I didn't know whether Francois Dutour was his father or had come considerably earlier in the family line. One day while surfing the internet, I stumbled onto a 10-year-old post left on a personal web site by a lady who was searching for information about “Francois Dutour-Cadore, his wife Heloise Vaillancourt, and their children: William, Damia, Oscar, Charles, and Mitchell.” Mom had told me her father had three brothers and one sister, so I knew I had found my great-grandparents. I contacted the lady who had left the post, and it turned out she was primarily interested in the Vaillancourts and had no other information about the Dutour-Cadores. Nonetheless, it was a start. The 1900 photo shown here, found by my sister shortly thereafter, enabled me to see these family members of whom I'd previously known nothing. My mother was becoming forgetful by then and couldn't remember their names, but when she saw this picture, she exclaimed, "Oh, my folks!"

Searching the U.S. Federal Census records for Mom’s home town of Watseka and county of Iroquois, Illinois soon led to other Cadore and Dutour ancestors. Contact with a third cousin whose husband is a descendent of Francois’ older sister, Henrietta, provided the answer to the mystery of my family’s name change.

St. Lawrence River between Trois-Rivieres and Rimouski
St. Lawrence River between Trois-Rivieres and Rimouski

The Emigrations

My mother’s French ancestors came to the U.S. through Canada, a fact of which I had been completely unaware. They began arriving in Quebec in the 1600s and settled all up and down the banks of the St. Lawrence River, from Trois-Rivieres in the south (on the Quebec side) to Rimouski in the north (the New Brunswick side), including the early village of Quebec. Thanks to prolific record-keeping by the Catholic Church, I’ve been able to find records of birth, baptism, marriage, and death going back many generations. (Who knew my smattering of high-school French would come in so handy?)

My first French-Canadian ancestor to come to the U.S. was not Francois, but his father, Joseph Dutour. Attracted by reports of cheap, abundant land for sale in Illinois, Joseph and his three brothers (Jean-Baptiste, Napoleon Paul, and Victor) gathered up their wives and children between 1846 and 1848 (according to varying census reports) and emigrated to the U.S. They settled in the town of Bourbonnais, in what was then Will (now Kankakee) County, Illinois, 50 miles south of Chicago on the Indiana border. Established 18 years earlier by Francois Bourbonnais, Sr., a fur trapper, hunter, and agent for the American Fur Company, Bourbonnais was largely occupied by French-Canadian immigrants and was a natural destination for the Dutours. My great-grandfather Francois was born there in 1852, and by the time of the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, he was known as Frank.


The Civil War

During the first year of the Civil War, Joseph and his oldest son, Leander, went into town in January 1862 to enlist in the newly formed Illinois 1st Light Artillery. Leander, age 24, was accepted and assigned to Battery E, also known as Waterhouse’s Battery. Joseph, however, was rejected because of his age, which was somewhere between 43 and 51 (during his life he reported birth years ranging from 1810 to 1818); at the time the maximum age for enlistment was 40. Leander went off to fight at Shiloh, the siege of Corinth, the Central Mississippi Campaign, and the Seige of Vicksburg, and Joseph went home full of indignation.

By January 1865, the maximum age for enlistment in the Union Army had been increased to 45 (source: General Order 99, dated 9 August 1862). Another newly formed unit, the 150th Illinois Infantry Regiment, came to Iroquois County seeking recruits for its Company D. Despite the fact that he was now somewhere between 46 and 54, Joseph decided to try again to enlist. It is said he dyed his hair and beard black; what is known for certain is that he had to lie about his age, and that he gave a false name: Joseph Cadours. His ancestors had emigrated in the 1700s from the village of Cadours (rhymes with "the doer") in the Haut-Garonne region of southern France, and it’s likely that he chose this name in homage to his forebears, a practice that appears to be fairly common among French-Canadians. He succeeded in enlisting for a one-year term and served with the 150th until it was deactivated and he was mustered out on 16 January 1866 in Atlanta, Georgia. Whether it was he or the enlistment clerk who misspelled his new name, it was entered as Cadore, and census, probate, and land records show that he kept that name for the rest of his life, as have his descendents.


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    • Leah Helensdottr profile image

      Leah Helensdottr 5 years ago from Colorado

      Thank you, grandmapearl! You're so lucky your mom did all that research--I'll bet you're way ahead of where you would be otherwise. Thanks for the kind words and the votes!

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hi Leah, My Mom did a lot of research into our family history many years ago. It's amazing what you can uncover, and what still remains a mystery. We learned a lot about our lineage and who settled where and when. It takes time, but each time you find some info, it inspires you to keep digging. My Mom is gone now, but all the work she did has helped our family now and for future generations to come. We all refer often to the history she uncovered. Some members have even started adding to it. I loved reading about your search. You made it very interesting and fun to peruse! Voted Up and Interesting.

    • Leah Helensdottr profile image

      Leah Helensdottr 5 years ago from Colorado

      @billybuc, thanks for the kind words! If you need help researching your family, please let me know--I like to solve ancestry mysteries.

      @Blanu, I hadn't thought of that, but I suppose people do change their names and/or move to new towns for less-than-positive reasons. As for our great-grandchildren, they won't have much trouble finding us; the internet and the government's increasing intrusion into our lives means that more and more of what we do is documented. Makes me want to move to Alaska, the final frontier in the U.S.

    • Bianu profile image

      Bianu 5 years ago from Africa

      This is amazing. In these times of meticulous record keeping, we should all be very carefull what we do.

      Imagine your great grand children researching into why you changed your name or moved to a new town. I shudder to think what will come up.

      Thanks for this wake up call.

      Voted up.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Fascinating; you have inspired me to do more research into my family. Thank you so much for sharing your history with us and I look forward to more from you.