Category: Uncategorized

Jean Departs for the New World

La Rochelle Harbor (1762) Joseph Vernet
LaRochelle Harbor (1762) By French painter Claude Joseph Vernet

The cool morning air invigorated Jean as he set out on the three-mile walk from his home in Esnandes to the port. His meager belongings and the bit of bread and cheese, he carried did not slow him down as he made his way to La Rochelle. It was a bittersweet day. At the age of 25, his father had expected Jean to help him work the small patch of farmland the family leased. It was a hard life and one where his family survived from day to day, harvest to harvest, never progressing beyond their meager means. They were always needing something and no matter how hard they worked, it was others who profited. The few livres his father pressed into his hand this morning represented a great sacrifice to his family and he was grateful for their generosity and support.

Depending on how things went for him in LaRochelle, there was a good possibility he would never again see his family after today.

Jean was lost in his own thoughts as he walked the path approaching the port city. The narrow dirt road was becoming wider and well-worn from the carts and people traveling it each day. Many men from the nearby villages had done their part to tamp the earthen path hard and smooth on their way to what they hoped would be a better life. Jean would not be the last man to walk in the footprints of those who made this journey before him – the life-changing journey to a new land.

As he climbed a small rise he was rewarded with a stretch of new grass, glistening with morning dew and waving a bit in the breeze, beckoning Jean to stop for a moment and cool his bare feet. His only pair of almost worn-through shoes was safely packed away in his sack, saved for his arrival in Nouveau France. He sat on a small outcropping and wiggled his toes in the wet grass. As he chewed on a piece of bread, he took in the scene before him. The port city had grown and prospered in the last few years, and regularly the small harbor was crowded with ships jockeying for a place to dock. Jean could see the two massive towers that guarded the port. The five-sided St. Nicolas Tower, the larger of the two stood opposite Tower de la Chaine, so named because at night a big chain was strung between it and St. Nicolas Tower to close the port. Just beyond, he could make out the very tip of the Tower de la Lanterne which had just recently been constructed to serve as a lighthouse.

The seaport was bustling with trade between Africa, Nouvelle France and the West Indies and Jean had heard about the opportunities available to willing and able men who wanted to travel across the sea. He was a plowman by trade and was pretty handy with a saw and hammer when he needed to be. He imagined that his skills would be much needed in a new and growing colony. Men were becoming wealthy trading the furs of the New World, slaves from Africa and the spices and fruits of the West Indies. Jean wasn’t really all that interested in making a great deal of money – but in a new and burgeoning colony, he would be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Many men were leaving for better opportunities abroad and there was nothing binding him to the small hamlet where he lived with his parents. So he traveled the short distance from his home to the port of La Rochelle to see if what he had heard was true – that he could travel to the new world for free if he was willing to work hard.

From his comfortable spot beneath a tree Jean could hear the sounds of the port below him. The air hummed with the voices of people shouting and the creak of boat lines straining, punctuated by the occasional thump of cargo being dropped onto the docks. People seemed to be everywhere. Boats were arriving and departing on the high tide. Although he had been to the port many times before, his view of the city was different this time – because his reason for being here today would, hopefully, change his life. Or end it … it was a dangerous journey across the sea and there were no guarantees he would ever see land on the other side.

But his mission today was clear. And so, his small breakfast of bread finished, he headed into the port. He wandered along the rue de la Merciers, fascinated by the houses built over the arcades. Many of them were decorated with gargoyles and strange figures that Jean thought might look better on a church. He turned onto the Rue Sur les Murs, which was home to numerous pensions and boissons. Jean held tight to his small package of belongings as he was jostled, bumped and pushed along the narrow quay. Everyone appeared to be in a hurry to get somewhere. The port was bursting with people screaming, boats bobbing, crates of cargo coming or going, and foul-mouthed sailors trying to do their jobs.

Mon Dieu!”, muttered Jean under his breath. “Where do I begin?”

It appears that Dieu was listening because Jean suddenly found himself pushed aside and flat on his arse in front of a small tavern. It was as good a place as any to start.

After picking himself up and brushing off his only good pair of breeches, he walked into the dark and noisy tavern and found he could hardly see. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but his nose was immediately assailed with the scent of stale ale and pungent tobacco brewing in the heat, seasoned with the distinctive aroma that comes from many unwashed bodies in a small space.

“Don’t be standing the doorway, deary”, the barmaid called out to him. “Either put your sous on the counter for a pint or get out of the way. You’re keeping the paying gents from getting in.”

Jean was about to turn and leave, not wanting to spend any of his precious money on ale, when a thought came to him. “I am just on my way to meet some friends, “ he explained.  “I see them sitting in the back”.

Jean had heard that there was a Rochelois merchant named Pierre Prevost who worked as a clerk in LaRochelle for the Company of the Cent-Associés, the fur trading and colonization company. After asking about anyone who could help him, he was directed by a few of the locals holding court at a back table to two men sitting at the table by the front window.  Jean hesitantly walked over and in a tentative voice said, “ Excuse-moi, do either of you know where I can find Pierre Prevost?”

Francois Bartillet, who Jean later learned was a carpenter, answered, “Down the street you will find the cooper’s shop. Monsieur Prevost has an office upstairs. Jacques and I were just there yesterday. Why do you ask?”

Jean explained that he was looking to travel to Nouveau France and understood that Monsieur Prevost could make arrangements for him to do that for free, if Jean would sign on to work in the new land. Jacques Richard, who it turns out is also a plowman like Jean, went on to explain that he and Francois had signed on with Monsieur Prevost just two days before on 30 April to travel to Nouvelle France to work for Mr. de Repentigny. If Jean signed on the three men would be traveling companions on the Dauphin being captained by Jean Gaudouin.

“Go to Monsieur Prevost’s office and ask to speak with the notary, Monsieur Teuleron. He will take care of you,” explained Jacques.  

“But you had better hurry,” said Francois. “The ship will fill up fast.”

And so it was that on a bright and sunny Monday 2 May 1644, at the age of 25, Jean found himself before the notary Teuleron where he signed up for his trente-six mois[1].

“So,” said Monsieur Teuleron, “once you make your mark, there is no turning back. Do you understand that you are making a commitment of thirty-six months of labor?”

Oui”, Jean repled.

Monsieur Teuleron continued, “Monsieur de Repentigny is a fair and honest man. In return for your promise to work for him for three years, he will provide food, housing, and a small salary of 60 livres per year[2]. At the end of the three years, if you decide you do not want to remain in Nouveau France, Mr. de Repentigny will pay your return passage to France. Is that agreeable?”

Oui, Monsieur Teleuron, je comprends,” replied Jean.

Bon,” said Mr. Teuleron. “But I should warn you; this is not an easy journey nor an easy life. You will be challenged at every turn from the moment you step on board the Dauphin. The ship should be ready to depart within two weeks. Bonne chance Monsieur Doyon.”

Having made his commitment to Mr. de Repentigny, Jean walked along the quay, still unsure of what he was getting himself into and hoping he had made the right decision. He passed the dock where the Dauphin was being readied for its journey. It was hard to imagine this fragile looking vessel could sail all the way across the vast ocean and Jean began to wonder if he would even survive aboard the small ship.

Jean warily assessed the Dauphin. Her ballast had been removed and she was heaved onto her side. Seeing the entire hull of the ship exposed only strengthened Jean’s doubt about the sea-worthiness of the Dauphin. The crew was working to replace rotten planks. They stopped up cracks and poured pitch and hot tar onto the hull to waterproof it. Jean found out from one of the crew, that it would, indeed, take a least a week to scrape and paint the hull. Then ballast, cargo and provisions would be laded. Once all was ready, the wind and tide would determine when the Dauphin would set sail.

Jean could travel back to his family to spend a few more days with them before he left forever.

Ten days later, Jean, along with Francois and Jacques, stood at the rail of the Dauphin and watched as she made its way out of the harbor, past the Chain Tower and into the open sea. They decided to stay on deck as long as possible, and for as long as good weather prevailed because they had already discovered that life below decks was going to be a lot less civilized than even two plowmen and a carpenter from the villages surrounding LaRochelle was used to. It was obvious to all three men that this journey would not be easy. Not only did the vessel have to accommodate its crew, but it also had to make room for passengers, livestock, and provisions. Everything had to be lashed on board with all the weight distributed evenly so that the ship could maintain its balance. During the first bout with bad weather, they discovered that the livestock got the worst of it, often buffeted around to the point they died. Casks of wine were often used as ballast and had to be filled with seawater when empty in order to maintain the balance of the ship.

One of the first things Jean learned was that his accommodations were made up of one small hammock strung up below decks wherever room could be found. Provisions were dolled out according to how much you paid for the voyage. For 30 livres you got crew rations (watered down red wine and hard-tack). One hundred and fifty livres got you a place at the captain’s table and some better food. It is doubtful that Jean or his companions would sample any of the food at the captain’s table. Meals were eaten on deck unless cold and rain drove everyone between-decks.

The crew swept once a day, and animal droppings were thrown into the sea twice a day. Vinegar was used as a disinfectant when necessary but the high humidity and the concentration of people and livestock caused condensation on the walls and beams. Any water seeping into the hold became stagnant and just surviving these soupy conditions took a great deal of strength and fortitude. Transatlantic travel in the 17th century was not for the faint of heart or the weak.

About ten days into the voyage, Jean, Jacques and Francois were sitting on the deck eating yet another hard biscuit.

“What I wouldn’t give for some of my mother’s fine bread,” remarked Jean.

“And some cheese!” exclaimed Jacques. “You don’t have any of that cheese your mother gave you, do you Jean?”

“I only wish,” said Jean. “Even my mother’s stale bread could be soaked in some goat’s milk to make a tasty mash.  But the watered down stuff that passes for wine on board does nothing to improve these biscuits.”

Jacques piped in, “There was a boulangerie near the quay that I visited one day while waiting for the Dauphin to be made ready to sail. They made a lot of the hard-tack for the ships in the port. One of the boulangers told me that these things are made almost entirely of wheat and bran and they bake them at least a month before bringing them to ships. They were stale before they even came onboard. I helped one of the sailors who was struggling with a sack of these biscuits. It must have weighed 60 pounds!”

“Well,” remarked Jean.  “Maybe we will get lucky and during the next storm, one of the pigs will come loose from its leash, crash into the side of the ship and die. I bet the cook can do wonderful things with a piece of fresh pork. It would be worth getting sick just to get an egg!”

“Ha!” replied Francois. “For the Captain’s table, maybe, but not for us. We are stuck with two of these sea biscuits and barely two cups of wine each day. There will be nothing left of us if and when we reach Nouveau France.”

During good weather, Jean spent most of his time on deck, which provided a much healthier environment than the conditions below deck where all manner of disease and infection ran rampant and where space was shared with horses, pigs, cows, and other livestock also making the trip to the new world.  If you got sick, your rations improved a bit, allowing for eggs (if they were available), fresh meat, rice, butter, plums, and sugar. Vitamin deficiencies were common.

And these sailing conditions could last anywhere from 35 days to 4 months depending on the winds, the tides, and the weather. If you were strong, and a bit lucky, you were rewarded, eventually, with the site of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland – a sign that your journey was nearing its end.


My comments:

Obviously, I have no way of knowing how Jean’s journey really began. It is a testimony to the French system of record-keeping that we have access to original documents signed by him, and many others like him, dating back to the 17th century, that can place him in La Rochelle on 2 May 1644.  My stalwart ancestor, Jean, making the decision to emigrate to Nouvelle France, more than likely gave this decision a great deal of thought. It was not one to be taken lightly. There was a better than 50-50 chance that he would not make it to Quebec alive.

But he did make it, landing in Chateau-Richer sometime in June of 1644 having spent perhaps 30 days or so at sea. 

And so, the story of my French-Canadian ancestors settlement in the new world begins …


This plaque is located near the port in LaRochelle and was placed there in 1995 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Jean’s journey to the new world.

Jean Doyon Plaque
Translation: 1644-1995 Tribute to Jean Doyon Our ancestor Left the village of Esandes in Anuis in 1644, To settle in New France L’Association des Doyon d’Amérique Inc. Trip to the land of our ancestors, 10 to 25 June 1995

If you go to the chain tower at the port of LaRochelle you will find a list of those brave souls who departed there on their journey to Nouvelle France. Among those names, you will find Jean Doyon (1619-1664).



[1]- The records of this notary is kept in the archives department of Charente-Maritime, La Rochelle

[2] – Back in the late 1600s, one pound sterling was the equivalent of 23.2 livres (23 livres, 3 sous, 6 deniers). Today, one pound sterling is worth about $.77. So, Jean’s annual wage in 1644, applying these equivalencies, would be about $46 today. Assuming Jean worked 6 days per week, that comes out to about $.15/day.



Harrison, Simon. French Third Rate Ship ‘Le Dauphin’ (1638),

Hebert, Tim. ACADIAN-CAJUN Genealogy & History: Sea Travel,


Proulx, Gilles. Between France and New France: Life Aboard the Tall Sailing Ships. Dundurn Press, 1984.

The Navies of New France –

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Jean Doyon (1619-1644)
Parents: Jacques Doyon (1594-?) and Francoise DeRevigny Couturier (1595-1635)
Spouse: Marie Marthe Gagnon (1635-1670)
Surnames: Doyon, Gagnon, Couturier
Relationship to me: Eighth Great Grandfather

      1. Jean Doyon (1619-1644)
      2. Antoine Doyon (1656-1708)
      3. Jean Baptiste Doyon (1695-1750)
      4. Jean Doyon (1720-1794)
      5. Jean Alexis Doyon (1748-1797)
      6. Jean Alexis Doyon (1778-1869)
      7. Francois Doyon (1811-1907)
      8. Paul Doyon (1849- ??)
      9. Joseph Napoleon Irenee Doyon (1887-1953)
      10. Joseph Henri Doyon (1921-2000)
      11. Denise Ann Doyon

The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month



One hundred years ago this month, my grandfather (Johannes Herman Alexander Voigt, 1893-1960), mustered out of military service. He had fought for his country as a cavalry officer in WWI from 1914 until the end of 1918. He was 21 years old when he began his military service, and 23 years old when he was wounded in action. He took a ricocheted bullet under his chin which ended its journey in his mouth leaving a scar he carried with him, as a reminder. After a short recuperation, he was back in action, taking care of his horse and taking care of business. As a result of his wound and his meritorious service, he was awarded his country’s highest military honor, the Iron Cross. He didn’t fight for this country – he fought for his own, Germany, and was extraordinarily proud of his military service.

He left his home country after marrying my grandmother in November of 1923. Germany’s politics and hyperinflation – along with the fact that he had a sister and uncle in the United States, factored into his decision to leave a land he dearly loved for what he hoped would be a better life for him and the family he hoped to build.

He did not hesitate, upon arriving in America, to sign an affidavit proclaiming his loyalty to the United States, giving up his ties to the land of his birth. Years later, his pride was once again swelled as he was sworn as a newly naturalized citizen of our great country. On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed, the United States entered into the chaos of WWII, and my grandfather diligently registered for the draft.  At 48 years of age, there wasn’t much chance he would be called into service, but if that call had come, he would have answered. He would have been as proud to fight for his adopted country as he had been to fight for his native one.

I was only 8 years old when Opa died. I think, had he lived longer, I would have enjoyed getting to know him better. I am the last member of my family who remembers this man. I remember a big, strong, and exceedingly quiet man who built my sister and me a see-saw, and swing set in his backyard, and a playhouse in the basement of our home on Wells Street. I remember sitting on his lap and being read to in German. I have no idea what he was reading, he probably just read aloud to me from whatever book he was reading himself. But the gentleness of his voice and the lilt of his German eventually put me to sleep. During his service in WWI, Opa contracted malaria. As a result, he took quinine for the rest of his life. I vividly remember him grinding up a tablet into a fine powder that he would put under my fingernails in an effort to stop me from biting my nails. Horrible stuff! But it worked, and to this day I cannot put a finger near my mouth without tasting quinine and thinking of Opa. That small act has forever bound me to him and a war I know only from the history books. In the course of researching my family history, and examining the things he left behind, I now know him to have been an honorable, hard-working, talented, loving individual, who was taken from us all too soon – he died a week before he was due to retire from a life that found him working as a soldier, locksmith, airplane mechanic and finally, a talented welder. My admiration may be posthumous, but it is no less sincere.

Putting your life on the line in defense of one’s country is no small thing. On this 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, I want to take a moment to honor my grandfather, all the other brave men who fought on both sides of the conflict, and the women who supported them through whatever service they could offer. It was the Great War. The war that brought us tanks, and howitzers and mustard gas. It was my Opa’s war. A war he was proud to have served in. To all the men and women who have served their country – I offer my admiration and my thanks.


The Road to La Rochelle

The Doyons moved around a bit. They first showed up in Saint Marcellin, Isére in what was once called the Dauphiny region of France.  Eventually at least some of them ended up in La Rochelle.  If you were to drive that trip today it would take you about seven hours and cover approximately 735 km (about 450 miles). Overland travel in the 16th century was long, slow and treacherous. The best way to travel was by boat, which was marginally safer, and probably faster in the long run. However they did it, it was a long and difficult journey. So how did they get to Dauphiny and why did they end up in La Rochelle?

If you believe in the story of creation, and want to take our family history all the way back to the beginning, one could assume that our ancestors were part of the group that was saved by God after the flood that prompted Noah to build his ark. That would make all of us descendants of the prophet Japheth [1]. History tells us that the Celts descended from a son of Japheth named Gomer who helped establish the Celts in an area near the Black Sea in Asia Minor. About 2500 years ago, at the beginning of the Bronze Age, some of this group started moving West, following the Danube toward the center of Europe soon appearing in what would become Germany and Bavaria.

About 2000 to 1700 years B.C.E. there was another westward migration toward the British Isles where people dispersed and took on different names. Then in 390 C.E., for reasons we can only guess, there was a migration back to France to territory ruled by the Gauls which at that time included what is now France, Belgium, Switzerland and part of Germany. That territory was occupied by a belligerent people, lead by Vercingetorix the Gaul. The Gauls put up a pretty determined fight against the invading Romans, but lost the battle in 40 C.E.

Roman leadership under Caesar proved to be good for Gaul. Trade prospered during this time as the Romans built roads connecting all parts of their empire. This time in history would coincide with the emergence of that small hamlet in Belgium named “Doyon” and the first mention of my family name in that region.  According to research done by Pére Dominique Doyon [2], “1319 is the oldest mention of the place (hamlet) of Doyon (or Oyon or Dyon)” [my translation].  In 1422, the Hamlet of Doyon (or Dyon or Doyonaz) is mentioned in the archives for the province of Namur, Belgium [3].

In 1451, there is mention of a Doyon as a fish breeder [4]. Under the reign of Charles VIII of France (1470-1498) “it is mentioned that he had a Grand Master of his artillery and excellent climber named Doyac, according to Rabelais in his Pantagruel ( L. 4, ch . LV11 ) [5]” [my translation].

The next 125 years are fairly quiet regarding the whereabouts of the Doyons and what they might be up to.  But in 1579, the wedding contract of Jacques Doyon and Antoinette Charland is recorded in St. Marcellin on 3 February, placing our family firmly in that area.

Somewhere between the wedding in 1579 and the birth of their son, Jacques in 1594 [6], the family moved to La Rochelle. We have no way of knowing why they moved, but their migration might well have been predicated on the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) when many people migrated to find more religious freedom and perhaps better living conditions. There was a great deal of population movement in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries most caused by political, social and economic tension made worse by religious division. France, in particular, was suffering from rapid inflation and falling wages brought on by the influx of New World gold. Taxes were rising because the government was only getting about 25% of the taxes collected (much of the money collected was lining the pockets of the local tax collectors). The middle class was unhappy because they had no political say and the nobles were unhappy because they were losing their power and authority. It was a contentious couple of centuries with civil clashes breaking out everywhere giving people motivation to look for new places to put down roots. Whatever the reason, at some point before 1594, Jacques Doyon (1550-1622) and his wife Antoinette Charland (1550-1620) found their way to the largely Protestant city of La Rochelle in the province of Aunis, where their son Jacques was born in 1594.

It is there, in 1615, that the twenty-one-year-old Jacques, would marry Francoise Couturier. Four years later, in 1619, they would have a son, Jean, who you may remember from the last chapter, was the first member of our family to emigrate to North America.


1 –  In Biblical as well as Quranic tradition, Japheth is considered to be the progenitor of European, and some Asian, peoples. In medieval Europe various nations and ethnicities were given genealogies tracing back to Japheth and his descendants. (
2 – 
Histoire et généalogie de la famille Doyon, p 8. Based on information obtained from the Belgium archiver M. Courtoy research on behalf of Pére Dominique.
3 –  Letters from René-Louis Doyon, of Paris, dated 20 Aug 1951 and January 1952 to  Pére Dominique. Citation taken from Histoire et généalogie de la famille Doyon.
4 –  Histoire et généalogie de la famille Doyon, p 8.
5 –  Gargantua and Pantagruel (
6 –  Jacques would serve as a soldier for the seat of La Rochelle and, once the war ended, would establish himself in or near Aunis.


Le Fromage et le Dauphin

cheeseIt is pure deliciousness. Warm and creamy, with just a bit of a salty nuttiness – a bubbly, gooey little brown crock of goodness just waiting for a crust of French bread. If you drizzle it with some honey and serve it on crostini topped with a candied pecan, well, there are just no words to describe it’s sweet, savory, sumptuous flavor. Saint-Marcellin cheese is, quite simply, a luscious little slice of heaven [1]. The sleepy little village in the Dauphiné region of the Rhone-Alpes that gives this cheese its name is also home to the high jinks of a young King Louis XI and the first place history records evidence of my Doyon ancestors.

st.marcellin 4
Photo of St. Marcellin by Patrick Amet (2010)

There is not a lot written about the verdant little town of Saint-Marcellin. There are only about 8,000 residents today. It is a quiet village nestled in the valley of the River Isére, which runs from the Alps down to the Rhone. Located about sixty-five miles south of Lyon, and not far from Grenoble, it is renowned for its cheese.

mini-map-Saint-MarcellinFor a while, it was the home of the devious and disobedient Dauphin Louis II, later to become King Louis XI. Because of Louis’ endless intrigues and open rebellion against his father, King Charles VII, Louis was banished to his own province of Dauphiné [2] where he ruled as king in all but name and continued his scheming and subterfuge. In 1451, at the age of twenty-seven, Louis married eight-year-old Charlotte of Savoy, daughter of Louis, Duke of Saxony, against his father’s wishes, throwing France’s foreign policy into chaos and initiating its long-term involvement in the affairs of Italy. Eventually, Charles, having had enough of his son’s shenanigans, sent an army to Dauphiné, forcing Louis to retreat to Burgundy – but not before Louis became the subject of some local lore. 

Louis XI
The Dauphin Louis II

It is a story – like so many things French – about food. In the forest of Lente many of the local men made their living as sawyers. According to regional legend, the future King Louis XI, then still a young man, was out hunting one day in 1445 and, having fallen from his horse, found himself face-to-face with a giant bear. His shouts for help were heard by two woodcutters who came to his rescue and took the young Dauphin back to their cabin – feeding him bread and some of their local cheese. It was love at first bite – and by 1461 this cheese, which had then become known as Saint-Marcellin cheese, was on Louis’s table in the Louvre [3].  

Or so the story goes …

In addition to being the cradle of such a wonderful cheese, and the setting for the tale of how their most famous export made it to the best tables in Paris, Saint-Marcellin, Isére, is the place where evidence of my Doyon ancestors is first recorded.  As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, Pére Dominique Doyon and his sister, Madeline, uncovered evidence of a “Douin” in this area of France in a 1260 census [4].  

A century after that census, in 1365, it was the birthplace of my 16th great grandfather, Jean Doyon who died sometime after 1397, the birth year of his son Jean Doyon (1397-1440).  

8 generation Jean Doyon

The line continues with :

Pierre Doyon (1429-1500)
Barthelemy Doyon (1467-1520)
Enymond Doyon (1500-1560)

In 1530, Enymond had a son, Claude Doyon (1530-1589).  Around 1548, Claude married Antoinette Chabran (1529-1563) and they had a son in 1550 named Jacques (1550-1622). Jacques was the last of my ancestors to be born in Saint-Marcellin.  Jacques was married to Antoinette Charland (1550-1620) born the same year in the same place, and they are the grandparents of the first of my ancestors, Jean Doyon (1619-1664), to come to North America.

I have no idea what my Saint-Marcellin ancestors did for a living. If any of them were cheesemakers, I have not been able to find any evidence of it. I do know that when Jean (1619-1664), came to New France in 1644 he worked as a laborer and a sawyer, so woodcutting could have been the family business. Perhaps Jean’s fourth great grandfather, Pierre (1429-1500) was one of the woodcutters who saved the young Louis from the bear. Our family could have intimate ties to the legend of Saint-Marcellin cheese. Hard to know. But it is a fact that they have been making cheese in Saint-Marcellin for a very long time.

I am almost certain there was no Saint-Marcellin cheese on board the ship Jean sailed on from the Port of New Rochelle, France in 1644 en route to the new world. If Jean was longing for a taste of his ancestral home, it was just one of the many things he would learn to live without over the next few years.



[1] “Served traditionally in small crocks, Saint-Marcellin is another soft ripened historic cheese of France, coming from Isere, (formerly known as Dauphiné region). Named after the small town of Saint-Marcellin, it’s a cow’s milk cheese with a soft, silky texture, runny interior, and mild to strong flavors. Deliciously creamy and with a fresh milky aftertaste, it can be enjoyed at any time of the day – as a quick lunch, as a starter, or on the cheeseboard. It is also excellent warmed in the oven and served with a fresh baguette. A great match with most big reds, it is found at every gastronome’s table.  A soft-ripened cheese of pasteurized cow’s milk with a rindless golden crust and white mold, Saint Marcellin is mild, a little acidic, and slightly salty. Characteristically, the soft beige interior is pungent and buttery. It has an intensely creamy texture, with a complex nutty, fruity flavor that becomes more robust as it matures. It has been described for centuries as “a cheese to worship”! As with most soft ripened cheeses, Saint-Marcellin pairs well with red wines, such as Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, or a spicy Syrah”. Ile de France – Portal of the French Cheese Community.

[2] – The region was originally part of the kingdom of Arles and a fief of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1030, the southern part of the countship was enfeoffed to Guigues I, Count of Albon.  His great-grandson, Guigues IV, Count of Albon from 1133-1142 was the first to bear the name Dauphin. The domain passed from the House of Albon to that of Burgundy in 1162. The land changed hands again in 1282, being taken over by the Tour du Pin family. By the end of the 13th century, the name had been transferred into a title and the fiefs held by them became known as Dauphiné. The dauphins of Tour du Pin developed governmental and judiciary institutions in the region. Their leader, Humbert II, broke and in ill health, sold Dauphiné to the future Charles V of France in 1349. Charles began the practice of ceding Dauphiné to his heir apparent.

[3] – The Sexy Little Saint-Marcellin, 30 Apr 2012, and, CheeseOnLine.

[4] – In 1260 (during the time of Louis, King of France) the oldest form of Doyon was “Doiun” (according to A. Daugat who found this version in the archives of Isere, pg. 26-62, after a census called “Probus” done in 1260 by the Dauphin, following a very violent flood in Isere.) [my translation]. Un Bel Héritage – Jean Doyon, Diane Lessard-Doyon and Pére Dominique Doyon, Imprimerie du Parc, Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, July 1992, Bibliothèques Nationales du Québec et d’Ottawa, Part II, pg. 7


Further Reading:

The History of Chartreuse Liqueurs – the fascinating story of another of the region’s contributions to gastronomy – chartreuse liquor. This liquor has an interesting story – beginning as an elixer made by the Carthusian monks in 1737. It became quite popular in the United States in the early part of the 20th century. This liquor, still made by the same monks, is a blend of all natural plants, herbs and other botanicals suspended in wine alcohol. At 69% alcohol by volume, and 138 proof – it is pretty potent stuff. There was a Prohibition-era cocktail called The Last Word. The recipe calls for equal parts of gin, lime juice, green chartreuse and Maraschino liqueur.  There was also an article in the Wall Street Journal in June 2011 entitled The Intrigue of Chartreuse which tells the story of its popularity in the U.S.


What’s In A Name?


Where Did The Surname “Doyon” Come From?

A Bit of Backstory

Up until the 11th century, most people didn’t have a surname. They were largely illiterate, lived in small villages or rural areas, and had little use for any name beyond their given name. When people started traveling and interacting with neighbors from nearby villages they needed a way to keep everyone straight and the practice of adding another name became necessary. Surnames were largely adopted between the 11th and 16th centuries in England and mainland Europe, between the 16th and 19th centuries in Wales and between the 11th and 19th centuries in Scotland. The use of patronymic surnames (forming a surname from the father’s given name – such as Johnson indicating the “son of John”) became popular. In rare cases, the naming practice was metronymic (the surname was derived from the mother’s given name). Some surnames came from places, such as “England”.  Occasionally geography played a part in keeping all the Johns and Marys organized – so we have Woods, Fords and Hills.  Many names came into being because they were used to identify people by their trade – Millers, Bakers, Shoemakers, Coopers, Saddlers, Sawyers … you get the picture.  

So what about the name “Doyon”?

There are entire studies devoted to the origin of names and one could spend a great deal of time researching and piecing together all the possibilities. You end up with a few facts, a lot of speculation and very little consensus. I have found a number of different theories for my last name but there is no way to know for sure how it really came into being.

There are many variations of Doyon including Doiun, Doyenne, Doyot and Doyette. In French, the meaning of the word doyenne is “a woman who has a lot of experience in or knowledge about a particular profession, subject, etc.”. [1]  The masculine form of the word is Doyen – which denotes a man who is the senior member of a group, profession, or society. One of the explanations of the origins of “Doyon” is that it denotes one who as at the head of a community. It probably derives from the Latin “decanus” which is “chief of ten” in old Latin from whence we get the word deacon.   

Evidence of the use of this name is first recorded in Dauphiny, a former province in southeast France where a family by this name established themselves in very early times. The name DOYON [2] shows up on a census called “Probus” done in France in 1260-1270 [3] during the reign of Louis IX of France after a very violent flood in Isére.  Pére Dominique Doyon and his sister, Madeleine, through their research [4], discovered a DOYON who was the prefecture in the ancient city of Condroz in the Namur Province of France.

Places named Doyon

Chateau Doyon
Chateau Doyon Photo from Wikipedia

There is, today, a hamlet in Belgium named Doyon, located in the Walloon region of the Namur Province [5]. This hamlet is made up of about 50 families, and is home to a castle called ‘Chateau Doyon’. The castle is surrounded by a small wood and possesses an old chapel sheltered by a gigantic and very old linden tree. I have not been able to find very much information about this castle, other than it was built in the 13th century and is renowned for it giant Sequoia trees.  At the end of the hamlet is an old Roman chapel called Chapelle St-Nicolas, built in the 11th century. The entrance path to this chapel is currently indicated by a sign that reads:  Doyon, Private Road. Yes, there is a castle and small town in Europe bearing my last name.


doyon welcome 2
Welcome to Doyon, ND photo
Doyon road sign
Doyon is “that way” photo

There is a town in North Dakota called Doyon that was established in 1900 by Charles H. Doyon.   The town has its very own Facebook and Wikipedia pages. In 2012 it had a population of 447 people [6].  I wonder how many of them have the surname “Doyon”? 

There is an entire association devoted to “Doyons in America” that has a website [7], family crest, bulletins and regular gatherings. Further research uncovered a large company in Fairbanks, Alaska called Doyon Limited [8] with 19,000 shareholders and a very comprehensive website.

Doyon Shield
Banner from Doyon Association Website “What has to be done – we do”

Some “Doyon” Data

  • There are 10,367 people, worldwide, with the name Doyon – 2,445 of them in the U.S [9].
  • The name appears most often, with the most density, in Canada
  • The 1996 Census Bureau reported [10]:
    • In 1990, the name “Doyon” was #7,285 (out of 88,799 names)
    • In 2000 the name “Doyon” was #13,260 (out of 151,671 names)
  • The largest concentration of people with the name Doyon in the U.S. is in Maine and Massachusetts
  • Five men named Doyon fought in the Civil War [11]
    Screenshot 2016-06-05 at 12.15.59 PM

Having spent most of my life estranged from this side of my family, the research I have done into my ancestors and their history has been a journey of discovery. This is a family proud of their heritage, steeped in traditions and strong in their loyalty to each other, their culture and their homeland. The roots of the Doyon family tree are deep and far reaching.

We begin our story where we find the greatest concentration of my Doyon ancestors, and the first verifiable records of their existence, in the southeast part of France in a place called Saint Marcellin, Isére.



1- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
2 – Spelled “Douin” in this particular census
3 – Un Bel Héritage: Jean Doyon, Diane Lessard-Doyon and Pére Dominique Doyon, o.p., Imprimerie du Parc, Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, Bibliotèques Nationales de Québec et d’Ottawa, July 1992, pg 14.
4 – 
Histoire et Généalogie de la Famille Doyon, F. Dominique Doyon, o.p, Beauceville, 1978, pgs. 7-9.
5 – 
Doyon is a hamlet in the old Belgian town of Flostoy, located in the town of Havelange and the province of Namur.
6 – CLR Research study (
7 – 
Association of Doyons in the Americas website
8 –
9 –
10 – T
o appear on this list, a name must occur 100 times or more. 97% of all surnames don’t make this list.
11 –

Further Reading:

Le patrimoine monumental de belgique: Wallonie, Volume 22, Pierre Mardaga, Editor, published by the Ministry of the Wallone Region, 1996, pgs. 723-725

Association of Doyons in America
Genealogy of French-America
“I Love Doyon” on Pinterest


Stay Tuned … Coming Soon …

Did you know that the Doyon family has ties to a very famous cheese and that a Voigt ancestor ran a women’s prison in a converted castle?  One of my ancestors almost didn’t make it to America because of a glove and on another journey, almost didn’t make it back to America because of a wall. There is one very brave ancestor on my father’s side who betrayed his own country and became an American patriot and more than a few independent women on my mother’s side who decided that motherhood was okay but being saddled with a husband – not so much. Interested? Stay tuned for more information coming soon, right here, where you can travel back in time to meet the people and visit the places that make up the tangled twigs and braided branches of my family tree.