Monday, September 3, 2007

The Lareau Family Name

Through the years, there have been many versions of the family name. This is primarily due to illiteracy ... the government official or priest has had to interpret the oral pronunciation of the family member.

The family name, as early as we can determine, seems to have been DeLaRaue or DeLarraue in France. The earliest records in Quebec show it as Laraue, but since the third generation in Canada, the most common spelling has been Lareau. Other variant spellings have been LaReau, Lareault, Lareaux, LaRow, Larreau and LaRoe.

It is also important to mention those spellings that (usually) refer to families other than the Lareau family. Some of these are LaRue, Leroux, L'Heureux, Lereau (all established families in their own right), LaRow (a separate family in the United States), Larrow (usually a variant of the Quebec Laurent family) and Larrowe.


There seem to be four common pronunciations of the name, and they seem to be independent of the spelling used: Lah-row' (rhymes with below), Lair'-oh (rhymes with narrow), Lahr'-oh (rhymes with borrow) and Lah-roo' (rhymes with Peru).

The first seems to be the most common in Canada; the second is the most common among midwestern and western families in the United States; the third is most common in the eastern United States; and the fourth is an Americanization, actually a mispronunciation in English or French, that appears fairly randomly.


Three separate histories of the Lareau family in France have emerged, and they may or may not all have some validity. Research seems to indicate, however, that they may all refer to a different family living, at least for a time in the same area of France:

The first purported history of the family is the oldest and most prominant. This version has the name going back to 1014 A.D., connecting to the research of F. Brousseau in his book French Family Origins, and placing the family almost totally in Normandy and Brittany. Many references to persons with similar surnames (DeLaReau, DeLaRue, Dellreaue, Dellareau) appear in public records from Rouen, Louviers, Laigle, Hennebont, Paris and the Isle of Guernsey. The latter is an especially interesting case, including within its records two relatively famous individals ... Guillaume DeLaRue, an astronomer for whom a crater is named on the moon, and Thomas DeLaRuye, founder of Thomas DeLaRue, Ltd., a firm that printed much of the world's money and financial instruments. This history is most likely of the DeLaRue family, and not the family of Jacques DeLaRaue. There is some evidence, however, that this line is the ancestral line of the LaRue family of Quebec and the LaRue and LaRowe families of Westchester County, New York.

The second version of the French family history goes back to 14th century Rouen and seems to have involved a great deal of devotion to the Catholic church. Members of the family participated heavily in the Crusades, especially during the 14th and 15th centuries. By the 16th century, the family was renowned for its involvement in the politics and administration of the church and one member, Fr. Pierre-Maurice Lareau or Larin, received the "White Lily" medallion in 1788 for "great works of religion." This line, like the first, is not likely to be that of our family, and is probably the ancestral line of the Larin family of Quebec and England.

A third version of the family histoy, in the author's opinion, stands a better chance of representing the true background of our family, although it does not center in northern France at all. The name, spelled DeLaRaue or DeLarraue, means "of the plow" in an ancient dialect used in the Basses-Pyranees region of the far south of France. Located about 85 miles southeast of Pau, the provincial capital, is a small village named Larrau. This village sits nestled in a valley in the foothills of the Pyranees, approximately 12 miles (by winding road) northeast of the Port de Larrau, a well-traveled pass connecting France and Spain. Thus, the name could also be locational in nature, meaning "of Larrau." While unconfirmed, it is likely that the ancestors of Jacques emigrated from Larrau very early and settled in the more prosperous north.


Jacques DeLaRaue was born 3 November 1623 in Rouen, Normandie, France. He married Anne Fosse about 1650 in Dieppe, Seine-Inferieure and died in Ancienne, Lorette, Canada on 2 January 1699. Anne was born in France around 1621 and died in Quebec 21 November 1682. Jacques, Anne and their son Francois (from whom we are descended through his son Noel) immigrated to Quebec from Dieppe, and it is here that research has focused.

When they arrived in Quebec, Jacques settled as a sharecropper on a plot of land situated north of the Riviers St. Charles in what is now urban Quebec City. He also practiced his trade of carpenter, wood turner and wood carver. Their neighbor to the west was the Fontaine family ... nearby lived the Edouins and the Huberts, all three of which would be allied to the family by marriage. After Ann's death, a few years later, Jacques married Jeanne Caille, the widow of the owner of the land that Jacques farmed. Because of this, Jacques obtained ownership of his own farm. For three generations, nearly all of the family lived in the Quebec City area, and indeed, many descendants still live in that area, although few carry the Lareau surname.

In the fourth generation, about 1745, two Lareau brothers, Joseph and Noel Lareau, moved south to the Richelieu River where land was plentiful and settlers were needed to defend Montreal from Iroquois attacks coming up from the south. From these two brothers proceed a large majority of the present-day descendants named Lareau, and it was at this point that the focus of the Lareau name shifted from Quebec City to Chambly.

Today, while descendants of the family live in nearly all areas of Quebec, the vast majority of Canadian families with the Lareau surname live in the Quebec counties of Chambly, St. Jean, Iberville, Missisquoi and the city of Montreal and its southern suburbs. For the most part, it is from these counties that most Lareau families in the United States have migrated.

While it is hard to generalize, most of the lines of the family to enter the United States did so originally between 1850-1870. Most were in search of work. The textile industry of New England, lumber camps in the north central and north western states, industrial plants of all kinds in the major cities and the availability of free or nearly free land in all parts of the country acted as a magnet to the poor but ambitious Quebecois.

1 comment:

Christopher Lareau said...

I am a direct descendant of the Iberville line of Lareau's, the grandson of Rose and Alphonse Lareau now buried in Eastgate, Vermont. In a dictionary of surnames I found that "larea" means "meadow" in the Basque language, not too far from the meaning of plow, but somehow a little more bucolic and suggesting that the livelihood was herding not agriculture. Surnames back then were derived from a person's place of living. In the Basque country people were not just named by their genetic line, but by the house they lived in. So "Lareau" may literally mean "the people from the house by the meadow." In addition, there is a town in the French Basque country in the Pyrenees called "larrieu" on some maps and "larrau" on others. In conversation with a native of Spain I found out that there are Spanish equivalents to "Lareau" who are called "Larrocca" or LaRocca." In conversation with an ophthalmologist who graduated from University of Montreal and is a linguistic hobbyist I was told that "Lareau" is not really a French name, but derivative of another cultural group which was "francisized." I tend to follow the Basque hypothesis, being of loud voice and terrible singing ability, which I am told just might be characteristic of that ethnic or genetic line. I agree that the most common "correct" pronunciation of our name rhymes with "below." However, in college I was taught by Basque jesuits who pronounced the name to rhyme with "arrow," pronounced as "L + ARROW," with the accented emphasis on the first syllable.
I have read that many French Canadian "voyageurs" became cowboys in the American Old West, from which we get terms like "lariat," "prairie," "butte," "grand tetons," etc. that are of French origin. Lash LaRue was a famous cowboy character of film and comic books in the 1950's and his character may have been derived from one of these French Candaian cowboys. According to Paul Lareau who compiled a genealogy of our family, the first Lareau in the new world may have arrived in Quebec around 1650. He was a carpenter and widower who had married one of the "King's Daughters" and so thereby obtained a few acres in or around the city there.