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  • Writer's pictureColleen Murray

Not so French after all

Updated: May 31, 2021

While researching my French-Canadian ancestor of the surname Phaneuf, I stumbled upon a few websites claiming that ALL Phaneufs come from the same pair of ancestors: Claude-Mathias Fanef & Catherine Charpentier. “All” is a pretty bold statement, the sort that I tend to shy away from in a field like genealogy, where there is always an exception. However, in my case, it proved to be true. My 3X great grandmother was a Phaneuf, and her great-grandparents were the famous Claude-Mathias & Catherine Phanef. I discovered this using church records in the Drouin Collection, and following the Phaneufs back through several generations.

But as they say, there is more to genealogy than names and dates, and as it turns out, there are some very interesting stories concerning Mathias’ background.

One account appears in Thomas J. LaForest’s book, Our French-Canadian Ancestors. Vol 2[1]. The chapter on the Phaneufs, written by Marielle Phaneuf, claims that the patriarch of the family, was originally Mathias Farnsworth of New England, who was kidnapped as a child in a raid by the Iroquois, and brought to New France as a prisoner. There he was ransomed and he appears to have settled in quite readily, eventually receiving land, and marrying. His English name morphed into Mathias Fanef, and eventually, Phaneuf, and he received the additional name Claude when he was baptized in the Catholic Church.

Interestingly, Mathias is both my first American ancestor and first ancestor of English heritage that I have discovered, opening up several new avenues of research to me. I found additional books mentioning the abduction story, including a compiled genealogy from 1897 of the Farnsworth name[2]. This book describes the English and American heritage of the Farnsworth family. The 1883 book Groton During the Indian Wars[3], also describes Mathias’ abduction. Both books mention that Mathias appears on a prisoners' list ca. 1710. I have not seen the list in question, but its existence will be useful in verifying this unique family story.

[1] Marielle Phaneuf, “The Phaneuf Families of America,” in Thomas J. Laforest, Our French-Canadian Ancestors, Vol 2. (Palm Harbor, Florida: The LISI Press, 1984), chap. 23, pp.193-199.

[2] Moses Franklin Farnsworth, Farnsworth Memorial: Being a record of Matthias Farnsworth and His Descendants in America, (Manti, Utah: L.A. Lauber, 1987), p. 63-64; digital image,, ( accessed 14 Mar 2015).

[3] Samuel Abbott Green, Groton During the Indian Wars, (Cambridge, Mass.: J. Wilson, 1883), 109; digital image, Google Books ( : accessed 14 March 2015).

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