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  • Sources at NEHGS for Atlantic Canada, Part II: New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island

    George Sanborn

    Published Date : February 1991
    In our last issue, Acquisitions News focused on Canada’s Atlantic provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia.  We again wish to remind members and patrons that the Society owns all extant census records for all regions of Canada from the earliest dates through 1891; many early censuses are available in print, and there are published indices and abstracts for various regions.  The 1901 census is scheduled for release in 1992, and we shall add it to our collections as soon as we can.

    We again suggest that readers purchase a copy of Genealogist’s Handbook for Atlantic Canada Research, edited by Terrence M. Punch.  Available from our Sales Department for $10.00 (plus $2.50 postage and handling), this book is the most up-to-date discussion of research methodology in Atlantic Canada, with details about records and sources.  It will save you much time and help you better plan your next trip “down home”!

    New Brunswick

    Originally a part of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick was set off as a separate colony in 1784, the year after large numbers of Loyalists came into Saint John to join pre-Loyalist New Englanders along the St. John River and others who had established themselves in the wilds of western Nova Scotia. Later influxes of Irish and Scots to northern and eastern New Brunswick, Yorkshiremen to Westmorland County, English to southern New Brunswick, Germans via Philadelphia to the Fundy shore of what is now Albert County, and Scotch-Irish Baptists into eastern New Brunswick, plus large-scale Irish immigration into Saint John in the 1840s and 1850s all come together to make New Brunswick a varied and interesting genealogical challenge.  The only officially bilingual province in Canada, about one-third of the population is of French origin - mostly Acadian, with some in northern New Brunswick akin to the Québécois.  Their customs are as different as their dialects (Chiaque or Joual).  New Brunswick also has a considerable population of Native Americans, belonging mainly to the Maliseet and Micmac tribes, with some admixture of other races.  And of course, the city of Saint John is a modem urban port which draws people from all backgrounds.

    We have much New Brunswick source material at NEHGS. 25 reels of microfilm cover all existing county marriage registers to 1888, when the province officially began keeping vital statistics (incomplete until after 1900).  The registers for Victoria County and the early years of Sunbury County are lost, but for the latter some substitute records, 1766 -1888, have been published in book form and are available here.  Also in print are marriage registers for Queens County (1812-1861) and Kings County (A & B).  Readers should check as well B. Wood-Holt’s Early Marriage Records of New Brunswick Before 1839 (1986).  Another key set of New Brunswick microfilms at the Society contains late registrations of births (1810-1888, 12 reels), often filed many years after the event.

    A recent publication by Wallace Hale, Early New Brunswick Probate Records, 1785-1835 (1989) abstracts probate documents from all regions of the province.  Print cemetery inscriptions include Burial Records of the Loyalist Burial Ground in Saint John, Cemeteries of Albert County, and Cedar Hill Extension Cemetery, in Saint John.  Most 1851 census records have now been published, along will a few for later census years and an index to the 1871 census for St. John County.  And the indefatigable Daniel Johnson has published 38 volumes of the ongoing New Brunswick Vital Statistics from Newspapers, so far covering 1784-1876.  All newspapers for the province are said to be abstracted therein.

    Anyone beginning New Brunswick research must consult Researching Your Ancestors in New Brunswick, Canada (c. 1979) by Robert F. Fellows, in addition to our Genealogist’s Handbook cited above.  Fellows discusses the various classes of records at the Archives, and provides helpful hints about research in repositories throughout the province.  A partial list of good genealogies of New Brunswick families might include The Descendants of Daniel and Elizabeth (Disbrow) Keith; Kicrsteads of New Brunswick, Canada; The Hors(e)man Family; The Descendants of Edmund and Jane (Webb) Price; The Wests of Coles Island; The Bowser Family; and others, all available here.  Numerous U.S. genealogies treat branches which “went down” into New Brunswick as well.  Les Familles de Caraquet covers genealogies of the various Acadian families of Caraquet in some detail.  And our library also subscribes to Generations, quarterly of the New Brunswick Genealogical Society, which features cemetery records, queries, and articles of interest.  A surname index through March 1987 is available at NEHGS.

    Prince Edward Island

    The Micmacs called it Minegoo, or Abegweit, but this small island has been known as St. John’s Island, then Prince Edward Island, since Europeans came there in the first half of the 18th century.  Famed for its wonderful potatoes and other garden crops (thus the epithet “Garden of the Gulf’), it should perhaps be more famous for its major export, people.  While the population of “The Island” has never been greater than now (approximately 130,000), every generation has sent thousands of its residents to all corners of the world.  The ubiquitous “Islander” can be found every-where, and where there is one, there are often many.  Large numbers came to the greater Boston area and to the lumber camps of Maine and New Hampshire; others went to New York City and Perth Amboy, New Jersey; and some can be found in Pennsylvania coal [15] mining communities.  Still others went to the Great Lakes region, to mining towns of the Black Hills, to Butte, Montana, and to Denver.  Many settled in and around Oakland, California. People of Island descent may be found in all parts of North America.  This migration often seemed to complete a circle, as descendants of New England fishermen and Loyalists returned to the areas their ancestors had left earlier.  As with the rest of Atlantic Canada, the largest immigration occurred ca. 1880-1920.  Since 1924 and the advent of US. immigration restrictions, movement from Canada to the States has diminished.  Previously it was easy to move back and forth over “the line,” and many a young woman from “down East” had only to marry an American to become a U.S. citizen, leaving no immigration or naturalization paper trail.

    As with other parts of Atlantic Canada, the Island’s population is a mixture of Native Americans, French Acadians, New Englanders, Loyalists from coastal colonies and direct arrivals from the British Isles. Approximately one-third is said to be of Scottish descent, one-fourth of Irish descent, and one-fourth of English descent.  About 15 percent is Acadian - but not all Island Acadians speak French or practice a unique culture.

    Many Island communities are still predominantly Scottish, Irish, French or Micmac.  Some are ethnically even more specific, with populations mostly of Monaghan Irish or Scottish Highlanders from the Isle of Skye. Mac-Donald Catholic Scots are still very visible at the east end of the Island.  Accents and word choices from different parts of the Island denote the predominant strain in each area.  Relatively little in-migration and, until recently, not much movement within the Island itself, have allowed communities to retain distinctive characteristics.

    We have much at the library to help researchers with Island ancestry, including the surviving Colonial and federal censuses through 1891 (the first federal census was in 1881; in 1871 the Island was not yet a member of the Confederation owing to an argument with Ottawa over funding for the railroad). However, the first place to look is the Master Name Index, a microfilm copy of the massive card file at the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation.  This file contains census and various newspaper abstracts, all Island gravestone inscriptions, early land grants, inquisitions post mortem, funeral home records, references to landowners on the 1880 atlas, and items from many other sources.  In addition, we have microfilm copies of virtually all Island Catholic Church records to 1900, and of many Presbyterian, United Church, Methodist, Bible Christian, and Anglican church records.  Of particular note is “The Roman Catholic Book,” a fragment of a Catholic church register kept from 1809-1811 by Bishop MacEachern as he made his rounds of the Island and other parts of the Maritimes.  This fragment was discovered a few years ago between the walls of an old house in Scotchfort, but the records cover all parts of the Island plus other areas around the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  In 1925 all Congregational churches in Canada (there were never any on the Island), all Methodist churches (which had earlier absorbed the Bible Christians), and some Presbyterian churches came together in “church union” as the United Church of Canada; on must look among the archives of each United church for records of its predecessors.  Many Presbyterian churches, however, remained “out of union.”

    Other microfilm holdings include marriage registers, 1832-1888 (found some years ago in the attic of Province House), and all marriage bonds, 1849-1902.  In the 1970s, the Department of Health called in all church registers from around the province and abstracted them onto cards.  We have microfilms of pre-1886 baptismal and pre 1906 death/burial records.  Also on film are several early diaries such as those of Benjamin Chappell (1775-1788, August 1797-July 1817), and Rev. Robert Dyer (1859-1883, covering the Alberton area).  We expect to add others later.

    All researchers will want to familiarize themselves with Alan Rayburn’s Geographical Names of Prince Edward Island (1973), while Meacham’s 1880 atlas showing property owners lot by lot (“lot” means “township” in Island parlance) will help you locate the exact place where your ancestors lived.  In many cases the farm is still owned by relatives.  Ian Robertson’s The P.E.I. Land Commission of 1860 (1988) is helpful for understanding the complicated land question on the Island.  Genealogist’s Handbook for Atlantic Canada Research covers the various Island record repositories and discusses various features of the records themselves.  The Island Magazine, a semi-annual journal of history and genealogy, contains, among other items, passenger lists (few exist), lists of people involved in the Irish “Repeal” movement, and discussions of land records.  Those with Irish interests will want to read relevant chapters of The Irish in Canada by Robert O’Driscoll and Lorna Reynolds (2 vols., 1988), plus the three special “Irish” issues of The Abegweit Review (especially if you are a Goodwin or McGuigan).  Loyalist descendants will want to read An Island Refuge: Loyalists and Disbanded Troops on the Island of St. John (1983), edited by Orb Jones and David Haslam.

    Many questions will be answered by such fine community histories as J. Clinton Morrison’s Along the North Shore: A Social History of Township 11, P.E.I., 1765-1982 (1984).  Published genealogies include the exemplary Wrights of Bedeque (2 vols.), and William Schunnan, Loyalist, and His Descendants (2 vols.), along with The Kinsman Family of Prince Edward Island; Genealogy of the Match Family; Leaves from the Birches of Avoca (on the Denis Birch family); Emigrant from the Highlands (on the Morrisons of Sutherlandshire); and works on the Beairsto and Lidstone families.  The MacLeods of Prince Edward Island attempts to identify all bearers of one of the most common surnames on the Island.

    In sum then, your first step in tracing Island ancestry should be a visit to 101 Newbury St.  Ask for George F. Sanborn, Jr. Director of Library Operations, who has a special interest in this province and may be able to steer you to hidden treasures here.  Such a visit will save you much the on P. E. I., where you can search sources available only there, talk with relatives who may be very helpful, and enjoy the most beautiful island in the world. - GFS

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