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Aboriginal Ancestry?

Writing about the 20th century “Indians of New Brunswick,” Dr. Webster was, as were many of his contemporaries, somewhat patronizing:

Two tribes exist, the descendants of those who were in the country when it was discovered by the French.[1]


As you know, the Mi’kmaq (Micmac) lived along the east coast of the province, in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The Maliseet shared the west of the region with the Passemaquoddy who were centred around the bay of that name and into Maine. All three spoke dialects of Algonquian and all three were here to greet and help those French “discoverers” when they arrived. Later they helped the dispossessed Acadians who fled up the rivers and into the forests to escape the British.

While they most certainly are not “settlers”, it is only when they start to encounter European “settlers” that we begin to have documentary records. Like the black population, there is a lot of “in between”, and a great many best kept secrets. There are Indian Bands all across the province, and many Band families have lived on Reserve land for generations.

Reserves

The large three-volume Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume II, Plates 32 to 34 will show you where every Native Reserve is, or was to be found. Titled “Native Reserves of Eastern Canada to 1900” there is a list of all reserves, official number, name, year of initial grant, acreages, etc.; some 35 in New Brunswick, as many more in Nova Scotia, and three on the Island.

The Fort Folly Band lived close to the shipyard where my grandfather grew up, so he knew them and they knew him. Many women wove baskets. Some were small cases of exquisitely fine work, others the work-a-day apple-picking or laundry baskets every household needed. I have two that granddad gave me, bought when someone he knew from childhood was selling them in town door to door. Along the rivers, the men often worked spring and fall as guides to fishermen and hunters, and some of the tall tales they told their employers are repeated in Summer Provinces by the Sea, by Romaine Callender (Moncton: Intercolonial Railway, 1913), a book promoting tourism published by the railway Passenger Department for the International Geological Congress that year.

Dr. Webster and his contemporaries, regardless of their attitudes, were very interested in the way of life of the aboriginal inhabitants and the beliefs as well as the artifacts of their ancestors. The missionary, Dr. Silas Rand lived among them for 40 years, learned their language, translated portions of the Bible into their language, and “gathered the traditions of the Indians and learned their ways.”[2] His Legends of the Micmacs appeared in 1894; later Cyrus Macmillan adapted the stories for children in Canadian Wonder Tales (1918) and Canadian Fairy Tales (1922). A selection from these books Glooskap’s country and other Indian Tales (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1956) is available in numerous editions. Thus, two or three generations of young people grew up knowing these stories and legends which bear no relation to the “cowboys and Indians” tales of the old west and Hollywood.

Perhaps they explain George Frederick Clarke’s interest in excavating prehistoric camp sites. Born and raised in Woodstock, he became a dentist, and an historian, writing Someone Before Us: Our Maritime Indians (Fredericton: Brunswick Press, 1968). Wilson D. and Ruth S. Wallis, The Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955), The Malecite Indians of New Brunswick (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1957), and L.F.S. Upton, Micmacs and Colonists, (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1979) will also provide background.

Proving It

However, if you are actually working to prove aboriginal ancestry, start with Bill Russell’s Records of the Federal Department of Indian Affairs at the National Archives of Canada: A source for genealogical research (Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998). It is not an easy read, but will advise you about the structure of departmental administration, how it changed over the centuries, and how this affects the files and records in RG 10. It has a step by step guide to follow, and advice on how to access restricted records.

Bill Russell gives excellent advice on the process of claiming Aboriginal status, but offers many reminders and warnings. Some records did not survive as local agency offices were closed or amalgamated, for example:

…there is virtually nothing of the local record of Indian Affairs in Atlantic Canada prior to 1940…[3]


However, New Brunswick was an independent colony until 1867, and kept their own records of dealings with the various bands. W.D. Hamilton, in his The Julian Tribe (Fredericton: The Micmac-Maliseet Institute, UNB, 1984), a study of the Eel Ground and Red Bank Indian Bands, on the northwest Mirimichi in Northumberland County, discusses the records and points out:

New Brunswick government records, which are housed in the Provincial Archives, are invaluable on the history of the Indian lands in the province, and the Perley Report is a unique resource on the condition of the Indians in the 1840s. The records are also of some biographical value for the pre-Confederation period, but they are of limited genealogical value. (page 61)


Professor Hamilton assesses the available records, and he is as enthusiastic about the Northumberland County Court of Quarter Sessions as I am.

The records of the court are most informative on the Indians for the period 1790-1820, when grievances concerning assault and trespass were heard from the Indians, and grievances concerning Indian dogs, Indian abuse of alcohol, and the like were heard from settlers. (page 61)


Other records are found in the Beaverbrook Collection on Indian Affairs, 1761-1864, consisting of 90 documents collected for Lord Beaverbrook in 1958 and now in the Harriet Irving Library. This material is available at Library and Archives Canada on microfilm M-8026, Finding Aid MSS1710 is a list of the documents.

Chapter 4, “The Indians: The Sussex Indian School, 1787-1826” in Mary Peck’s The Bitter with the Sweet, recounts a misguided effort by Loyalists “to ‘civilize’ the Indians, teach them English, convert them to Protestantism, and train them to be skilled tradesmen.” (page 27). The misuse of money, and exploitation of the Indian families is well documented; the education scheme was shut down in 1831. Judith Fingard’s “The New England Company and the New Brunswick Indians, 1786-1826” was published in Acadiensis (Spring, 1972), page 30.

Status Isn’t Everything

If you are not trying to prove status, but are interested in your heritage, you will find many of Bill Russell’s suggestions helpful. However, RG 10 is not where you start. Where did your aboriginal ancestors live? What church did they attend? Did they acknowledge Aboriginal blood?

In some families any aboriginal connection dates to a time when the first Europeans arrived on these shores and in the 19th and early 20th centuries such ancestry would have been a secret, never to be spoken of (at least before children). The tradition may survive only as a family joke about why someone gets a great tan while their cousins suffer sunburn.

Church Registers

In the regions of Acadia that would become New Brunswick, missionaries from the Roman Catholic Church, largely based in Canada (Québec) came in and “converted” many, so their registers contain early information. These Roman Catholic priests baptised, married and buried their native flocks and kept records, but often gave every child a non-native “Christian” name, often Mary or Joseph, and their spelling of Indian names was variable and inventive.

Generations, Vol. 22, No. 2, Summer 2000, contains a short article by Robert M. Leavitt of the University of New Brunswick on “Researching Native Ancestry in New Brunswick,” pages 2-3. It is essentially a promotion for a “unique new book”, Maliseet and Micmac Vital Statistics from New Brunswick Church Records (Fredericton: Micmac-Maliseet Institute, UNB, 1998). This book, conceived by W.D. Hamilton of the Institute, and researched by Evelyn Fidler, lists baptisms, marriages and deaths of Aboriginal people in New Brunswick from the 1700s to 1919. It should prove far more helpful than trying to find your own way through the early missionary records.

Other Sources

Census returns from 1861 through 1901 will include members of various tribes. Indians were not enumerated in 1851. In many counties the Courts of Quarter Session, or other inferior courts may record quarrels, poaching, or other offenses. Late 19th century school records may exist for some reservations.[4]

For Further Reading

Hamilton, Willis D. Aboriginal Residents of New Brunswick in the 19th Century: Found in Moses H. Perley's 1841 Report; the Census of 1851; the Census of 1861. FHL book 970.1 H18a Digital Version WorldCat

References

  1. Webster,op.cit.pages 66-67
  2. Robert Murray, "Introduction", Rand and the Micmacs, by Jeremiah S.Clark (Charlottetown:1899),page vi.
  3. Russell, op.cit., pages 14-15.
  4. Douglas, Althea. "New Brunswick Aboriginals (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/New_Brunswick_Aboriginals_%28National_Institute%29.
 

 

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