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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: New Brunswick Ancestors by Althea Douglas, MA, CG(C). The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Many records of births, marriages and deaths are not kept by governments. In New Brunswick the registers kept by churches and missionaries, those that have survived, are held in many places.
Methodist records are in the United Church archives, Presbyterian registers may be there or with the Presbyterian archives, and if the family said they were Episcopalian check both the Church of England and Methodist Episcopal records. Church of England Parish Registers are kept by the individual Anglican Diocese archives; those of the Roman Catholic Church are also with their Diocese, but the Diocesan boundaries of the two denominations are different.
Who Keeps Church Records
Religious denominations govern their institutions in one of two basic forms; hierarchical or congregational. Hierarchical denominations view authority as descending from Heaven to Pope or Crown, thence to Archbishops (Archdiocese), then Bishops (Diocese), and so down to Parishes and individual incumbents.
This type of organization can manage a worldwide institution with various sub-structures (such as religious orders that teach or provide for medical or social needs), but its basic nature is authoritarian. Their great virtue is the production and preservation of excellent and continuous records, at least where fire, damp, mice and men have not been too active. Rebels against such established churches tended to form congregational structures, where each congregation is responsible for its own activities but may come together with others in some sort of co-operative gathering (Conference, Synod or Council) to manage affairs that go beyond the small unit. Their history is sprinkled with charismatic preachers and leaders who have a tendency to split over minor points of theology and go off in all directions. Their records, alas, are only as good as the individual sect, minister or congregation wanted them to be. Some keep records, some do not, some survive, some do not. Many settlers came to colonies in the New World because they offered religious freedom. The result is a confusing number of religious denominations that split and change and then merge again at the end of the 19th century. Sorting them out has been done for Canada in the Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume III, Plate 34 “Religious Adherence”. To see the balance of denominations in each County in New Brunswick, look at Volume II, Plate 52 “Religious Denominations, 1891,” which uses multi-colour pie-charts and maps to display the religious diversity across the country.
In New Brunswick
The Marriage Act that came into force in 1791 confined the privilege of solemnizing marriages to Church of England (Anglican) clergymen, and generally disallowed marriages by Justices of the Peace or dissenting preachers. This was all very well for the Loyalists along the St. John River and in Charlotte County who had Anglican clergymen among them in fair numbers, and who were responsible for the Act in the first place. Authority, hierarchy, and good records were all dear to Loyalist establishment’s hearts. They thought the Congregational dissenters had fomented revolution, Presbyterians were highly suspect. Baptists? Newlight!! In the established settlements in Chignecto most Church of England members were being influenced by William Black and Methodism, and the New England Planters tended to be Congregationalists or some sort of “Newlight Baptists” influenced by Henry Alline. Up on the Mirimichi many Scottish settlers were Presbyterian. The Acadians, of course, were Roman Catholic, as were many aboriginal tribes that had been “converted” by missionary Priests coming down from Québec for a century or more.
The nearest Church of England clergyman was often far, far away and the original act had included exceptions: where both parties to the marriage were Quakers, or in communion with the Church of Rome or Kirk of Scotland, the marriage might be solemnized according to the manner of that denomination, and in “parishes where there was no Anglican clergyman resident, a marriage might be solemnized by a justice of the quorum.”
|regardless of whether the family were Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist or Congregationalists, always check the Anglican registers within the radius of a day’s horseback ride.|
As well, there were itinerant missionaries, the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), The “Newlight Baptist” (James Manning, Joseph Crandall) and Methodist (William Black and his followers ) and Roman Catholic priests from Québec. All of these registers may be deposited far from where a couple lived. LAC and PANB both hold parish registers and related documents, and there are also denominational archives, discussed at the end of this section.
Some very early New Brunswick Records are on microfilm, and listed in LAC’s Checklist of Parish Registers 1986, pages 15-27. They include SPG records, Township Books (called civil registers), and L. Allison’s cemetery recordings. Be sure to check Cumberland County in Nova Scotia.
The PANB has microfilmed the records for a number of the older churches in each community, and their holdings, dates, and microfilm numbers are listed in the County Guides; there is a shorter list in the Genealogist’s Handbook for Atlantic Canada.
Naturally, later 20th century church records remain in the custody of the individual churches, and where they have been filmed, the films are often designated “Confidential” and require a letter from the church granting permission to view the film.
What to Expect
The best records are kept by large, organized institutions, the worst were by some itinerant evangelical preachers.
Birth and Baptism
The recording of a baptism, as well as a birth date, will depend on the religious denomination, but the following generalizations suggest what you may find. Just remember, there are always exceptions.
The practice is to baptize an infant as soon as possible after birth, and registers usually note the day of birth and day of baptism, if different (born yesterday or born this day). Parents names are given, and be sure to check who the Godparents are, often they are close relatives.
The custom is to baptize an infant as soon as convenient after birth and records will probably note day of birth, as well as parents and Godparents.
United Church of Canada
The Church being an amalgamation of earlier Methodist, Congregational, and some Presbyterian congregations, can vary in customs, but usually Christen a child when quite young, though you may find two or more children of the same parents Christened at the same ceremony. The exact date of birth may or may not be entered, but at least one parent is named.
Baptist and Newlight Baptist
These congregations had “an historic theological bias against record keeping” and as Phillip G.A. Griffin-Allwood explains, do not expect to find birth dates since “Baptists practice believer’s baptism.” Moreover, you must know which denomination of Baptist, for example, were they Regular Baptists or Particular Dependent Closed Communion Baptists, or some other branch of the Baptist Church?
While marriage is considered a sacrament by some churches, it is also viewed as a civil contract, a public event open to the congregation and community. For this reason, governments have kept civil registers of marriages when they ignore births and deaths. Nevertheless, having a marriage registered depended on the clergyman sending the information to the County Clerk, and the clerk being able to read his handwriting. The actual church register may well be the only place you can confirm a marriage. Most denominations recognize degrees of consanguinity, i.e. blood relationships that prohibit marriage. In early settlements, where available marriage partners were limited, consanguinity could present problems. For this reason many Roman Catholic and some Anglican priests are concerned with family lines, and may note such relationships in their records, especially if a dispensation from higher authorities (the Bishop or Archbishop) has had to be obtained.
When checking the actual register, note if any other marriage ceremonies took place the same day; the couples might be related. Always note the names of witnesses who may be friends, but may turn out to be a married sister, or brother-in-law, whose surname is different. Wherever possible, check for any newspaper account of the wedding, and if you can access the whole newspaper, do check the social columns to see who came to town for the wedding.
Check the Drouin and Loiselle Indexes
These two very extensive “Marriage Indexes” for the Province of Québec sometimes spill over and include Roman Catholic parishes in Northern New Brunswick; as well, northern New Brunswickers may cross the provincial border, to work and to wed.
The Fichier Loiselle, a card index of marriages, 1642-1963, prepared by Père Antoine Loiselle, is in microform as a set of microfiche that fill four card-file drawers, two for the women’s names, two for the men. Take care! The names are alphabetical by surname but then, alphabetical by surname of spouse rather than Christian name of indexee.
The Institut Généalogique Drouin indexed marriages, by the name of the groom in: Répertoire alphabetique des mariages des Canadiens-français 1760-1935, 49 volumes (Longueuil, Québec City: Services généalogiques Claude Drouin, ca. 1989-1990), and by the name of the bride: Répertoire alphabetique des mariages des Canadiens-français 1760-1935: ordre feminin, 64 vols. (Montréal: Institut généalogique Drouin, [1991?]).
Each volume has two sections, related but not always to the marriage date, alphabetical by surname, then by first Christian name, then by surname of spouse.
|Be sure to check both sections of each volume; sometimes an entry for an early date that should properly be in the first section turned up too late and was included in part two. This would be particularly true of parishes outside the borders of Québec.|
There is a third section, available on microfilm, which includes marriages between 1930 and 1940, as well as marriages missed or omitted from the first two volumes, and some celebrated outside Québec. While the published volumes are available in many places, this microfilm is not well known or widely available.
- ↑ Douglas, Althea, Here be Dragons! Navigating the Hazards Found in Canadian Family Research (Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1996), page 35
- ↑ Journals of James Manning and James Innis, Page 198. Appendixes I to IX contain petitions signed by several dissenting congregations in New Brunswick protesting act the Act.
- ↑ Betts, E. Arthur, Bishop Black and His Preachers (Sackville, New Brunswick: Tribune Press for Maritime Conference Archives, 1976). Appendix II, pages 125-162, is "Biographical Notes on the Preachers."
- ↑ Phillip G.A. Griffin-Allwood, "The Mystery of Baptist Records, or the Lack Thereof", Generations, Vol. 18, No. 2, Summer 1996, pages 32-36.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: New Brunswick Ancestors offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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