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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 ($).
Where To Start?
Anyone researching almost any aspect of New Brunswick history will be overwhelmed by the quantity of printed material available. Regional histories, local histories, church histories and family histories abound for every part of the province. Even more daunting are the articles and columns on local history and local families in newspapers and magazines. What exists, where is it, and how reliable is the information? There are bibliographies to help, but they will only bring you into the 1980s, and about that date the personal computer came on the scene, making writing, indexing, and transcribing much easier. Next came desktop publishing and things really took off.
Robert F. Fellows wrote the definitive book for beginners in family history, Researching Your Ancestors in New Brunswick Canada, came out in 1979. The typescript volume runs to 303 pages including the index, and includes many useful titles of older works. His more recent compilation, Starting A Family History Project in New Brunswick, Canada (1995), 126 pages, is an equally valuable source of information on documents, archives and addresses.
The problem today is to determine what older writing is useful, what new data is now in print, and how to find it. In this section we will try to suggest who to look for and where to look.
Volume 1 of William F.F. Morley’s Canadian Local Histories to 1950: The Atlantic Provinces… can be helpful to 1950, but is supplanted by newer Checklists. Hugh A. Taylor, searched out and published New Brunswick History: A Checklist of Secondary Sources [hereafter Checklist] in 1971. The First Supplement, was issued in 1974, a Second Supplement, in 1984, and further updates have been printed in Acadiensis: A journal of the history of Atlantic Canada.
Finding a run of Acadiensis will also introduce you to the most recent scholarly work on Maritime history. Founded in 1971 at the University of New Brunswick, it is not only the basic resource for regional studies, but the associated Acadiensis Press publishes a wide range of books on the Atlantic provinces.
In 1984, the National Library of Canada marked the bicentenary of New Brunswick with an exhibition of works by New Brunswick writers and their works, publishing a catalogue New Brunswick Authors-Écrivains du Nouveau-Brunswick, with, among others, information on the writers of early histories.
In Generations, the NBGS journal, “Information Sheets” in most issues list “Books by Members” being sold by individual members or branches, and it also reviews new books. Neither is complete; the author or publisher has to send a price list of what they have for sale; the book review depends on a review copy being donated to the society.
The First History
At Saint John, in 1825, Peter Fisher published his Sketches of New-Brunswick; containing An Account of the First Settlement of the Province with A Brief Description of the Country, Climate, Productions, Inhabitants, Public Institutions, Trade, Revenues, Population, & c. by an inhabitant of the province. This was reprinted by the New Brunswick Historical Society in 1921 as The First History of New Brunswick by Peter Fisher with notes by W.O. Raymond, and reprinted again in 1983. There are other early histories, mostly of the guides-to-emigrants variety, and many reprintings and facsimiles are available. They are interesting, but more use to social historians than family researchers.
It is to the writers who were born in the latter half of the 19th century, had professional careers and were “amateurs” in the true sense of the word, that we look to for information. These men and women made a great contribution not only by preserving records and papers they rescued from the attics and sheds of family and friends, but in using these to write and publish a great deal of local and regional history. Much of this lurks in newspapers, periodicals and serial publications, and today you can look for these in Hugh Taylor’s Checklist and Supplements. If they were collected into a book, Morley’s Bibliography may also include them.
Gentlemen Scholars & Some Ladies Too
In his notes to The First History of New Brunswick, W.O. Raymond points out that “considering Mr. Fisher’s limited sources of information [his book] is remarkably accurate.” (page 123) Today, that statement can be applied to Rev. William Odber Raymond (1853-1923) himself, and other scholars born in the 19th century: William Cochran Milner (1846-1939), Dr. J. Clarence Webster (1863-1950), William F. Ganong (1864-1941), and George Frederick Clarke (1883-1974), among others. When you encounter any of these names, you can expect to find useful local material, based on original documents or research. For most of their lives, none of these scholars had access to the extensive microfilmed records and archival documents we now take for granted, instead, they searched out, saved, and published many of the documents for us. They were well educated, if not trained as scholars, and you can rely on what they write to be accurate as of the date of publication.
Just remember that our knowledge has grown since then, but many items of material culture, gravestone inscriptions, for example, have been lost over this same time. Do not ignore research because it was published a century ago, the author may have had access to people, memories, documents and inscriptions that no longer exist. However, when you encounter their works there can be drawbacks.
W.C. Milner, who was associated with the Public Archives of Canada, collected local records and wrote the Early History of Dorchester and The Surrounding Area (Sackville, New Brunswick: Tribune Press Ltd., 1932, reprinted 1967, 1981) and a History of Sackville New Brunswick (Sackville, New Brunswick: Tribune Press Ltd., 1934, reprinted 1955, 1970). His books contain much original material but could be better organized, and indexes would help.
Dr. J.C. Webster published both scholarly papers and books, though few that have detailed records of families. Even his brief History of Shediac, New Brunswick (1928, reprinted by New Brunswick Museum, 1953) mentions only the more prominent citizens. His Historical Guide to New Brunswick appeared in several editions, and both the 1944 and 1947 editions are “Revised”, and though I have never collated the changes, the pagination is different.
Variations On A Theme
The Rev. Wm. O. Raymond, historian of the St. John River, located many documentary treasures, which he published in many different forms: as articles in newspapers, in the Collections of the New Brunswick Historical Society and the New Brunswick Magazine, and also as books. The River St. John is found in several editions, 1905, 1910 and later, in 1943 with notes by J.C. Webster. W. O. Raymond is not unique. Almost everyone writing local history through much of the 20th century published and republished material.
Note: You will find names of early settlers in lists of grantees, or court records, or letters, transcribed or quoted by writers. Texts of different editions of a book may vary, and references in a paper or article may be missing in the book version. If you find your long-sought ancestor mentioned in some quotation, be sure to pin down the exact source, note especially the edition and page references, and try to work back to the original document. Remember that documents, first brought to light in the 19th century, may have been moved from their original collection to some other institution. Always verify references and sources. Be especially careful of any citations to documents held at the New Brunswick Museum.
Not all the historians of this era were men, though the men make it into the Biographical Dictionaries with greater frequency. A number of women of the era also contributed to New Brunswick historiography.
The Bluestocking Brigade
Dr. Louise Manny (1890-1970) is perhaps best known for having founded the Mirimichi Folk Festival in 1958. As well as collecting folk music and poetry, however, she gathered a lot of information about people of the Mirimichi region, transcribing gravestones, and going through early newspapers. Except for her books on shipbuilding, Ships of Kent County and Ships of the Mirimichi, most of Dr. Manny’s work on Mirimichi history was published in newspapers or magazines and requires a hunt to find, but her papers, clippings and other family data are at the PANB in the Louise Manny Collection (MMA).
Grace Helen Mowat (1875-1964) wrote The Diverting History of a Loyalist Town, first published in 1932, drawing on documents and letters as well as anecdotes and reminiscences of the people of St. Andrews and Charlotte County.
Helen Isabell (Harper) Steeves (b.1873) wrote The Story of Moncton’s First Store and Storekeeper: Life Around “The Bend” a Century Ago (Saint John: McMillan, 1924), based on her grandfather’s tales and books.
Grace Aiton (1888-1963) collected information on the history of Kings County and took a leading role in founding the King’s County Historical Society. The Story of Sussex and Vicinity, was compiled from her newspaper articles, notes, and collection of documents and pictures, and published in 1967. Some of her work appeared posthumously in Collections of the New Brunswick Historical Society, so be careful with citations and quotations.
Esther Clark Wright (1895-1990), who obtained her Ph.D. from Harvard (Radcliffe College), was one of the foremost Maritime historians, and certainly among the most prolific. She has written histories of three New Brunswick Rivers, The Mirimichi and The Petitcodiac, both described as studies “of the New Brunswick River and of the people who settled along it.” The Saint John River, was published in 1949, and she rewrote the entire book as The St. John River and its Tributaries in 1966. The Loyalists of New Brunswick appeared in 1955, Planters and Pioneers in 1978, and in the interim she published Samphire Greens: The Story of the Steeves (1961) and The Steeves Descendants (1966), The Ships of St. Martins, and Saint John Ships and Their Builders. Her work in historical demography, based on the actual people and families in settlements, set standards for future historians and gained her the thanks, not to say blessings of genealogists. Her work in Board of Trade Shipping Registers is a boon to anyone whose family built ships, and in New Brunswick a lot did.
And A Publisher
Here one must mention Clement Chandler Avard (1875-post 1954) who in 1902 established The Sackville Tribune, a semi-weekly newspaper, out of which developed the Tribune Printing Co. Ltd., and a series of periodicals devoted to promoting Maritime industries and local history: the Busy East, the Maritime Advocate (incorporating Busy East) and finally The Atlantic Advocate (incorporating the Maritime Advocate and Busy East). He wrote, published, or printed a great deal of local history and encouraged many writers.
In the first half of the 20th century, these men and women were prominent in their regions, they wrote largely for love of the subject, and made the writing of local or family history something to be admired by the community.
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 email@example.com <br>
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