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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 ($).


The Military

Some Terminology

n. a military force, esp. one raised from the civil population and supplementing a regular army in an emergency
n. the troops stationed in a fortress, town etc. to defend it
1. the building occupied by them
v. provide (a place) with or occupy as a garrison
1. place on garrison duty
garrison town
n. a town having a permanent garrison

British Military and Local Militia

The invasions of 1775-1776 and 1812-1814 convinced Britain that the United States was a potential aggressor and so the British Army built fortifications at strategic points along the Saint John River. Here they maintained small garrisons of their regular army. However, through much of the 19th century the local militia was seen as the mainstay of land defence. However, except for the Fenian agitations, most American attacks in the Maritimes had been by sea from privateers, and it was the British Navy that protected the colonies.

Universal Compulsory Service

In the first months of 1787 Thomas Carleton (the Lieutenant Governor) and the General Assembly agreed a militia was essential in the new colony, and the enabling bill was passed on 1 March 1787. The militia depended on a form of universal compulsory service by all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60. Units were formed on a local basis, usually by county. The higher ranks of militia officers were often officers who had retired on half-pay from the British army and taken up land grants in the area.

Published militia lists, naming officers only, are quite common in the almanacs, directories and such. Actual muster rolls listing all militia members are rare, but may turn up in the provincial archives, or local museums. One muster roll from 14 July 1790, is printed by M.G.Reicker in Those Days are Gone Away: Queens County New Brunswick. 1643-1901, pages 162-163, as well as a list of the officers of the First and Second Battalions, Queens County Militia, 1862, on pages 164-165.

The county militias were not a formal “military force”; they supplied their own weapons and turned out once a year for a day of training, usually on June 4th, birthday of King George III. Attendance was compulsory at this annual muster of the militia with a small fine for “delinquency.” It being the King’s birthday, toasts were in order, often leading to an excess of drinking and little drill.

David Facey-Crowther, The New Brunswick Militia 1787-1867 (Fredericton: New Ireland Press and New Brunswick Historical Society, 1991), is an in-depth examination of the militia and its many units across the province. Illustrated, well annotated with a full bibliography (it started as a Masters thesis at UNB), it lists all the units of militia, dates of formation and commanding officers.

British Garrisons

British regiments served in Canada until the Treaty of Washington in 1871 (see Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume II, Plate 24 “British Garrisons to 1871”). In addition to their actual military duties, the British regiments made a large contribution to the colonies, not just by their services as surveyors, engineers, and builders, but to the social and cultural life of the garrison towns and cities where they served. Some married (some did not), and children might be born in several towns as the regiment’s posting changed. Saint John and St. Andrews were the two main Garrison towns, with a smaller group at Fredericton. The annualNew Brunswick Almanac will contain a page or two listing the “Staff of the Army, Serving in the Province of New Brunswick” as well as “A Corrected List of Militia Officers Within the Province.”

Military “C” Index

The Encyclopedia of Canada’s “Militia” entry is a concise source for information on Canada’s defence forces up to the First War and in the 1930s. British War Office (Army) and Admiralty (Royal Navy) records are in the Public Record Office in England, but most material related to Canada is available on microfilm at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. The Military “C” card file index (also microfilmed) simplifies access to these earlier British Army records.


Some families treasure great-grandfather’s “Commission,” and believe he was an officer in the British Army, when in fact he was an officer of the County Militia. Actually reading the commission will make this clear. Such militia commissions, however, do indicate that this ancestor was a man of some standing in the community.

Library and Archives Canada has extensive runs of the British Army Lists, which list all officers, by regiment, as well as those on half pay. A quick check will show whether or not the ancestor actually was an officer. However, a disbanded sergeant might well become a captain in the local militia, depending on how many actual officers were settled in the area.

J.P.s, M.P.P.s & V.I.P.s

Family tradition usually contains a germ of truth in a cloud of wishful thinking. It may claim our ancestor was an important M.P.P. (Member of the Provincial Parliament), or M.L.A. (Member of the Legislative Assembly), while research will show he was a long-serving J.P. (Justice of the Peace), who won a single election and served one brief term in a short-lived government.

As with those militia commissions, to verify legends about V.I.P. ancestors, consult the Almanacs that were published in most colonies. The New Brunswick Almanac lists government and military officials, clergymen, doctors, notaries and lawyers within the colony, as well as court terms and many local regulations.

The Almanac was published at least every two or three years, under different titles and by several publishers, from 1829 through 1865, then irregularly to 1916. According to AMICUS, nothing exists from then until 1954 when new, and very full editions were published until 1956, after which it was absorbed by Atlantic Almanac. Use AMICUS, see what exists and where it is held.

M.P.P. or M.L.A.

There are published lists of members of provincial legislatures of the colonies and provinces though some may cover pre-1867 and post-Confederation in separate volumes with different editors.


The PANB website has a searchable database: RS581 “Index to Justice of the Peace Appointment Register, 1863-1963”, a position most local V.I.P.s held at one time or another. The Justices of the Peace were appointed by the provincial governments and presided at the General Sessions of the Peace (Courts of Quarter Session) which were an early form of local government. Records of these courts from the early 19th century often survive, and by mid-century local newspapers usually print lists of the appointments.

Sirs, Lords and Ladies

Very few people in North America know much about titles, or their proper usage, but they delighted in them nonetheless. If the family name is shared with any notable personage, he will be hung on the family tree whether he belongs there or not. My own family research produced a classic, by “Mr. B.E. Duffy, the Historian for Sussex Masonic Lodge at Dorchester New Brunswick.”

Mr. Thomas COCHRAN, farmer by occupation. Came from a very distinguished Scotch family of royal blood. Was the youngest son of Lord Dundonald, a Seat of Nobility and brother of Admiral COCHRAN, a former Admiral who fought in the liberation of Peru and was in supreme command of the North Atlantic Squadron, Halifax. The Admiral also championed many just causes in Parliament at Ottawa …

This malaprop-filled nonsense came from a photocopy of part of a typescript account of “The Cochrane Family,” no date or author, sent by a friend who “happened to have it” and knew I was interested in the family.

Thus are such tales perpetuated—it is “printed” so must be true! I give the “reality check” in Here Be Dragons, page 62. Here you will also find a simplified explanation of the difference between titles and courtesy titles, knights and nobility, and how you can purchase a “Lordship.”

Many important Canadians, quite a few from New Brunswick, were knighted or made Peers (Lord Beaverbrook was Baron, R.B. Bennett, a Viscount). An entry in any biographical dictionary for Sir Canadian Politician will give the date they were “knighted”, or made K.G., K.C.B., G.C.M.G., etc. The clearest and most concise explanation of the “letters-after-the-name” these honours generate is found in TheGenealogists’ Encyclopedia, pages 231-32, but most dictionaries and reference works list some under “Abbreviations”.

Sorry, She’s Not a Lady!

Professional genealogists may have to deal with much-loved family legends such as: “Felix Cochran married Lady Mary Moran, her family disowned her, and the couple came to Nova Scotia in the eighteenth century.” When a Lady Jane orLady Mary Moran turns up in family tradition, a title is almost certainly being misused. If you actually do have the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl in your pedigree, it is easily verified in those “Peerages” that came out every decade or so. Select an edition closest to the time yourLady Mary lived. In most libraries older editions may be in the stacks, but there will be a cross-index of family names and titles. As well, check for her in the listing of “Married Daughters of Peers.” With a name like Moran it might also be worth looking for an Irish Peerage. The most probable explanation of a “Lady Mary” is an ignorant misuse of a title. If she was the widow of a knight, she would be properly known as Jane, Lady Moran (widow of Sir James Moran), and the North American error is understandable.
There could be a germ of truth in the “of noble descent” tale as well. There were many members of noble family serving in North America with the British Army and Navy and assisting the various peers and royals who came to serve in positions of authority. However, while titled families are very easy to verify, their bastards are not. However, in the 18th century and even the early 19th, you may find some provisions made for their education, career, or dowry.


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 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.