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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 Canadian: Religious Records by Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, CGL. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
There are many denominational or regional religious bibliographies, usually produced by academics and containing a great many theological, statistical or issue-related materials which cannot be used by the historian.
However, they will also include histories, biographies and perhaps even published church registers. Even better, there are often unpublished materials which can be difficult to find. The bibliography will supply details sufficient for tracking down these elusive things.
This example from Baptists in Canada 1760-1990 which includes a monograph on the early history of Baptists in central Canada (#115), reference to an article on congregational histories near Ottawa published in a volume of minutes (#121) and the historical number of a yearbook (#122). The creative reading of bibliographies can lead to books, but also to journal articles or sections of otherwise unnoticed periodicals (such as the minutes and yearbook above) which will be useful to researchers in determining the state of a denomination in their area in a particular period.
A great deal of detailed church history can also be found in theses, which are not published in book form and have very limited circulations. Once you know the name and author of a thesis, however, they can be located in the library of the university where they were written, and sometimes there are even copies which can be borrowed on interlibrary loan. Even better, theses deposited at the Library and Archive Canada are usually available in microform. Theses and dissertations can also be found searching on WorldCat.
As an example, Kevin Kee’s Master of Arts thesis prepared for Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (1995) entitled The Heavenly Railroad: Ernest Crossley, John Hunter, and Canadian Methodist revivalism, 1884-1910 includes a great deal of background information about both Crossley and Hunter. Anyone related to them or interested in their families would find considerable useful material for a family history. Kee’s thesis is available from Library and Archives Canada on microfiche.
Histories of Religious Groups or Group Biographies
Many denominations have subgroups, some official and some semi-official. Histories of these groups may include information which will help researchers, especially if you have relations who belonged to the group or who interacted with them.
For example, most Roman Catholic monastic orders have histories detailing their work in specific areas. The nursing orders often ran hospitals at which our ancestors worked or in which they were ill, recovered or died. The teaching orders ran schools at which our ancestors learned. Their histories may provide useful details.
One of New Westminster’s successful events, commenced in the seventies and continued till the present, was the crowning of the May Queen. This was first organized on May 4, 1870 by the Hyack Fire Brigade. On May 1, 1871, Lizzie Irving, daughter of Captain Irving and a pupil of St. Ann’s was chosen queen. Again in 1879, St. Ann’s was represented by Miss Lena Eichoff, who later became Mrs. W. H. Keary. (A Century of Service: a history of the sisters of Saint Ann and their contribution to education in British Columbia, the Yukon & Alaska, by Mary Margaret Down. 1966]
Obviously, if your relative was a member of the order, there is a greater reason to read the history. There are also often dictionary-style biographical listings of members of some orders, as in theDictionnaire biographique des Récollets missionaires en Nouvelle-France, by Odoric Jouve (1996). In fact, the Roman Catholic clergy of Québec are very well documented.
Lavallée (L’abbé François-Xavier), né à Saint-Norbert-de-Berthier, le 31 juillet 1861, de François Lavallée et de Geneviève Delorme, fut ordonné le 30 mai 1885. Professeur au séminaire de Joliette (1887-1899); curé de Sainte-Anne de Cohoes dans l’état de New-York (1899-1904); décédé à Cohoes, le 15 mai 1904. [J.-B.-A. Allair, Dictionnaire biographique du clergé canadien-français, v.1 (1910)]
Lay group histories are also useful, such asKnights of Columbus in Saskatchewan, 1907-1982: a history of achievement (1982) or Historical Sketch of the United Baptist Woman's Missionary Union of the Maritime Provinces ..., including Historical sketch of the Free Baptist Woman’s Missionary Society of New Brunswick, by Miss Clara R. Fullerton. Books about particular institutions (clubs, camps, retreat houses, soup kitchens) associated with an ancestral church may also provide material, and if your family’s involvement was considerable, relatives may be mentioned. One example of this is Kwasind Remembered (1979?), the history of a church camp near Utterson, Ontario.
Group biographies, especially of clergy, are also common in nineteenth century publishing. The bibliographies suggested above may be helpful in finding these, or a quick way to determine if they exist is to ask at the denominational archives. The archivists probably use them all the time in answering questions.
This page from the Biographical Directory of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Free Baptist Ministers and Preachers, by Frederick C. Burnett (1996) shows both a very brief reference to Hill Manzer and a more complete biography and portrait of Arthur B. Marsh. While the Marsh biography would be a real find for a genealogist, the single reference to Manzer might also prove invaluable. In effect, the editor of this volume has done the searching for you, and reports only this single appearance of Manzer in the official records. It also tells you that Manzer was a student at the University of New Brunswick in 1903, which opens another research door.
Finding These Books
How do you go about finding some of these books? As we have seen, many kinds of bibliographies exist. Look at the bibliographical references in larger denominational histories, or ask at the church archives for advice. I also refer you to the catalogue of the Library and Archives Canada, now available on the Internet at http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/index-e.html
This phenomenal database includes listings from the Library and Archives Canada, the Library of Congress, the British Library, the National Library of Australia, and hundreds of academic and large public and special libraries around the globe. Aside from this church records work, this is a website you should know about for your research and for daily life!
The catalogues of academic libraries which specialise in particular religious groups can also be useful places to search, especially if the library is near to you and might be a good place to visit for a day’s reading and note taking. We all know that Victoria University at the University of Toronto has a United Church emphasis, but across Canada there are many other institutions which still maintain ties with religious groups or which were originally founded by a church. McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario was originally a Baptist seminary in Woodstock, Ontario while the University of Regina began as a Methodist high school.
Most universities have websites with connections to their libraries and their library catalogues. If you need to discuss the possibility of their having historical materials on a particular religious group, you can easily do so via email (a contact address is always given).
In the past university libraries were seen as remote places for their students only. While these students are still their primary users, most welcome contacts with the public also. Do not be shy about getting in touch with them. If you have questions about Canadian publications which you cannot answer using websites at your disposal or the expertise of your local public library, the Library and Archives Canada reference staff are available. You can visit or telephone but the most efficient way to ask them a question is via e-mail, and in most cases you will receive a prompt reply.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Religious Records 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
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.