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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: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors by Althea Douglas M.A., CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Special Groups Of Non-Francophones
The British Military and Local Militia
Throughout the early period, 1760 to 1815, many genealogical problems will centre around members of the British military, their marriages, children, transfers and pensions.
- garrison n. and v. 1. the troops stationed in a fortress, town etc. to defend it. 2. the building occupied by them. v.tr. provide (a place) with or occupy as a garrison.3. place on garrison duty.
- garrison town a town having a permanent garrison.
- The Town Major, sometimes listed in Almanacs or Directories, was the chief executive officer (staff officer) in a garrison town or fortress. He might be an officer who had married and remained behind on half-pay when his regiment left the colony.
The invasions of 1775-76 and 1812-14 convinced Britain that the United States was a potential aggressor and so the British Army built fortifications at strategic points along the border and vital waterways. Along the Richelieu we find Fort Chambly, Fort Saint-Jean, Ile-aux-Noix, and there were countless smaller outposts between the major forts. Here the British maintained large, or small, Garrisons of their regular Army, but relied on local Militia to assist.
Another important military route led from the Bay of Fundy (western Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) to Québec: up the Saint John River to the Madawaska, then to Lake Temiscouata, at the far end of which ‘a portage of eighteen leagues’ brought the traveller to the Saint Lawrence at Rivière du Loup. The British Military used the route, established outposts and settlements of disbanded soldiers along it and it should not be forgotten.
Study the Historical Atlas of Canada, Vol. II, Plate 24 “British Garrisons to 1871”, an indispensable tool when researching any British army personnel in early Canada. The specific locations of the “outposts” where only a handful of men might be posted are useful to know, and help make sense of regimental records—as well as explaining “how he met her”.
Note: When you find yourself working in British Army records, remember that place names may well be given English. Chambly and Lachine, for example, are no problem; Three Rivers is fairly obvious, but one researcher I knew confused St Johns (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu) with Saint John in New Brunswick, and hunted for baptisms up and down the Saint John River instead of the Richelieu river valley.
British regiments served in Canada until the Treaty of Washington in 1871. In addition to their actual military duties, the British regiments made a large contribution to the colonies through their services as surveyors, engineers, and builders of canals and bridges. They also added immeasurably to the social and cultural life of the garrison towns and cities where they served. The regimental band played concerts, the officers organized theatrical entertainments, balls and sleighing parties. Some married (some did not marry), and children were born in a variety of towns as the regiment relocated. Some records may still be in Québec while others could be in Ontario. The records of the Anglican churches in Sorel and St. Johns (Garrison Church, 1817-1875) include many from the forts and garrisons along the Richelieu River.
Military “C” Index
The Military “C” Index (available from the Library and Archives of Canada in card form at the LAC) is another tool for tracking both regiments and individual soldiers who served in Canada. After 1871, the precursor of the Archives acquired the files of the British forces stationed in Canada, some 1,919 volumes of records: the “Canadian Command”, 1785-1883, and the “Nova Scotia Command”, 1762-1899, with some sundry additions. Archivists indexed these papers by individual name and regimental units giving volume and page numbers. This is the “C” index. Later the huge collection was microfilmed so researchers must now cross check a “Conversion List” to discover what volumes are on which microfilms. Military “C” is a very large index, but by cross checking, you should be able to determine the regiment a man served in, and from that, where he may have been stationed. If lucky, there will be Muster Rolls or Pay Lists, or perhaps a desertion and recapture.
A number of useful books are listed in the Bibliography, Military and Militia, but two are essential when tracing British Army personnel: The Service of British Regiments in Canada and North America: a resume, compiled by Charles H. Stewart (1962), is a typescript document but copies can be found in most major research and legislature libraries, including a few in the USA. British Army Pensioners Abroad, compiled by Norman K. Crowder (1995) lists pension recipients by regiment. Brenda Merriman’s Genealogy in Ontario has a brief but informative section on researching British military in Canada.
The Library and Archives of Canada has a good run of the annual British Army Lists, in which you can follow the careers of commissioned officers, both in active service and on half-pay. In the end, however, many service records will have to be sought in the Public Record Office at Kew, England.
British Admiralty Records
The North Atlantic Fleet was based in Halifax, where a magnificent, all year harbour provided shelter, with an army garrison on Citadel Hill providing land-based defence. The St. Lawrence River opened for navigation in April-May and froze over in early winter, so Québec City and Montréal were summer-time ports and never major naval bases. However, military units and supplies had to be brought in every summer, so many ships of the Royal Navy came and went. In the Library and Archives of Canada, MG 12 holds Admiralty papers, but these are largely reports from high ranking officers to the Admiralty. Records of British Naval personnel are with The National Archives in Kew.
One useful reference work is William R. O’Byrne, A Naval biographical dictionary: comprising the life and service of every living officer in Her Majesty’s Navy … (London, 1849). If great-great-great …, was an officer “who fought with Nelson at Trafalgar”, and was still alive in 1849, his career will be detailed here.
- militia n. a military force, esp. one raised from the civil population and supplementing a regular army in an emergency.
In Canada, where our Militia has a long and honourable history, this is what is meant. Do not confuse Canadian Militia (now the Reserve Army) with modern American groups calling themselves Militia (American part-time soldiers are the National Guard). The publicity the American groups received means there is always a danger that the term will be misused and misunderstood. There is more danger that a client will tell you an ancestor “served in the British Army - I have his Commission as a Major”. Almost always, this Commission is in the local Militia, indicating a certain social status, but you will not be able to find him in the British Army Lists.
Universal Compulsory Service
Under the Lower Canada Militia Act of 1803 and the Upper Canada Militia Act of 1808, the Militia was composed of all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 50, or 60 in case of national emergency. Units were formed on a local basis, usually by County. The officers commanding the Militia were often half-pay British Army officers. Published Militia Lists, naming officers only, are quite common in Almanacs and Directories.
Local Militia assisted British regulars to repel the invading Americans in 1812-1814, and served in 1866 and 1870 against the Fenian invasions from the United States. In the Archives there are land grant documents and medal registers recording such service. Most of the files are indexed. 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 4 June, birthday of King George III (which, of course, required many toasts to his health). Attendance was compulsory at this annual muster of the Militia with a small fine for “delinquency”. There are a few nominal Muster Rolls at the Archives, and others exist in provincial Archives.
Changes in the Canadian militia are detailed in the article on “Militia” in The Encyclopedia of Canada (1936-40, 6 volumes). Volunteer service in the Army or Naval Reserves (Militia), with a week or two of training every summer, has remained a tradition in many English Québec communities.
- J. Clarence Webster, An Historical Guide to New Brunswick (Fredericton, New Brunswick, revised edition, 1944) page 113.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Quebec Non-Francophone 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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