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New Brunswick Historical and Biographical Sources (National Institute)

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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?[edit | edit source]

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.

Bibliographies[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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, etc. 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 and Some Ladies Too[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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.



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[edit | edit source]

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).[1]

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.

Publisher Clement Chandler Avard[edit | edit source]

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.

The Next Generation[edit | edit source]

The next generation was waiting in the wings, but like their predecessors, most had to first earn a living. They went into medicine, or business, became teachers, or professors, and some became journalists. The depression and World War Two limited the writing of local history, but as Canada’s centennial year, 1967, approached, there was a growing interest in local heritage.

Political and Social Histories[edit | edit source]

History professor (UNB) W. Stewart MacNutt’s New Brunswick A History: 1784-1867 (Toronto: Macmillan, 1963), and his The Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society 1712-1857 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1965, reprinted 1968, 1972), cover the political manoeuvres that led up to Confederation. Thirty years later Phillip A. Buckner and John G. Reid edited The Atlantic Region to Confederation: A History and E.R. Forbes and D.A. Muise edited The Atlantic Provinces in Confederation (Acadiensis Press and University of Toronto Press, 1994 and 1993), two collections of essays by contemporary historians presenting current research. As well, Margaret R. Conrad and James K. Hiller’s Atlantic Canada: A Region in the Making (Oxford University Press, 2001) looks at social and cultural as well as political history of the entire region.

Local Historians[edit | edit source]

These academic histories are not local or family history. For these we look to other writers. As with earlier historians, much of their writing appeared first in local newspaper columns and in magazines such as the Busy East, Maritime Advocate then The Atlantic Advocate, or the New Brunswick Magazine. Slightly more scholarly are the papers in Collections of the New Brunswick Historical Society which came out irregularly. For a few years in the 1970s the Journal of the New Brunswick Museum published a variety of papers. If you are researching anyone connected with a local business, the Atlantic Advocate and its predecessors will probably have a story on the company or its founder.

Journalists As Historians[edit | edit source]

Journalists are a special category of writer, some of whom turn to local history in retirement. When you encounter one, be sure you know what newspaper he or she started with and its political bias. For example, in Moncton, The Transcript was Liberal, The Times, Conservative. By the time the papers were amalgamated in 1983, the mixed marriage did not matter, but to be balanced I note one of each persuasion from Westmorland County.

Douglas How
[edit | edit source]

Douglas How (1919-2001) started work at the Moncton Daily Times, joined Canadian Press, became a war correspondent and after the war worked for CP in Ottawa, was an executive assistant to Hon. Robert Winters, the PC cabinet minister, then was employed by Time Magazine and later as Canadian editor of The Reader’s Digest. In his fifties he went to University, earning a B.A. and M.A.

He wrote regimental histories, a biography of industrial magnate K.C. Irving, another of Nova Scotian millionaire, Isaac Killam, and One Village, One War, 1914-1945 (Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press, 1995). This last is an account of the people of Dorchester, New Brunswick and their participation in two wars and the depression between. There is a lot of family information, and family anecdotes, but alas, no index.

John Edward “Ned” Belliveau
[edit | edit source]

Among the most prolific retired journalists is John Edward “Ned” Belliveau (1919- ) who spent a decade with The Transcript of Moncton and fifteen years with the Toronto Star. He then moved into political public relations, and was a campaign strategist for L.B. Pearson, Louis Robichaud, and others highly placed in the Liberal party.

He is the local historian of Shediac and Moncton parishes in Westmorland County having written, among others, The Splendid Life of Albert Smith and the Women He Left Behind (Windsor, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press, 1976), Running Far In: The Story of Shediac, neither indexed, and The Monctonians: Citizens, Saints and Scoundrels, Volume 1 (1981), The Monctonians: Scamps, Scholars and Politicians, Volume 2 (1982), which are well indexed. As well, he has written innumerable magazine articles. His articles and books frequently overlap, so watch your source references.

Like most journalists, Mr. Belliveau is a great story-teller, and as the cover blurb of Vol. 2 of The Monctonians tells us, “He has developed a network of valuable and folk-memoried informants”. Folk-history is well worth recording, but we all know how errors creep into oral history. As well, he tends to use older secondary sources mixed with personal knowledge of people or events. Fine for current history but problematic when recording the past, especially when recent scholarly accounts based on the actual historic records exist. His political bias shows, not so much in what he writes as in what he glosses over, or misses completely, because he did not know about it.

Edward W. Larracey[edit | edit source]

A third journalist with less political baggage The Times, then Times Transcript, is Edward W. Larracey whose The First Hundred: A story of the first 100 years of Moncton’s Existence..., was based in part on C. Alexander Pincombe’s thesis “The History of Monckton Township (c.1700-1875)”, completed in 1969.

William C. Gaynor[edit | edit source]

Typical of the collected newspaper articles you may come across is William C. Gaynor’s Memories of the Mirimichi, originally a series of thirteen articles in the Chatham World, recently collected and published by Miramichi Books.

Finding Current Writers[edit | edit source]

Today’s challenge is to find what new material has been published. Acadiensis 'Generations, published by the NBGS since 1979, is where you find a lot of work by local family historians.

The “Information Sheet” gives you the names of some of the genealogists indexing and transcribing records: John R. Elliott (Kings County), Ken Kanner (Westmorland and Albert Counties), Janice Seeley (Sunbury County), Patricia Nicholson (Grand Falls region), Daniel F. Johnson, B.B.A., CG(C) (Newspapers and Saint John); George H. Hayward, CG(C); Ruby Cussack (Saint John), or you might find a special family history that meshes with yours.

For earlier writing, look under place names in the Checklist and Supplements. Next, search library catalogues (some are online) for works by the writers you find in Acadiensis and Generations.

Be warned that a lot of Maritimers are reluctant to send the Legal Deposit Copies to Ottawa, so Library and Archives Canada may not have received a copy to catalogue, but university libraries or the Legislative Library in Fredericton will. As well, check library catalogues under “Subject” the subject being the place (town, county, whatever), or try periodical indexes, again under subject.

Queen's County[edit | edit source]

The History of Queen’s County by E. Stone Wiggins (1876), which first appeared as a serial in The Watchman in 1876 and 1877, has been edited by Richard and Sandra Thorne for the Queens County Historical Society (1993). Much of it is an alphabetical listing of Queens County family genealogies, with as much of the founding members’ histories as was known to Wiggins.

The Thorns are thoroughly competent genealogists and I was excited to learn that the new work is now on a computerized database, and it is possible to accept corrections to Wiggin’s original with the thought towards publishing a more complete compilation of early Queens County families. Several sheets at the end of the book are provided for readers’ submissions.

That was 1993, I haven’t heard more, but it is an indication of what can be expected as scanners and database software become more sophisticated. When modern research can be added into the 19th century histories, so often based on what the oldest inhabitants remembered, we get the best of both worlds, but be sure you know what worlds are being amalgamated. Beware of fool’s gold.

Material Culture and History[edit | edit source]

Part of family history is the family treasures, handed down over several generation, that tend to acquire tales and stories about where they came from, how old they are, and who owned them. Much of this can be “myth information” which even looking at a publication date will explode.

In They Planted Well, is a paper by M. A. MacDonald (with Robert Elliot), “New Brunswick’s ‘Early Comers’: Lifestyles Through Authenticated Artifacts, a Research Project”. This later became a book: Rebels and Royalists: the Lives and Material Culture of New Brunswick’s Early English-Speaking Settlers, 1758-1783, by M. A. MacDonald (Fredericton: New Ireland Press, 1990), and is a fascinating examination of material possessions of various early settlers in New Brunswick. It naturally contains considerable family information as well as exposing the truth behind a number of family myths.

A more extensive survey of early artifacts and buildings is by Robert Cunningham and John B. Prince, Tamped Clay and Saltmarsh Hay: Artifacts of New Brunswick, (Fredericton: University Press of New Brunswick, 1976).

Biographical Dictionaries[edit | edit source]

You find them in books like A Cyclopaedia of Canadian Biography being Chiefly Men of the Times (1888) or Prominent People of the Maritime Provinces. By 1922 when this was published, women, though not yet legally ‘persons’, were allotted some twenty entries. As well, the annual editions of The Canadian Who’s Who and its variants, can be a useful source because they usually give the place of birth, names of parents and often earlier lineage, as well as marriage, wife, children and education, offering leads to professional and college directories.

“But my ancestors were farmers, they won’t be there.” Don’t be so sure. You would be surprised at how many Canadian farm families of modest means produced at least one noted clergyman or educator, politician or military man. The prominent same name may be granddad’s second cousin, but such books offer good clues as to where in the province a family name can be found. Someone who makes Who’s Who about 1950 was probably born around 1900, and his parents before 1875. An entry in the 1888 Cyclopaedia might take you back to 1800 or earlier.[2]

Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB) Website[edit | edit source]

Remember those searchable databases the PANB has developed:

  • Guide to Biographies
    This includes two editions of Prominent People of the Maritime Provinces … (1922 and 1938), Dictionary of Mirimichi Biography, and a variety of other sources at the PANB.
  • Index to Hutchinson Directories
    :1865-1866
1867-1868
  • Index to Lovell Directory 1871


And always check Guide to Family Histories, that is where I found the lead to Oshkosh, and so to Lemuel and Xenophon Cleveland.


Most regions, alas, do not have W. D. Hamilton’s Dictionary of Mirimichi Biography, which contains 1,110 sketches of “men and women born before 1900 who played a part in public life on the Mirimichi”. Each biographical sketch contains family data and anecdotes, with source notes for each sketch. The names are in the searchable database (above), but that only gives the reference number of the books. For actual facts, you have to find the books themselves. Try to convince your library to buy a copy.

Census 1851-1901[edit | edit source]

Here is where you will find those who stayed on the family farm. The PANB has compiled and published all surviving 1851 census returns, and quite a number of later returns are in print. Check the Associates of the PANB list of “ Publications” at their website and also look at Generation “Information Sheets”, where other privately published indexes may be found, such as the 1861 Census Charlotte County. The local library may hold manuscript material or have card indexes for the immediate area (parish).

Local Secondary Sources[edit | edit source]

Check Daniel F. Johnson’s Vital Statistics from New Brunswick Newspapers, available as a searchable database on PANB. When checking newspapers, keep an eye out for things like “List of Electors, Town of Moncton, 1885” which gave each man’s name and ward. Transcribed from The Daily Moncton Times, Friday, February 27, 1885, by D.F. Johnson, printed Generations, Vol. 18, No. 1, Issue 67, Spring 1996, pages 32-36.

As you know, there is probably at least one local history for every town and most villages in New Brunswick, and each church in town may also have produced at least a booklet with names and photographs and information on members of the congregation. They range widely in size, quality and usefulness.

I have praised James Fraser’s work on Chatham, By Favourable Winds. You won’t find many local histories of that calibre or that useful to genealogists. More will resemble the chronological account by Lloyd A. Machum, A History of Moncton … 1855-1965, which goes into great detail about people and events in that city, though Ned Belliveau’s two volumes of The Monctonians is more lively reading and also has a good index. You may turn up little booklets like Ethel E. Patten’s The Hills of Home (1979), a brief personal memoire of her early life in nearby Rockland, or find a well annotated history of a town like Rev. Ross N. Hebb’s Quaco—St Martins, A Brief History 1784-1884, mentioned in connection with the Loyalists, but also of great value to anyone interested in 19th century ships and shipping, because he draws heavily on the microfilmed Moran family papers available through the PANB. Alas, no index.

Regional, personal and detailed, such histories (local or family) are worth searching out. Many are privately published but local libraries should have copies, and may know about others as well.

Business Histories[edit | edit source]

Maritime companies sometimes publish their histories, and always check periodical indexes for the Atlantic Advocate, Busy East and Maritime Advocate which wrote up many firms and entrepreneurs. The local libraries will doubtless have copies of the books and vertical files with the articles.

Historic Homes[edit | edit source]

Three volumes, actually booklets, Historic Homes of Chatham, were published by the Town of Chatham in 1979-1981, based on research by students funded by a variety of government programs. There is a photograph of each house with information on the current and the original owners. Some houses date back to the 1830s.

The “Young Canada Works” and other student employment programs in the late 1970s and early 1980s produced a lot of these sorts of historical-cum-architectural surveys and reports. I have seen one for Moncton, done for Parks Canada I think, but never published in book form, just in binders. The local library, or university library may have a copy tucked away. These are worth asking about since they may produce a picture of the “family home” for a client.

Visual Records[edit | edit source]

In the 1840s, photography in several early forms became available. By the 1850s you can hope to find portrait photographs (mostly tintypes) of your ancestors. By the 1870 expect to find cabinet photographs taken by commercial photographers, and by 1900, black-page albums with very fuzzy snapshots.

A Few Dates[4]

1840
Commercial portrait Daguerreotypes date from this year
1854
Commercial ambrotypes (on glass) and Cartes-de-visite (on card)
1856
Tintype patented, and quickly takes over the portable portrait market
1866
Cabinet Photograph, 5.5” x 4” on card 6.5” x 4.5”, introduced
1888
Kodak camera introduced by Eastman
1900
First Brownie camera


The PANB has an extensive collection of photographs. Robert Fellows has published two soft-cover books of photographs from the PANB: Early New Brunswick Photographs. Volume I: Cities, Towns and Villages (1978); Volume II: People at Work and Play (1981). “The Woodsmen” section of Mary Peck’s The Bitter with the Sweet, includes several from a large collection on the lumbering industry. The many illustrations throughout her book will give you an idea of what to look for and where to look.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Rigby, Ann B. A Guide to the Manuscript Collections in the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (Frederiction: Provincial Archives, 1977), page 28.
  2. Douglas, Tools of the Trade, page 56.
  3. See Douglas, "Notes on Names", Here Be Dragons. page 32.
  4. For a detailed list, see A. Douglas, "A Chronology of Photography", Help! I've Inherited an Attic Full of History, Volume I (OGS, 1998), pages 42-46.



___________________________________________________________________

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 wiki@genealogicalstudies.com 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.