Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Genealogy
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Guide to Newfoundland and Labrador ancestry, family history and genealogy: birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, parish registers, and military records.
Newfoundland and Labrador Information
Newfoundland and Labrador is the most eastern province of Canada. It is made up of the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador.
By the time that European contact with Newfoundland began in the early 16th century, the Beothuk were the only indigenous group living permanently on the island. Instead, their trading interactions were sporadic, and they largely attempted to avoid contact in order to preserve their culture. The establishment of English fishing operations on the outer coastline of the island, and their later expansion into bays and inlets, cut off access for the Beothuk to their traditional sources of food. In the 18th century, as the Beothuk were driven further inland by these encroachments, violence between Beothuk and settlers escalated, with each retaliating against the other in their competition for resources. By the early 19th century, violence, starvation, and exposure to tuberculosis had decimated the Beothuk population. They were extinct as a cultural group by 1829.
The oldest confirmed accounts of European contact date from a thousand years ago as described in the Viking Icelandic Sagas. Around the year 1001, the sagas refer to Leif Ericson landing in three places.
Main article: Newfoundland Colony
Sometime before 1563 Basque fishermen, who had been fishing cod shoals off Newfoundland's coasts since the beginning of the sixteenth century, founded Plaisance (today Placentia), a seasonal haven which French fishermen later also used. In the Newfoundland will, now in an archive in Spain, of the Basque seaman Domingo de Luca dated 1563 de Luca asks “that my body be buried in this port of Plazençia in the place where those who die here are usually buried.” This will is the oldest known civil document written in Canada.
Twenty years later in 1583 Newfoundland became England's first possession in North America and one of the earliest permanent English colonies in the New World when Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed it for Queen Elizabeth. Though English fishing boats had visited Newfoundland continuously since Cabot's second voyage in 1498 and seasonal fishing camps had existed for a century prior, the Basque, French, and Portuguese had done likewise. In 1585, however, this changed: Bernard Drake led a devastating raid on the Spanish and Portuguese fisheries from which they never recovered. This provided an opportunity to secure the island and led to the appointment of Proprietary Governors to establish colonial settlements on the island from 1610 to 1728.
From 1763 to 1767 James Cook made a detailed survey of the coasts of Newfoundland and southern Labrador while commander of the HMS Grenville. The following year, 1768, Cook began his first circumnavigation of the world. In 1796 a Franco-Spanish expedition again succeeded in raiding the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, destroying many of the settlements.
In 1854 the British government established Newfoundland's responsible government. The Newfoundland Red Ensign – civil ensign of Newfoundland from 1904 to 1965. Newfoundland remained a colony until acquiring Dominion status in 1907. A dominion constituted a self-governing state of the British Empire or British Commonwealth and the Dominion of Newfoundland was relatively autonomous from British rule.
Since the early 1800s, Newfoundland and Quebec, Lower Canada had been in a border dispute over the Labrador region. In 1927, however, the British government ruled that the area known as modern day Labrador was to be considered part of the Dominion of Newfoundland.
Due to Newfoundland's high debt load, arising from World War I and construction of the Newfoundland Railway, and decreasing revenue, due to the collapse of fish prices, the Newfoundland legislature voted itself out of existence in 1933, in exchange for loan guarantees by the Crown and a promise it would be re-established. On February 16, 1934, the Commission of Government was sworn in, ending 79 years of responsible government. The Commission consisted of seven persons appointed by the British government. For 15 years no elections took place, and no legislature was convened.
When prosperity returned with World War II, agitation began to end the Commission, and reinstate responsible government. But, the British government created the National Convention in 1946, reflecting efforts in self-determination among European nationalities that followed WWII. The Convention, made up of representatives from throughout the country, was formally tasked to advise on the future of Newfoundland. Three main factions actively campaigned during the leding up to the referendums. Smallwood led the Confederate Association, advocating union with the Canadian Confederation. They campaigned through a newspaper known as The Confederate. The Responsible Government League, After the referendum, a seven-man delegation was picked by the British governor to negotiate Canada's offer on behalf of Newfoundland. After six of the seven-man delegation signed, the British Government passed the British North America Act, 1949 through Parliament. Newfoundland officially joined Canada at midnight, March 31, 1949.
Getting Started with Newfoundland and Labrador Research
Links to articles on getting started with Newfoundland and Labrador research.
Newfoundland and Labrador Research Tools
Newfoundland and Labrador Map
Populated Places Tables:
Below are FamilySearch resources that can assist you in researching your family.
- Facebook Communities - Facebook groups discussing genealogy research
- Learning Center - Online genealogy courses
- Historical Records - databases and record images on FamilySearch
- Newfoundland and Labrador Family History Center locator map