Genealogist's Tips  

Some Tips from a Genealogist

by Beau Chapman ([email protected])

Early Settlement Periods

There were five major settlement periods in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Micmac Indians were the original settlers. Then came the French, commonly referred to as Acadians. Later, the British defeated the French in the French and Indian War, and most (not all) of the (Acadian) French were forced to leave. The British began settlement, principally in the area now known as Nova Scotia, by recruiting some from the American colonies as well as from Britain. Up to that time Nova Scotia included what is now New Brunswick. In 1783 thousands of Loyalists were forced to leave the American colonies. When they arrived they were allowed to petition for free land grants. In the following year, 1784, New Brunswick was created into a separate province. Finally, during the approximate period of 1820 and 1850, thousands Scotch and Irish immigrated and settled in both provinces. As later generations were born many "moved West" for more land and opportunities to raise their large families. "West" included Maine.


The New Brunswick provincial government was slow in formation and functioning. There was a partial census taken in 1783, principally along the St. John River in the effort to identify preloyalist settlers and the land that they occupied so that the government could create land grants for the loyalists. Only the heads of households were named. It wasn't until 1851 that the first census of the entire New Brunswick province was taken. Some of those 1851 censuses have either been partially lost (St. John and York), mostly lost (Queens), or completely lost (Kent and Gloucester) . Since 1851, at ten year intervals, censuses have been taken of each New Brunswick county. Most of those, however, are currently on microfilm, unindexed, but can be borrowed via interlibrary loan.

Vital Statistics

Commencing in 1888 the province began recording vital statistics. However, even then the names of the deceased parents were not included on death records. There were other prior records, such as wills, probates, church records of baptisms and marriages, land grants and property deed recordings. However, not every early death resulted in a probate record, nor did every probate include a will which would typically include the names of living descendants. Not every early birth, baptism or marriage record has remained. Most counties had many church denominations and it would be important to learn to which denomination a past family member belonged, as those records are also on microfilm, unindexed.

Spelling of Names

Record takers were not always well educated and they tended to write what they "heard". As such, spelling variations were quite common and represent a challenge when undertaking research. In some situations, branches of families have retained the "misspelled" version to this day, often unaware of that fact as they search for ancestors where the names of previous ancestors may have been spelled in the "original" manner. Children were often named after relatives. The first son was often named after the child's paternal grandfather, especially if the grandfather was still alive at the child's birth (less likely if the grandfather had died previously). Similarly, the first daughter was often named after the child's paternal grandmother. Children were also given as a first or second name, the maiden name of a mother or grandmother. Thus, attention to the names in a family lineage can offer important research clues and it is very helpful to those who might help if those names were included in posted queries on the message boards.

Counties, Parishes and Settlements

When the province of New Brunswick was formed in 1783, several counties were formed. As years passed and the population increased, some counties were split and new ones were added. In some situations an early Loyalist, for example, may have been granted land in county "X." However, after the county was split that particular parcel may have been located in the newly formed county "Y." This potential issue may be critical when searching for genealogical information on the earlier generations.

Counties were divided into parishes, such as Southampton in York County. As an example, if part of one's "family history" was that "Uncle John said he was from Southampton," a researcher would not find "Southampton" on a map of New Brunswick, unless that map included parishes. In such situations, the researcher is usually unaware that "Southampton" in this illustration was a parish and often assumes that it must have been a town or village. In many instances there were no towns with the same parish name.

In a similar way, there were a number of "Settlements" within a county. That is, some of the early land grants were later subdivided into residential subdivisions which were given a name, such as the case with many U.S. residential subdivisions. Most of the settlements were relatively small and many do not appear on commercial maps. On the other hand, such information might be of great importance with genealogical research.

The Irish

The great influx of Irish to New Brunswick occurred principally from about 1820 to about 1850. Unfortunately, most of the passenger lists and immigration records have been lost due to the fire of the Customs House in St. John in 1877. Lists have survived for some 10,000 immigrants.. The 1851 Census is the best single source for the study of Irish immigration to the province of New Brunswick. First, that census was relatively complete and it contained a question related to the date each immigrant arrived in the province. Irish immigrants were composed of two primary groups: Protestants and Catholics. The Protestant Irish allegiance to the Crown provided more of a "common ground" with Loyalist families. The Catholic Irish were not as fortunate in their efforts to integrate. Irish settlements tended to be either Catholic or Protestant. Spelling variations of surnames were quite common, and the frequent use of Mary and John as first names compounded the problem. Given ages were frequently incorrect, especially with the adults who were listed. The ages of children were more accurate.

Research Tips

On-line services, such as America On-line or Internet Web Sites, provide opportunities to post queries about one's heritage search in the hope that others may be able to provide answers. To improve the odds of having your query answered with important information, it is important to, first, ensure that you have done your "homework" and, secondly, to post queries which would optimize "answers."

Homework - United States Death Records

In situations where the last known relative was born in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, for example, and later moved to and died in the United States, it would be important to first search for death records in that state. If one does not know the date or year of death, one can search the censuses for that state until the relative was no longer listed. That approach provides an estimated period for a death search. With the death certificate one would, hopefully, learn the date and exact place of death, as well as the names of the parents and their place of birth. With the date of death, one could then search for a potential obituary that might reveal other important information. The local reference librarian at the place of death would be someone to contact. With the obituary, one might learn the name of the cemetery and funeral director where other files may exist on the family. All of those should be searched.

Suggested Posted Queries

Many queries that are posted on genealogical message boards lack important information that might otherwise prompt a helpful response. Queries should first be clear about what it is that's being sought. In most situations, the search is for previous generations of last known relatives. In those situations, share the full name(s) of the last known relative. Include the birth, marriage and death dates and places when known, or best estimates. Include the full names of children, if known, and from which one you descend. Separate facts from "family tradition says... " Both are important, but keep the two separate. Then be specific about what it is that you are searching.

In some situations people have already identified many past generations and are simply searching for any "new information." However, in those situations the posted query may not make that clear. So, make clear what it is that you're seeking.

Hiring a Genealogist

Clearly, genealogical research in New Brunswick and the other Canadian provinces presents a real challenge to the experienced researcher in those regions, let alone those relatively inexperienced.

One will find by reviewing posted queries that on average something approaching 95% to 99% of posted queries do not obtain the critical information sought. Most of the early settlers under British rule emigrated from the colonies where many of their families had been for up to 150 years. Therefore, what's at stake is not only the discovery of Canadian heritage, but very early colonial heritage as well. The "good news" is that much has been documented on early colonial families and, therefore, once one can uncover the New Brunswick heritage, there is an excellent chance of making connections with one's colonial heritage.

Members can ask for a fee estimate, or agree to a dollar limit for the search. And of course, references should be available. A quality report would include (1) copies of findings and their sources, (2) lists of available records and resources which might include other important information based on the findings, and (3) several suggested "next steps to take and why."