Basic Resources for Canadian Research

Genealogyandfamilyhistory.com is pleased to be back . Please enjoy this article that was posted on 7 October, just before the site was taken down for maintenance. The next new post will be available on Friday 28 October.

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

Due to some serendipitous planning, my summer included two major trips, the first to Scotland (after an absence of too many years), and the second, a cruise which sailed from New York City and, after visits to Newport (Rhode Island), Gloucester (Massachusetts) and Bar Harbor (Maine), crossed a watery border for visits to Halifax (Nova Scotia), Sydney/Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia), Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island), and Saguenay (Quebec), before its final port of call, Quebec City (Quebec). During the course of the Canadian section of the trip, I realized that many Americans, myself included, have only the dimmest knowledge of Canadian history and perhaps even less understanding of Canadian genealogical resources. This is especially significant for residents of United States states bordering on Canada—from Maine to Washington! This article, then, offers information about several resources, both in print and online, which may prove of assistance if you discover a Canadian ancestor. This article is only intended as a quick look at such resources; further information can be found online via Cyndi’s List and with the help of your local librarian.

  1. As a first step when beginning research in a new geographical area, I like to read background materials, particularly ones which will provide an historical context for my research. This reading will help explain why records were – or were not – created, as well as provide insight into the times in which an individual lived, his (or her) possible origins, and reasons for emigrating. I have found two books very helpful in learning about Scottish emigration to Canada. The first is A Dance Called America: the Scottish Highlands, the United States and Canada by James Hunter (current edition is Mainstream, 2010). This title provides an in-depth look into the earlier periods of emigration from Scotland to Canada and the United States. Barred from relocating to the colonies prior to 1707, Scots emigrated to Canada due to a series of events: crop failures, land clearances, war, transportation after the rebellion of 1745, an expanding tobacco trade, and somewhat later, organized emigration schemes. The book’s title derives from a story related by James Boswell in his well-documented tour of the Scottish Highlands with his companion, Samuel Johnson: “In the evening the company danced as usual…We performed, with much activity, a dance which, I suppose, the emigration from Sky has occasioned. They call it America. Each of the couples, after the common involutions and evolutions, successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in motion; and the dance seems intended to show how emigration catches, till a whole neighbourhood is set afloat.” The pattern of settlement in Canada was similar to that in the United States, with lowlanders tending to settle in towns and cities near the coast, while highlanders retreated into the more remote “back country.” This book is essential reading for anyone with Scottish ancestors who relocated to Canada in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

A companion title is Ian Charles Cargill Graham’s Colonists from Scotland: Emigration to North America, 1707-1783 (reprinted by Clearfield, 2009). I have read this title so often that my paperback copy (an earlier Clearfield printing, 1994) is falling apart. Graham very succinctly outlines several issues with regard to emigration: lowlands vs. highlands, compulsion (individuals forced to emigrate), and various aspects of social history. One important impact on the population is found in the fact that when British soldiers were discharged after such conflicts as the French and Indian War, they often did not return to Scotland, but instead stayed as settlers, a significant proportion of them from the Black Watch (42nd or the “forty and twa”), the Fraser’s, and Montgomery’s Highlanders Regiments. Their presence and the network strong ties of kinship and friendship would draw others to make the voyage to join them. The book includes an extensive bibliography that lists important document collections, newspapers and periodicals, and other materials, both primary and secondary.

Finally, less formal information can be found in Will Ferguson’s Canadian History for Dummies (2nd edition, 2005). This title is useful if you are looking for short summaries of important historical events that may have influenced your ancestor’s life. Topics begin with the rise – and fall – of New France (1608-1766) and continue through the turn of the current century. This book is particularly helpful in explaining the events leading up to Confederation. In 1867, three British colonies (the Province of Canada comprised of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), became four Canadian provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia), following the Confederation Conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The process of creating the nation we know today as Canada continued almost to the present day with the addition of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories in 1870; British Columbia in 1871; Prince Edward Island in 1873; the Yukon in 1898; Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905; Newfoundland in 1949 (renamed Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001); and Nunavut (Arctic Archipelago and islands in Hudson, James and Ungava Bays) in 1999. Charlottetown is quite proud of its role in the Confederation Conference and the waterfront features historic buildings and a park named for this important event. While Canadian History for Dummies could be read in its entirety, I suggest it more as a reference source to dip into as needed during your research.

  1. After having read background material on Canadian history, I recommend consulting print sources that discuss the methodology and resources of Canadian genealogy. Two comprehensive titles include Sherry Irvine and Dave Obee’s Finding Your Canadian Ancestors, a Beginner’s Guide (Ancestry, 2007) and Angus Baxter’s In Search of Your Canadian Roots: Tracing Your Family Tree in Canada (3rd ed., Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000). The former title discusses various types of records in general (immigration, census, vital, cemetery, probate, military, land, and newspapers) and then reviews the records for specific provinces. The chapter on Nova Scotia, for example, provides a map and brief history, and then discusses how to find localities, and carry out research using census returns, civil registration, church registers, etc. Illustrations of records are included, as well as a list of websites, a bibliography, and addresses of a variety of research institutions and record repositories. The Baxter book begins with a discussion of several migrations (Scots, Irish, German, Huguenots, United Empire Loyalists, Ukrainians, Jews, etc.), followed by a look at specific record collections, including those at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the National Archives of Canada, as well as specific record types, such as censuses, church records, and coats of arms. Succeeding chapters discuss record research in each of the provinces. In addition, information is included on how to start a family tree and how to write a family history. In this book, the chapter on Nova Scotia, in addition to similar information contained in Irvine and Obee, also contains detailed information on available township records, a list of the specific information included in censuses as early as 1752, and record groups such as poll-tax records that, apparently, are “almost unique to Nova Scotia.”

Other titles that will prove helpful include Lovell’s Gazetteer of British North America, 1873 (Global, 1999), which names and locates communities, with entries providing information about business and industry landmarks, churches, institutions, transportation and communication, and municipal government. If you are tracing the migration of your ancestor within Canada, one very informative feature provided is a listing of railway and steamboat connections to various communities. For example, if your ancestor was en route to Barnett in Wellington, Ontario, the nearest point most conveniently accessible by railroad or steamer was Fergus, located four miles from Barnett. By looking for Barnett in the main section of the gazetteer, you will locate somewhat limited additional information, but what you do find may prove very useful as Barnett was also known as Ennotville or Hewgill, and had a population of only 90 people in 1873. You may also want to locate copies of two companion books published by the Ontario Genealogical Society in Toronto: Althea Douglas’ Here Be Dragons! Navigating the Hazards Found in Canadian Family Research: a Guide for Genealogists with Some Uncommon Useful Knowledge (1996) and Here Be Dragons, Too! More Navigational Hazards for the Canadian Family Researcher (2000).

  1. Once you are reasonably knowledgeable about Canadian history and general genealogical resources and methodologies, you will want to progress to resources, both print and online, that will assist you in locating your specific forebear. As many Scots settled in what became the Maritime Provinces, you will want to consult Terrence M. Punch’s two-volume Some Early Scots in Maritime Canada (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2011, Volumes I and II sold separately). The information is based on materials found in such institutions as the Nova Scotia Archives and the Public Archives of New Brunswick, among others. Included in a discussion about the history of emigration is an interesting table that illustrates the depopulation of the highlands and western isles between 1841 and 1961 (nearly 30%) due to emigration. Lists of immigrants are provided that include individuals in various censuses, cemeteries, settlements, passenger records, church records, etc. The volume also includes an index of surnames and ships. While I could find no Barclays (of any spelling), I did browse through the book and found such informative entries as

“Died 6 July 1823 at Saint John: Charles McPherson, 70 [grocer], native of Perthshire, Scotland. Left there 50 years ago, and sailed from England in a man-of-war for America, and settled at Kingsbridge, New York, in 1776. Came as a Loyalist to New Brunswick in 1783. He left a widow [Catherine McLeod] and a large family.”

This information was taken from the St. John City Gazette, for 10 July 1823. If Charles was your ancestor, this single entry could provide many clues for your continued research and documentation. From a list of headstones of Scottish immigrants in New Brunswick, I learned that Colin MacKay was born in 1772 in Beauly, Kilmorack Parish, Inverness-shire, and died in 1850 at Pictou, Nova Scotia, and was buried in the Loyalist Burying Ground in Saint John. This entry provides many leads for further research. Other entries include reports of shipwrecks, often mentioning passengers by name; birth; marriages; land records; probate records; and much more.  In addition to these two volumes for Scottish emigrants, you will also want to consult Punch’s Erin’s Sons: Irish Arrivals in Atlantic Canada, 1761-1853, volumes I through IV (sold separately; Genealogical Publishing Co.).

A related source is Donald Whyte’s A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada before Confederation (Ontario Genealogical Society, 1986), which contains 12,500 entries and over 30,000 names. When possible, entries include name, parentage, place of origin, dates of birth and death, destination, date and ship, occupation, wife or husband, parentage, date of marriage and children, along with the source of the information. For example, an entry for Rev. George Barclay notes that he was born 3 July 1780 and died 10 August 1857. A native of  Cupar in Fife, Scotland, he was the son of George Barclay and Elizabeth Gibson. He immigrated to Pickering Township, York County, Ontario, in 1816, and served as a Baptist minister and schoolmaster. He married Janet Tullis and they had eight children (all named with dates for birth and death when known). I wish George were one of the Barclays I’m researching!

Other titles include David Dobson’s Scots in the USA and Canada, 1825-1875, parts I through V (Clearfield Company); Marion Gilroy’s Loyalists and Land Settlement in Nova Scotia (Clearfield, 2002); and many more.

A variety of websites will also support your research. For instance Immigrants to Canada includes voyage accounts, emigration information, lists of ships sailing to Canada, information on ports of arrival, and on the people themselves. This site includes provides a wide variety of links to other sites pertaining to nineteenth-century emigrations to Canada. Passenger arrival records after 1865 are available from the Library and Archives of Canada, as are many other online databases, including immigration records for 1925-1935, created in cooperation with the Pier 21 Society in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Pier 21, itself, is definitely worth your visit, as it is the home of the Canadian Museum of Immigration. During my visit to the museum last month, I learned that this pier was the point of entrance for over one million Canadian immigrants between 1928 and 1971. As we often focus our research on ancestors living in earlier centuries, it was very interesting to learn about this more recent time period. Another interesting site is entitled Home Children (1869-1930). During this time period, over 100,000 orphaned, abandoned, and pauper children were sent to Canada from Great Britain, ostensibly to offer them a better life. On arrival, they were sent to temporary homes and then to work on area farms. The information on this site represents a continuing project that may help you solve more modern research problems. To date over 96,597 names from passenger lists (1869-1922), as well as information from selected immigration records, Central Registry Files (1869-1935), the Department of Agriculture (1869-1892), and the Boards of Guardians (1886-1916), have been made available. Finally, the inGeneas Database contains Canadian passenger, immigration, census, vital statistic, land, military and miscellaneous records from the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries. When I searched this site for Barkley, I found forty-eight entries; for Barclay, 157 entries. Please note that the search and list of entries is free; there is a cost to purchase a full transcript of an individual record.

Canada is one of our closest neighbors and many researchers find links to Canada in their family trees. Learning about this vast, beautiful country will prove entertaining and informative, and will enrich an understanding of our ancestors’ lives and experiences.

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