Newspapers Nuances ~ Reading Deeper

 

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I believe even those new to the discipline of genealogy are quite aware of the usefulness of newspapers as genealogical sources.  Though newspapers represent an original source of secondary information they are an example of sources which are often rich in social history and context.

Newspapers are obvious sources of birth, marriage and death notices.  These tend to be the “go-to” periodical documents of interest to genealogists.  These are genealogical gold!  Birth notices may aid in proving parentage, marriage notices may prove marriage details but also could list family members.  Obituaries are perhaps the most valuable of these newspaper notices often providing a great deal of life event and family information.

The rush to attach these notices to your family tree occasionally can lead to missinimg_1140g a research opportunity.  While many novice genealogists may be sure to add family members from these documents to their trees they may disregard other information which could lead to unique discoveries and records.  Be sure to research the organizations and places listed in an obituary.  Local clubs, service, and leisure organizations, religious organizations or places of worship, places of work should not just be thought of as fluff.  They create context and tell the story of an individual’s life but more than this they can form leads to unexpected records and documents.  Pick through notices with a fine toothed comb analyzing every stated name, organization, and relationship you may be surprised by the results.

Now look beyond these notices and think in even broader terms.  If you, like myself are from a small town or city, you know that small town local newspapers are filled with articles about everyday people as yourself.  They detail local events, celebrate accomplishments, describe local disasters, and often just act as a old fashioned “Facebook” social page.  Even if your ancestors were not famous or infamous newspaper articles may mention them.  Reading the local papers of their times also provide you with some social context.  What was happening in their community?  Were there any local events which may have effected their lives?  We often scour sources for the names of the individuals we are researching however broadening the scope of our search to include social history can provide more valuable information than you may imagine!

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Of course, it is always a genealogical jackpot when an ancestor appears who was celebrated, notorious, or perhaps unfortunately experienced tragedy!  I will offer a few personal examples which illustrate how “reading deeper” can ultimately lead to further sources.

If you are a regular fcarter-articleollower of my blog you will already be aware of the story of my notorious Great Great Grandfather John Carter.  Accused, tried, and convicted for the murder of his wife the story splashed across the British papers, I had no difficulty in finding article after article.  Had I read these articles for the narrative alone and then tucked them away in a file or attached them to my family tree I would have overlooked clues to amazing resources.  I decided instead to pull every name from the articles.  The name of the coroner, the police officers involved, even the name of the executioner.  Researching each of these individuals gave me new insights and context but more importantly lead to the discovery of the coroner records investigating the deaths of all three of John Carter’s wives!  Another significant discovery was John Carter’s mugshot which surfaced through researching the gaol also named in newspaper articles.

 

Perhaps it seems common sense and obvious but as busy genealogists it can be easy to gloss over secondary sources without attention to detail!  Genealogy is an investigation and as they say “the devil is in the details”!

 

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Browsing the 1666 Quebec Census

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If you, as I, have sprung from the earliest of French-Canadian roots you may be overwhelmed by the vast expanse of records.  While it is always heartening to see that research sources abound it can also be daunting wading through the piles of paper, the websites, the book stacks, to piece together the stories of our ancestors and decipher the validity of sources.

French-Canadian genealogical research can be hampered also by one’s lack of French language knowledge and the fear of accessing records and documents one cannot comprehend.  I would like to encourage researchers to move beyond this fear and discover a world of exciting documents brimming with rich genealogical details.

fah_canadianIn genealogy, as in many disciplines, it is important to be systematic, bearing this in mind I have decided to produce a series of blog posts introducing novice genealogists to specific French-Canadian document-sets, databases, and resources available online.  The hobbiest must understand that genealogical research should venture beyond sites such as Ancestry and Family Search.  Seasoned researchers, especially those who began their research prior to the onslaught of the internet, focus much of their research deep within the stacks of the archives.  Visiting an archive in person is always preferable but today we are lucky to find more and more archives are updating their websites with digital databases, many including images of original documents.

I am planning a series of blog posts regarding specific French-Canadian records and collections available online for those who are newly venturing into French-Canadian research.  Today I will focus on the early Quebec census records which should represent a wonderful starting point for those struggling with the other language-rich French-Canadian sources we will later explore.

The Library and Archives of Canada website is just one place you can access some wonderful online digital databases.  A particular favourite of mine is that of the 1666 Quebec Census which is not indexed but is a collection of browse-able images.  While they may be rather difficult at times to decipher there are some decent online transcriptions which can be used to help you as you work through the originals.  One of these transcriptions can be found on Hugh Armstrong’s Genealogy Site.  The transcriptions are divided by region so you must be sure to match up the correct region to the correct portion of the original census.

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Sample page from the 1666 Quebec Census

You will also find the 1667  and 1681 Quebec Census record images.  All these early census records include the names of all household members and ages.  The 1666 census also includes occupations or descriptors.  These records as you should expect are in French however the nature of the census as a listing of names and ages makes them easily comprehensible to even those with little experience of the French language.  They are a fabulous starting point for those breaking into the realm of French-Canadian research.

Some helpful vocabulary you may encounter in the 1666 Census:

travaillant ~ labourer                         Cordonnier ~ shoemaker   macon ~ builder                           charpentier  ~ carpenter                   menuisier ~ carpenter        fils ~ son                                      Sa femme ~ wife                                  habittant ~ settler                boulanger ~ baker       chapellier ~ bricklayer                      fille ~ daughter                      briquetier ~ bricklayer           Domestique Engaigé ~ Domestic    notaire ~ notary

These are just a few words you may encounter.  Use Google translate or go “old school” as I often do and invest in a French-English dictionary.

I look forward to delving further into the topic of French-Canadian online resources, including collections from Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec (BANQ), in future blog posts!

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Exploring the lives of First Nations’ Ancestors Through Investigations of Social History!

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If, like me, you have been lucky enough to discover you have First Nations’ ancestry you may soon after feel somewhat unlucky when you find that the records we rely on as Genealogists quickly dry up!  As we start to wall up that family line one brick at a time we should step back and rethink.  Is there no way to combat this scarcity of documentation?  How do we as Genealogists and Family Historians handle cultures which thrived on oral tradition rather than written records?

As an archaeologist and history researcher I can assure you that the scarcity of records proving the life events of your individual ancestors does not have to represent a research wall but rather a unique research opportunity.  Once the usual records dry up remove that first brick by discovering what other post-contact documents may exist.

huron-missionsMy 8th Great Grandmother was Huron or Wendat (Wyandot).  The Wendat people no longer exist as a nation.  They were drastically reduced as a result of European introduced disease, and Iroquoian attacks.  Those who survived were often assimilated into the other Iroquoian nations.  I encountered my 8th Great Grandmother through the Roman Catholic Church parish records (Drouin collection).  She had married my French Canadian 8th Great Grandfather and was described as a “Huron”.  Her parents were named as was her birth place in a Huron mission in the “land of the Huron” now part of Ontario.  While these parish records would seemingly represent the end of the research road they were not.

The Huron missions were the purview of the Jesuits who were prolific writers, journaling and writing letters detailing their experiences.  The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents provide an amazing source of documentation and social history.  Though written from a European perspective a picture of life can be painted.  An interesting aside to always consider is regarding the perspective and worldview of documents created during colonization and their pitfalls.  Dr. Sarah Nickel has touched on this problem in an interesting presentation entitled, Revealing Indigenous Histories Through Oral Interviews.

le_grand_voyage_du_pays_des_hurons_1632_gabriel_sagard Can one turn to Indigenous oral history interviews to discover the social histories of our ancestors?  It is possible, though the value of these oral histories may fade the further you venture into the past.  If ones researching First Nations ancestors in more recent generations the options are more varied and available.

In the case of my Huron ancestors few records exist beyond those involving my 8th Great Grandmother.  While she can be found in parish and notary records her parents were only names appearing on her marriage record.  It was through the Jesuit Relations that I found one mention of her father.  A stroke of luck!  To fill in any further gaps I was reliant upon sources of social history to understand the Huron world of the 1600s and before, the world of my ancestors–context!

History books, ethnographies, dictionaries/linguistic studies, archaeological reports are all examples of pre and post contact sources of helpful contextual information.  Having worked on a pre-contact Huron archaeological site in Ontario I was already a step ahead in my understanding but here is a list of reading I discovered:

“From Mother to Son: The Selected Letters of Marie de l’Incarnation to Claude Martin” or “Word from New France: The Selected Letters of Marie de L’Incarnation to Claude Martin”Words of the Huron by John Steckley
The Children of Aataentsic by Bruce Trigger
An Ethnography of the Huron Indians, 1615-1649 by Elisabeth Tooker
The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs by Emma Anderson
Huronia by Conrad Heidenreich
Huron Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle by Georges Sioui

Many of you who were previously unaware of your First Nations heritage will likely have Metis ancestors.  Compilations particularly of French-Canadian and First Nations marriages exist and can also prove useful.  If they have been sourced, all the better!

  • First Metis Families of Quebec Series by Gail Morin

Metis documentation is perhaps easier to find, most specifically in the prairies.  Metis are of mixed Aboriginal and European heritage.  The government wishing to expand in the west used scrip to extinguish the aboriginal land title of Metis peoples.  Métis Scrip Records can be found in the Library and Archives of Canada collection.  Other excellent prairie Metis record databases and collections can be found at Glenbow Library and Archives, The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, and Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.

perles_christi_belcourtWe must remember that First Nations is meant to indicate a multitude of indigenous nations.  As a first step attempt to determine which nation to which your ancestor belongs.  It is this knowledge which will provide a starting point when determining available sources.  What region of Canada might your ancestor have lived in? In what treaty area?  Consider the time frame.  Then begin!  Research the particular First Nation through history books and ethnographies to determine what was happening during the period of interest and perhaps what documentation might be relevant.

Library and Archives Canada has several collections which could be useful and provides a Guide to Researching your Aboriginal Genealogy at LAC.  Of particular interest to those researching more recent generations might be the registers which start around 1951, Treaty Annuity Pay Lists 1850-1982, and Residential school records.

Other wonderful sites which may provide you with valuable resources:

  • Our Legacy
  • Canadiana (which is unfortunately a subscription site but one can browse the collection titles before subscribing)

2_huron-villageLook to archaeology reports to gain a greater understanding of the life of your ancestors pre-contact.  Archaeological societies exist for most provinces and publish regular journals.   Here are two examples of archaeological reports from a Huron site I once worked on:

Finally, think outside the box by reading well researched fiction for a broad feel of the period and the culture.  Keep in mind it is fiction!  A wonderful example would be The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. Explore historic sites, cultural centres, and museums dedicated to First Nations history.

Remember, the end of the “usual” records we as Genealogists tend to rely on does not necessarily signal a brick wall.  If a wall exists perhaps we can, at the very least, build a window through which we can view the possibilities of the more distant past!

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