Ruth Holmes Whitehead’s new book Niniskamijinaqik, Ancestral Images: The Mi’kmaq in art and photography is beautiful. If you are interested in Mi’kmaq history, it is also essential.
It puts faces to names. That is what makes it so valuable to Mi’kmaq genealogy researchers. Even more, Ms. Whitehead’s descriptions set those people and places in a historical and cultural context.
It is a picture book: Mi’kmaq rock carvings and paintings, sketches and photographs from European contact to the 1980s. The photograph on the cover is of Molly Muise of Annapolis Royal NS. A tintype from the mid-19th century, the full image is described in the preface:
“Molly’s photograph may be the earliest surviving photographic portrait of any of the Mi’kmaq. (Her name was originally French ‘Mius,’ and is now spelled Meuse.) She is wearing a peaked cap with double-curve beadwork, a dark shirt, and a short jacket with darker cuffs, over which she apparently has draped a second short jacket with its sleeves pulled inside, as a short capelet. Her traditional dress with the large fold at the top is held up by suspenders with ornamental tabs. In her hands she may be clutching a white handkerchief.”
Mi’kmaq Images and Information
Descriptions of clothing styles, as in this picture, or surrounding landscape or structures or implements – anything that might contribute to knowledge of who and where people were, and how they lived. Documents that give further insights are quoted in whole or relevant part in the description or endnotes.
Dates of birth and death, family members, name variations, and historical references are given. She also gives conjectures about who someone may be, making the basis for her conjecture clear. If conflicting information is in records or recent research, that is mentioned.
Descriptions of two photographs of Frank Joe and wife and their home in Bay St. George show this preciseness and detail of information. Ms. Whitehead remarks on a sled and the type of cabin construction shown in the photo of their home. On the other photo (shown here), she discusses in detail the family history of Frank Joe and his wife Caroline.
When your eyes are tired from looking at family groups on your computer screen or deciphering old documents, you can take a break with this book. You may also find a new piece of your puzzle or a new avenue to search. Even if you don’t, you’ll see a beautiful record of the past.