Thirty-three years ago I started doing Newfoundland Mi’kmaq genealogies. Over the years, I’ve added and corrected information and marked changes in families. This weekend, I sadly updated the database with the death date for Tony John of Glenwood.
FNI President and Vice-President Tony John and Calvin White hired me to do family history research in central Newfoundland. Tony’s parents, Greg and Mary, became my “Glenwood parents.” Tony never needed help tracing his own Mi’kmaq roots; he knew his family ancestry through his father’s side and his mother’s, the Francis family of Clarke’s Head.
Tony was instrumental in establishing a political voice in the 1970s and in getting recognition and rights for all Newfoundland Mi’kmaq. Thank you, Tony, you will be missed.
For those of you searching for information and documents about your Newfoundland Mi’kmaq ancestry, it can be difficult and time-consuming but doable. Start with the internet if you don’t have family or neighbours to ask. (I have links for family trees that I found good, and also books that give Newfoundland family or community history.)
Google a name or a pair of names, husband and wife or parent and child. I add Newfoundland in my search phrase to weed out those of the same name(s) from elsewhere. Same thing with community names or regions: without adding Newfoundland, you also may get material from elsewhere. For example, “Bay of Islands” alone will give you New Zealand sources as well as Newfoundland.
To find a husband and wife, I try their first names and his surname. You’ll have better luck getting records for their children that may not have the mother’s maiden name on them. You might also luck into their marriage record that likely will have her birth name.
You’ll find other people’s ancestry pages and discussion forums. With large genealogy sites, see if there is an index of names or use an internal search box. With genforums, people’s questions often can provide answers to your own questions. If someone says “X’s wife’s name might be Y,” search for X and Y together and see if you find more.
If they’re available, look at sources in online genealogies. They usually are numbered endnotes that say where the information came from. You need this information if you want to get the actual record itself.
Church Records and Archives
If you’re looking for church records, don’t just assume that if your family is of a particular religion now, that your ancestors were all married within that Church. Many people were married by whatever minister was handy. Sometimes you’ll find different marriage dates. This discrepancy may be explained by Church and unofficial marriage. If clergy were not available, people may be married “by the custom of the country”, by a lay reader or someone who presumably said “time you two got married.”
For documents, the Provincial Archives is your best bet. There is a fee, of course, for their service. You can contact the Church itself for parish records. Some have their records and others have sent them to the Archives. Again there is a fee and, whether Church or Archives, the more information you provide, the faster will be their search.
Few records actually have anything indicating ethnic ancestry on them. Your best bet for that is some census years that included it. Newfoundland census information is online but ethnic identification was not included in the transcription. The Archives have the originals. Reliability of information varies between census district and year.
And spelling variations of surnames! There are some well-known ones, like LeBlanc/White and LeJeune/Young but others you might not think of. Swyers might be Swyer, Swoir(s) or even Squires. Sometimes the difference in spelling means they are from different families and sometimes it’s just different spellings for the same people. You have to judge each one as you encounter it. If you can’t find someone under one name, type in variations. In long lists like Church records, if I’m not sure, I just type the first few letters in my search box and see what comes up.
Names like Young, White and Bennett may have been anglicized but also might not have been. You might think, good, I’ve found a Young, must be the Acadien/Mi’kmaq ones, but not necessarily. They may be different and unrelated families.
First names also vary significantly. Samuel and Lemuel for instance – likely same person. Some Church records have the Latin forms of first names, so Jacobi was probably known as James; Joannes, and variations, as John. There are also a lot of people with the same name married to people with the same name in the same region. So the John White married to Mary Young you find may not be the ones you are looking for. Look for corroborating information – place of birth, baptism date, name of a parent, sibling or child to be sure you’ve got the right ones.
Question marks and sources are your new BFFs. Note where you got a piece of information. You won’t remember later. And if you or your source is unsure of anything, note that too because you’ll forget that uncertainty later.
I have switched to Family Tree Maker 2012 and am still learning how to use it. Quite different than my favourite 2006 version. You’ll see I am slowly going through your queries but please be patient. Learning a new system means it takes me even longer than usual to find anything relevant for you. If I don’t reply, it means I have nothing useful. While I would like to tell you that directly, I don’t want to clog up the comments with “sorry, got nothing.”