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Parish Records

It is important to remember that religion had a great influence on the lives of First Nation ancestors and significant genealogical events are recorded in parish records.  As First Nation people in what has become Atlantic Canada embraced the Catholic faith, many of the Catholic Church registries include records on First Nation people.  The earliest of the registers have been lost, but there survive several from the period prior to the Acadian Deportations of 1755 and 1758 (see Centre d'Études acadiennes Anselme-Chiasson).  While these do contain records concerning First Nation individuals, such records are generally so few that it is evident that the great bulk of the First Nations' records of the period must have been entered into separate registers specifically kept for their missions, which unfortunately have not survived. 

By the 1700's, the officially recorded names of virtually all First Nation people in New Brunswick were European in origin.  In fact, only a few of the Maliseet and Mi'gmaq names people had used before the arrival of the Europeans were ever written down.  Most First Nation people's names in the 1700s and 1800s were taken from the French names of saints.  Among the Mi'gmaq of the Miramichi, in fact, only about a dozen of these given names, male and female, were commonly used during this time.  The priests assigned names at baptism, often without regard for the names by which children were known within the community.  In some cases, every daughter of a family was baptized as Mary, with or without a middle name.  The priests did not always enter the surnames in the records.

For each French name assigned by priests, there was often a corresponding English version, and even a version that used Mi'gmaq or Maliseet pronunciation.  Any and all of these names might be used in records pertaining to a single individual.  Within First Nation communities, there was never any doubt about who was who, but in the official records it is very often difficult to identify particular individuals with absolute certainty.  The English and French names did not always match each other.  For example, Angelique, Judique, Judith and Sutig were used interchangeably and this same Mi'gmaq name was also used for Théotiste and Eunice. 

At first not all Maliseet and Mi'gmaq families took surnames.  It was not until after 1850 that First Nation families used them consistently, even though they did not always use them in the European manner.  It was a common practice in Mi'gmaq and Maliseet communities for a child to be known by their own name plus their father's name.  A woman was sometimes called Mary, plus her husband's first name or nickname.

Become familiar with the use, location and contents of the parish records where an ancestor attended church.  This material can often supply essential vital and biographical information.  If these parish records go back in time more than one hundred years, they can provide data on several generations of the same family.  Many of the older parish records for hundreds of churches are available on microfilmed reels and in original format at some of the public repositories in New Brunswick and are available through interlibrary loan.  Original copies of many New Brunswick parish records remain with the various churches throughout the province.  In order to access these records, you will have to visit or write to those churches. 

Due to privacy restrictions, recent registers are closed to researchers for a certain time depending on the parish.  For example, the registers later than 1920 in the dioceses of Bathurst and Edmundston and those later than 1925 in the archdiocese of Moncton were not available for the year 2009. 

In addition to vital data, there may be information on the confirmation, admission or acceptance to the church or the date of dismissal or a move to another parish.  There are records of church activities found in membership lists, vestry minutes, Sunday School records, minutes of meetings, offertory registers and financial records, communion lists, records of auxiliaries and even disciplinary data and these records may provide interesting biographical information.  Parish histories may list early members in an area and histories of various groups, societies, businesses, and professions may be available.

The pages of parish records are rarely numbered and the records seldom indexed.  The records are entered in chronological order, which means that a family historian will have to spend a considerable amount of time looking through the records page by page.  Watch out for spelling variations in a family surname.  Start searching a few years before the date an event is believed to have taken place and then search a few years past that date in case a delay in recording the event occurred.  Remember that many clergymen rode "circuits" to care for parish members in remote areas and the records may be filed a considerable distance from where a ceremony was performed.  Check genealogical guides in public repositories for listings of Roman Catholic Parish records but do not overlook the fact that you will have to locate and search parish records for relatives who have moved away or for those who married non-First Nations or who joined other churches.  For example, early Anglican Parish records for Sussex, Kings County, and St. Andrews, Charlotte Countyhave vital data on First Nation people.


Parish records at the PANB:


MC2347 Red Bank Indian Reserve church records , 1841-1901.  These include church registers with information on births.  See microfilm reel F1002.

MC2346 St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church (Tobique Reserve) Registers, 1870-1906 . See microfilm reel F3719.

MC1083 St. Joachims Roman Catholic Church: Eel Ground Indian Reserve Records.  Contains a register of baptisms 1872-1984.

MC948 St. Ann's Roman Catholic Parish, Burnt Church Records.  Birth and baptism records on microfilm reel F9061.

Maliseet, Victoria County parish registers, 1870-1925  on microfilm  F15762-F15763.