Scaling the Family Tree

The recent surge of interest in local history has been stimulated by those who have caught the genealogical bug. On the Tantramar, the family reunions that form part of the Yorkshire 2000 celebrations will encourage even more of this activity. How far back can you trace your family tree?

A beginning can be made with one’s parents and grandparents. Often birth and death dates may be found in personal records or lists in a family Bible. You will quickly recognize as you probe backward that numbers can be a problem Allowing the essential quota of two parents and each parent his or her quota, we have only to go back two generations to tally 32 ancestors and ten generations to arrive at 1,020 people!

It may help to think of a complete family tree as an inverted pyramid, with you as the bottom point; however, do not let numbers deter you! In response to requests from several Flashback readers, I’ve provided below a few suggestions to assist you in starting to scale your family tree.

Note that these hints are primarily to launch you on on your quest. Since Canada is a nation of immigrants, sooner or later you will want to continue research overseas. Hints on this topic will be covered in a later Flashback.

After you have gone as far back as memory or family records will permit, the serious work begins. A first rule is to check whether anyone else has compiled a family tree that bears some relationship to yours. This can save many hours of work. In addition, it will provide a model on how to record your information.

Those whose family roots lie in the Tantramar region are particularly fortunate. The Sackville Historical and Genealogical Society has assembled a collection of basic materials along with a number of local family histories. These may be found in the Sackville Public Library. Because of their rarity, these items are on reserve and may only be used in the library.

One of the most helpful sources in tracing regional family trees is the Genealogist’s Handbook For Atlantic Canada Research. Compiled by noted genealogists Terrance M. Punch and George F. Sanborn and published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the book should be found in most reference libraries. Failing this, it is available from The Book Room, a well known retail book store in Halifax.

If your family tree has already been compiled, you may be interested in writing a family history. Dr. Janice T. Dixon has written Family Focused, explaining how to go about this task. Published by Mt. Olympus Publishing, it is only available through direct sale. Their address is: PO Box 3700, Wendover, Nevada 89883, USA. I am grateful to Ray Dixon, Sackville, for drawing this reference to my attention.

Once you have obtained as much basic data as possible, enlist the help of the oldest person in your family. Seek out all possible information about family movements from place to place. Enquire about full names (this is especially important in families with common surnames), birthplaces, dates, places of baptisms, marriages, deaths, education and occupations.

Every last point should be tracked down. Often a single item, for example the fact that someone attended a certain school or college, may be the clue that will lead you to that elusive birth date. As a case in point, if the person was a Mount Allison graduate, the university archives may be of assistance.

Private papers, diaries, letters, family scrapbooks and clippings should be sought. A search of census data, old school registers and church records are all essential. Check with local clergy for the location of the latter.

Should your ancestor have had an association with the Methodist, Presbyterian or Congregational churches (prior to 1925), or the United Church since then, the Maritime Conference Archives in Sackville should be consulted. If your surname is Acadian, turn to the genealogical records maintained by the Centre d’études acadiennes at Université de Moncton.

Genealogical files in the Cumberland County Museum in Amherst are also worth investigation, as many families migrated back and forth across the marsh.

Early parish records, marriage registers, wills and probate court records, newspapers, along with local cemeteries, will yield useful detail. Check with local archives to see if name lists are available for those interred in the cemetery in question.

Farther afield, the Provincial Archives in Fredericton has much genealogical material and may be of help. However, do not expect busy librarians or archivists to do your research for you. Enquiries should be made only when you have a specific question based on certain evidence. Happy ancestor hunting!