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Article Published Feb. 1, 1999
EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles
Journals & Diaries - Part II
This column is a continuation of a discussion of diaries and journals. (Part I)
But before I expound on some more published and unpublished Maritime sources in this genre, I will preface with some personal thoughts and opinions.
It is never too early or too late to write your memoirs. And everyone ought to do so.
Surviving memoirs or journals from our pioneer ancestors are all too rare. Lucky are the folks who have recorded stories, facts and lore beyond the sterile birth, death and marriage statistics. How many times have your wished for a time machine to travel back, if only for a day, to learn more intimate details of the daily lives of your forebears? Will your descendants be equally bereft of the details of your life? You have the opportunity today, regardless of your age, to change all of that for them.
My dear aunt Elsie Hawkesworth in Edmonton, Alta. -- direct-line descendant of United Empire Loyalist Reuben Mills of New York, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick -- finished her memoirs this past summer. She entitled it All the Years of My Life. And even though Elsie Mabel Mills, daughter of my grandparents James Ira Mills and Hilda Evelyn Steeves, was born only one generation ahead of me, her memories have warmed my heart and enriched my genealogy records to immense proportions.
Aunt Elsie is my mother’s older sister by two years. One story in the memoirs about my mother (Ellen Eileen) when she was a pre-schooler moves me to tears every time I read it. To place this anecdote in context it will help to know that my grandparents eked out existence on a country farm in Albert County, New Brunswick. Much frugality was required to feed and cloth their five children. My grandmother spent many a long night at her treadle sewing machine, aided only by a dim halo of light from a kerosene lantern, refashioning adult-sized, hand-me-downs into clothing for her “wee ones.” Once in a rare while she could order a few yards of new material from the Eaton’s mail-order catalogue. And so, as aunt Elsie tells it: “One year as the fall catalogue came in, Ellen turned to the pages of materials and found pictured there the current patterns in flannelette. Her eye fell on one featuring frolicsome pigs. She took the catalogue to my mother and asked ‘Will you buy this for pyjamas for Elsie so next year I can have them?’ My mother promptly purchased enough flannelette in the little pig pattern to make Ellen some brand new pyjamas.”
My life is richer knowing this story and the hundreds of others of equal poignancy which my aunt took the time to record for posterity. Writing memoirs can be quite easy really, if you put yourself in the proper frame of mind.
Pick an imaginary descendant who will be living 100 years from now -- a great-great-great grandson or daughter in 2099 -- and write them a long, detailed letter describing everything about you: your life, your appearance, your habits, your hobbies, your first kiss, your clubs, your relatives, your pet peeves, your job, your feelings, your successes, your failures, your home, your education, your reactions to current events, your political beliefs, your religious affiliations, your friends, your memories ... describe everything as if the person who reads your letter had no knowledge of what life is like in the Maritimes (or wherever you live) in 1999.
Be honest. Tell all. Lock it away if you would rather it not be read until a future time.
Teen or senior, male or female -- no one but you can write your story. Do it.
That’s the end of my editorializing. Now, on to some more information.
At the Celtic Centre, Bonnacord Street, Moncton, N.B., a growing repository of priceless local Irish genealogy and artifacts, is a copy of the unpublished Mary Murphy’s diaries written over many years, beginning in the late 1890s -- and continued after her death for a short while by one of her sons.
The pioneer Murphys from County Cork, Ireland settled in Melrose, New Brunswick situated on that southeastern part of the province which looks like a flat finger pointing out into the Northumberland Strait. (The current Mayor of Moncton, Brian Murphy is a descendant.) Mary, the diarist, was a granddaughter of the pioneer Denis Murphy. She married James Hennessy. Sometimes she would write daily, other times she would catch up on a week’s worth of events in a single entry. The weather, important to her farm roots, was noted regularly. On the inside front page is a recipe, A Cure for the Spanish influenza, clipped from a newspaper. That dreaded epidemic which closed schools, churches and businesses in the area for several weeks in the autumn of 1918.
Mary’s diary entries are matter-of-fact. But it’s not difficult to imagine her joy and pride when, as a young girl, she successfully passed her exams in Fredericton to be qualified as a teacher. Or, her anguish when her mother died in March 1927. Snow and other pressing commitments kept Mary away from the funeral: “(14th) Mother was anointed for death, got little better. But died 16th March - I got a telephone message - but did not go down (to Melrose from Irishtown), snow on road as far as Sunny Brae. All family were there except me.”
Some much older diaries are housed at the New Brunswick Museum, Douglas Avenue, Saint John, N.B. including those of Elizabeth Innis. The first of Elizabeth’s diaries has a cover made from old wallpaper and is labelled 1837-44. A second is an old account book containing entries from 1845 to 1847.
Elizabeth was a midwife in Saint John. She wrote about nursing 168 women “in their confinement” and attending at 150 labours. One can speculate that witnessing childbirth first-hand in the days before adequate sanitation, birth control or pain killers partially accounts for why Elizabeth remained unmarried. Nurses of the day were self-trained and worked according to their own ideas and knowledge gained from experience or gleaned from various sources. This no doubt explains the practical reason of recording recipes for rheumatism, a plaster for a weak joints and resin for sore nipples.
Recording history as she went, Elizabeth seemed to lean more toward mention of tragedies rather than of frolic or frivolity. “Melancholy Catastrophe occurred. By the upseting of a Boat in the (Reversing) falls the consequence was truly awful. of twenty five persons on board only six was saved. this sad dispensation of providence has caused a general feeling of sorrow and regret to pervade the city and vicinity. this sad event took placed on thursday Morning august the 2, 1838.” One tends to think of independant women being a product of our modern age until one reads diaries like Elizabeth’s. Yet, for all the experiences and details in the writing, there is not one drop of ink to hint at an affair of the heart.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Sgt. John Innes (c.1746 - 1841), a native of Edinburgh, Scotland. Stationed at Fort Howe, Innes was a member of the first Battalion Royal Regiment of Artillery, British Imperial Army. He was among those who greeted the Loyalists at Saint John in 1783.
No search for diaries in the Maritimes would be complete without mention of wooden ships and the iron me who sailed them. One book which comes recommended, although I haven’t read it is Captain from Fundy, The Life and Times of George D. Spicer, Master of Square-Rigged Windjammers by Stanley T. Spicer, published by Lancelot Press, Hantsport, N.S. This is based on the diaries of George T. Spicer. Stepping back in time yet another century we find the journal of Abijah Willard, an officer in the expedition which captured Fort Beausejour in 1755. In 1930, this journal was transcribed and published in the Collections of the New Brunswick Historical Society from a photocopy of the originals held in the Nery E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
The diary covers the period from April 9, 1755 to Jan 5, 1756. The spelling is phonetic which makes it difficult to decipher in parts, but the insight into the earliest days of English-European inhabitation in the Maritimes is fascinating. The entry for Christmas Day 1755 is remarkable in it’s absence of reference to anything of special note, unlike New Years Day a few days later. Dec 25th “this Day the weather fair but Exceding Cold the New England troop was obleged to go Into the woods to Draw wood for the garison which they thought itt hard a vessel Arived her from New England and this Day the Harbour frose up.” Whereas on New Year’s Day: “Fort Cumberland January ye 1st 1756. This Day fine weather Co. with a number of Regulars officers had a Barbeque upon an Island between fort Cumberland and fort Lawrance before they Broke up they was fild with Drink.”
The English at the time were under orders to terrorize the Acadian French who were still in the vicinity in defiance of the King’s expulsion order. Such was the case on August ye 16, 1755 when Willard wrote: “I went with a Small party of men over a Large River Tatmagoush where I Burnt 12 Buildings one of which was a Storehouse with Rum and molasas and Iron ware and another of Rum sugar & molasas & wine and a masshouse I ordered the men to Draw as much Rum as they had Bottles to Cary which they Did and sot fire to the Rest burnt all their vessels and Cannoos Except a Sloop of 70 tuns and a schoner of aboute 30 Loaded for Louisburge with cattle and sheep & Hoggs which was sent to the Bay of verts.”
Later in the same passage, he showed some remorse and understanding for what duty demanded of him: “I ordered the whole to be drawd up in a Bodey and bid the french men march of and sott fire to their Buildings and Left the women and children to Tack Care of themselves with grate lementation which I must Confess it seemed to be sumthing shoking. I marcht on aboute 3 miles to an old frenchma house wher he had Lived Ever since Anopelis was Taken and Logeed their this Night and he Treated me very hansom but his wife Toock on very much att their Defecultys.”
Other journals and diaries reproduced in Collections include: Monckton’s Report of his Expedition against the French on the St. John in 1758 -- volume two, number 5, 1904; John Mitchel’s Diary and Field book of his Survey of Passamaquoddy in 1764, volume two, number five, 1904 and The Journals and Maps of the Survey of the Magaguadavic in 1797, volume three, number nine, 1914.
For still-earlier accounts of daily life in the Maritimes, one might want to take a trip to Paris, France to the Archives of Marine and Colonies to see the original copy of Description de L’Acadie par M. de Cadillac, dated 1692. When noted New Brunswick historian W. F. Ganong wrote about these documents in 1930 he noted that passages of this document earlier translated by E. B. O’Callaghan were published in the Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York, volume nine, 1855 and a condensed translation by Dr. James Robb was published in Collections of the Maine Historical Society, volume six, 1859.
Footnote: Steve Anderson of Huntington Beach, California writes to advise he had good luck tracing his Starratt and Pearson ancestors from New Brunswick to Minnesota in 1856 thanks to the extant diaries of Ann Eliza Rogers Gallacher Moore. Copies of these privately held diaries covering 1852-1896 are held at the Moncton (N.B) Museum; New Brunswick Provincial Archives, Fredericton, N.B. and the Public Archives in Boston, Mass.
Steve forwards examples of diary’s entries:
Oct. 15, 1856: "Fine. We went to Division. There are several more starting for Minnesota today, Judson Peerson [sic, Pearson/Pierson] and wife (Mary Peck), Ezra and Sarah Richie, Handley and Samuel Starrett, Minor Bishop and Fletcher Stiles."
May 31, 1856: "... On Monday, David Hoar, wife and children, Alfred Hoar, wife and child, Mrs. Ephriam Pearson and family started for Minnesota. Mr. Pearson went in the spring. "
Final instalment about Maritime diaries and journals, next time.
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