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Article Published July 09, 1999

Sandra Devlin EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles

Churches Played Vital Roles In Maritimes - Part 3 of 3

It is difficult to find any areas of everyday living in the Maritimes which were not influenced directly or indirectly by churches and clergymen from the earliest times until just a few decades ago. The decline of church influence is a relatively new phenomena here, having occurred a bit more slowly than in some other regions of Canada.

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, examples of church influence abound. This third and final segment continues to show genealogists and family researchers that there are many other things to be learned about their ancestors through church records besides birth, marriage and death dates.

Digging deeper into church histories yeilds revelations in a religious realm which may be quite different from what we imagine or romantize.

For Reformed Presbyterians in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the 19th Century, for example, it was a "sin" to vote, serve on a jury or hold public office.

In July 1879 the Irish General Presbyterian Assembly was voting on the question of instrumental music in the church .. in short, should the organ be included as a part of the worship service? The organ, the "instrument of the devil" , lost by a tally of 313 against, 278 for.

Missionary work was widely supported by Maritime churchgoers of all denominations. Money raised from suppers, lectures, cookbooks and birthday boxes, where each member of the family contributed a penny to represent each year of their lives, were ear marked for missions. Even the youngest churchgoers were involved in Mission Band. Many young men and women from the Maritimes were "called" to the work of saving souls in distant lands and remote areas of Canada. Aboriginals North Americans were especially targeted from the earliest times of European settlements as being in need of salvation from their heathen beliefs. For Victorian women, missionary service was often a rare opportunity to live an independent lifestyle and a socially acceptable excuse to get an education and travel.

Religion was also the bread and butter of publishing enterprises. Door-to-door Bible salesmen were well patronized at the turn of the century, even by those who could scarcely afford necessities, much less the luxury of an illustrated, leather-bound "Good Book." Thank goodness they did because the family Bible so often is the only place where birth dates, marriages and deaths were recorded for posterity. Bible tracts, hymnals and books about properly raising Christian children were also popular in the uptight Victorian age, some with pencilled notes in the margins or fly leaf. Weekly and monthly religious newspapers also "spread the Word."

Many schools and hospitals were the domain for orders of Roman Catholic nuns, who also gave private music and elocution lessons.

From sunrise to sunrise, the church was an integral part of life in the Maritimes from its earliest times.

By now perhaps you are anxious to search church records. Unfortunately or pleasantly, you may be in for a surprise. Policies about releasing information vary widely. Some Maritime church officials are still flexing their control muscles by restricting or refusing access to records. Others will bend over backwards to help. Some will charge, others will not. It is a real mixed bag.

In Yarmouth, N.S., for example, the Roman Catholic records (Yarmouth, Shelburne, Digby, Annapolis and Kings counties) are closed and require permission from the bishop or parish priest before viewing. In contrast, Halifax (controlling Cumberland, Colchester, Hants, Halifax, Lunenburg and Queens counties) have been wide open since 1909, mostly microfilmed and are readily available at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia (PANS).

For Anglican records in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, one often must obtain permission to view confidential records held by PANS.

Many church records housed at the Public Archives of New Brunswick and P.E.I. are also categorized as confidential and require the permission of local clergy. Most Roman Catholic records in P.E.I. are missing prior to 1829 when the Island was under the diocese of Quebec.

Despite the challenges, though, there are scads of extant records and lots of church histories, maybe some with your ancestor's names just waiting to be discovered.

At the very least, it is a good reason to go to church.

Some of the major sources of information about church history and records in the Maritimes:

    Centre d'etudes acadiennes, Universite de Moncton (Acadian - Roman Catholic), Moncton, N.B., E1A 3E9

    United Church Maritime Conference Archives, (also pre-1925 Methodist, Congregational and some Presbyterian), 32 York St., Sackville, N.B., E4L 4R4

    Maritime Baptist Archives, Vaughan Library, Acadian University, Wolfville, N.S., B0P 1X0

    Church of England Archives (Nova Scotia and P.E.I. records), 5732 College St., Halifax, N.S., B3H 1X3

    Roman Catholic Church in Nova Scotia: (for Cumberland, Colchester, Hants, Halifax, Lunenburg and Queens counties) PO B0X 1527, Halifax, N.S., B3J 2Y3
    (for Yarmouth, Shelburne, Digby, Annapolis and Kings)
    43 Albert St., Yarmouth, N.S., B5A 3N1.
    (for Antigonish, all of Cape Breton, Guysborough and Pictou counties)
    PO Box 1060, Antigonish, N.S., B2G 2L7.

    Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 6016 University Ave., Halifax, N.S., B3H 1W4

    Beaton Institute, University College of Cape Breton, PO Box 5300, Sydney, N.S., B1P 6G4

    Public Archives of New Brunswick, PO Box 6000, Fredericton, N. B., E3B 5H1

    New Brunswick Museum, Library and Archives Division, 277 Douglas Ave., Saint John, N.B. E2L 1E5

    Church of England Diocesan Archives, 116 Princess St., Saint John, N.B., E2L 1K4

    Archdiocese of Moncton Archives (Roman Catholic), PO Box 248, Moncton, N.B., E1C 8K9

    Roman Catholic (N.B) Diocesan Archives , One Bayard Drive, Saint John, N. B., E2L 3L5

    Ralph Pickard Bell Library, Mount Allison University, Sackville, N.B., E0K 1B0

    Public Archives of Prince Edward Island, PO Box 1000, Charlottetown, P.E.I., C1A 7M4

    Sisters of Charity (Halifax) Archives, Mount Saint Vincent Motherhouse, 150 Bedford Highway, Halifax, N.S., B3M 3J5

    Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception Archives Office, 101 Burpee Ave., Saint John, N.B., E2K 3V9

    Helpful webpage: Directory of Religious Organization Archives:

Publication samples:

    Bishop Black and His Preachers by E. Arthur Betts.

    Congregational Churches in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, by E. Arthur Betts.

    Our Fathers in the Faith by E. Arthur Betts.

    Pine Hill Divinity Hall, 1820-1970 by E. Arthur Betts.

    Life of Thomas McCulloch by William McCulloch.

    The Chignecto Covenanters, Reformed Presbyterianism in New Brunswick 1827-1905 by Eldon Hay

    The Word and the Music, Moncton's Central United and its Methodist Roots by Shirley A. Dobson

    Years of Pilgrimage, 150 years in First Moncton United Baptist by Emmerson Carroll and A. Joyce Tingley.

    Every Popish Person by J. Brian Hanington (Archdiocese of Halifax, (1984). ISBN: 0-9691712-0-X).

    The Love Heritage of Rev. Dr. John Elias Peck Hopper and His Family by John Beyea, privately published (1997)

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