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Archived Articles
Formerly published by GlobalGazette.ca


Published July 09, 1999



Churches Played Vital Roles In Maritimes - Part 3 of 3
By Sandra Devlin


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:




























































BMD Notices
Shawville Equity 1883-1916

(Pontiac County, Quebec)