One of the things I hope to highlight through this blog is the type of records that are available to researchers in doing family, genealogical and urban history. One set of records which are particularly useful are Church Records as they give you a snap shot of what the people who lived in a certain area were like.
One group of records which is available online to genealogists, and interested researchers, are the entire set of ledgers covering baptisms, marriages, and deaths from Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church on Brunswick Street.
The FamilySearch.org website is a vast collection of scanned images and databases constructed from the transcribed records of those images. An extension of the Church of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, who have the largest and most technologically advanced system of storage and preservation of genealogical records in the world. They make these records available to the public free of charge.
One of their best collections of scanned images are the Roman Catholic Church Records for the Province of Nova Scotia where you can find baptisms, marriages and death/burial and orphanage records for most of the major Catholic churches across the province. Here you can browse, page by page, the 16,000 images available of the registers or if you’re lucky refer to the indexes at the front and zoom right to the entry you’re looking for.
I’m a browser when it comes to these types of records because I am looking for surnames that are specific to location – so when I see a surname for a COOLEN (or its variant spellings) I know that they likely belong to my family which originated in Prospect, Halifax County.
What do these records look like and what information do they provide?
Baptism records are very useful in genealogical research however they can vary in their usefulness. Prior to the mid 1850s most of the Catholic Church baptismal records were hand written by the priest and usually were written in a standard way. Using my baptismal information I’ve constructed what that would look like if I had been born in 1833 instead of 1983:
7 December 1983 – I the undersigned baptised Nathaniel Joseph Smith, one week old, son of Michael Smith and Linda Coolen of Prospect. Sponsors: Elizabeth Fraser and Patrick Doherty.
Duncan MacMaster, P.P.
This is what a standard entry looks like from those registers:
This entry above reads: June 14 (1830), No. 149 – Thomas Hanrihan
“I the undersigned baptised Thomas aged one day lawful son of Richard Hanrihan and Margaret James. Sponsors Thomas Smith and Mary Sweeny. J. Loughnan, P.P.”
J. Loughnan was a priest that worked in the Halifax area for about 25 years so I’ve become quite familiar with his writing style – which I find to be quite easy to read – however, at first glance you might not fully grasp what he’s trying to say.
In the mid-1850s the Catholic Church was a little bit more prosperous and thus the priests and parishes could afford to buy baptismal ledgers and they provided a more standard format for writing these records down – though you start to run into the issue of the priests almost entirely writing in Latin. However, by the 1860s most of the entries – unless there was a reason for the priest to need to speak about the person in code – are in English. Latin was continuously used when speak of illegitimate children or other “so-called” scandalous issues related to the birth.
You’ll see from the image above that the standard register provided a standard set of information
1. Name of Family, Name of Child’s Baptismal Name (Proper Name)
2. Date and Place of Birth, sometimes an address
3. Father’s Name/Mothers Name
4. Date of Baptism
6. Minister present at Baptism
You might be asking why this information would be important to know. Well first of all the Sponsors of the child at baptism were usually close relatives – so for example if you are having an issue with connecting the mother in a family to a specific branch of another family it might be useful to look at who was sponsoring her children – usually a brother, sister or mother/father of one of the parents was chosen for this. Then you can narrow down the branch of the family where those names appear.
Remarks are sometimes useful – in the later half of the 19th Century the Parish Priests sometimes went back in their baptismal registers and recorded the date, location and name of the person who married the person in the entry – usually if that marriage took place outside of the Parish, in another city or country. I have often found references in the remarks section to marriages in the United States which has been useful in helping me pin down which branches of the family relocated to the U.S. and where.
What about marriage records?
Marriage records are equally as useful and can provide a fair amount of detail about the people – information which doesn’t show up in the formal government registries of marriages which exist for most of Nova Scotia from 1864 onwards.
At Saint Patrick’s the marriage records are useful because, if you really want to, you can start to track when families moved in to Halifax. My family and most of the families I research came from Prospect out in the western part of Halifax County. For the most part until the late 1850s the families remained intact and stayed within the general area of Upper Prospect. However, starting in the late 1850s and continuing throughout the middle half of the 1880s a large out-migration takes place where the third or fourth generation of children found opportunity in the City (note: a small group also relocated to Gloucester, MA via the direct fishing routes/trade, it wasn’t until the late 1880s and 1890s that large numbers relocated to Massachusetts and stayed). Halifax was the first place most people from this outlying area ended up and the North End was where most of them settled.
Marriage records start in October 1887 at Saint Patrick’s. In the first year of records from October 1887 to October 1888 I am able to identify 5 individuals who were born in and around Prospect who were being married at Saint Patrick’s:
1. Cecilia White d/o Stephen White and Margaret Power – October 1887
2. Henry Duggan s/o William Duggan and Louisa Zwicker to Emma Peters d/o George Peters and Mary Coolen – both from Prospect/Shad Bay – November 1887
3. David Meehan s/o William Meehan and Ann Redmond – February 1888
4. Edith Lacey d/o William Lacey and Margaret Coolen – June 1888
In some cases the birth place of these people is listed as being Shad Bay, Lower Prospect, etc. but in most cases they are merely listed as being of Halifax. If you are familiar with the surnames, like I am, it can be very helpful to browse the pages to pick out names that otherwise are “missing” from the records back in Prospect. Another thing that I find interesting is how small Halifax really was – Henry Duggan of Shad Bay moved all the way into Halifax only to fall for a girl from home. The connections are amazing like this.
Another interesting piece of information is that the Priest that was at Saint Patrick’s in 1887/1888 was Rev. John Carmody who was stationed at the church in Prospect between 1858 and 1862 likely when most of these people were either born or their brothers and sisters were born – so he was known to the families quite well. Yet another connection.
Church records are very valuable to research and with a little work you can start to build a sociological picture of what the community looked like.
I encourage you to go and have a peak through the records that are available on the FamilySearch.org website. They cover all of the major Catholic Churches in Halifax. They can be time-consuming, especially if the indexes aren’t available, but its worth looking into as you never know what you’re going to find.