Genealogy Website for First Nations- Feb. 2010

A new website called ‘Genealogy First – Genealogy and the First People of New Brunswick’ offers First Nations people a chance at researching their surnames, while in the process collaborating in collecting, preserving and sharing their rich heritage.

Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, Graydon Nicholas congratulated Chief Joseph Knockwood at the band office of the Fort Folly First Nations Reserve on Tuesday, along with Chiefs and Elders from many of the First Nation communities in New Brunswick, on the creation of one of the first genealogy websites created specifically for Native people.

Chief Joseph worked as an historian and researcher at the Union of New Brunswick Indians in the 1970’s. At first he worked on specific land claims for First Nations, and although he was not trained in it, he says, “Over the years I got very good at doing research”.

But his skill for genealogical research began with a court case. Chief Knockwood was asked to research a family name for Graydon Nicholas, a lawyer at the time, working on a case for a First Nations man who had been arrested with a dead beaver in the back of his car.

“That was my first genealogy project, doing a family chart. And I did the family chart all the way back to around 1760, because it had to go back to the Treaty of 1778. When we won that case, the Premier at the time, it was Hatfield, said, ‘ Well, that is only one Indian that has aboriginal rights, now you have to prove every one, individually’. And that was when Graydon said it is time to put together a large book and do all the families”.

The clearly written and well designed site provides a list of 1400 surnames, an introduction to the process of genealogical searches, and examples of different sources of records and where they can be found. The website also provides links to to other research tools.

Chief Knockwood says that tracking down names can be difficult. Chief Joseph and his wife spent many hours copying names by hand from Church records on First Nations across the maritime provinces.

There was a time when there was no record of First Nation people, says Chief Joseph, “When you go back to a certain time, the Church records don’t carry facts about First Nations. In 1851 there is a record that says, “Also there are Indians living here’ on the back of the document”.

The origins of today’s database came from a fire in the Union of New Brunswick Indians building in the 1990’s. Instead of throwing away damaged paperwork, Chief Joseph kept all the photos and lists of names that he could recover and had them put in archives. Later, university students, including his own daughter Patricia Knockwood , who was working on her Masters in Library Science, organized all the material.

Anyone who has tried to trace their family name knows that the path is fraught with puzzles. But the history of First Nation people in New Brunswick adds further complications because, says Chief Knockwood, there were times when “People hid information. If a girl was pregnant from a Native guy, they ‘d make sure that the father was never known. And it was the other way around too. When a young French girl, say at 15 or 16 years old, had a baby with a French boy, and her family did not want her to have the kid, they brought it to the First Nations. I know a cases of this, where the person is still living there. The Priest told her that she is not Native and that her grandmother brought her to the Reserve and dropped her off”.

Presently the website can be found under:

http://beta.genealogyfirst.ca/

but it will eventually be under (maybe already)

http://www.geneaologyfirst.ca/

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