On Researching Family History

When I started out researhing my family history, I naively assumed that I would be able to document everything that I learned. I must confess, the actual outcome was much different.

History is not a science. There are basically three ways of connecting with the past. First, you can remember it, but of course, there are the obvious limitations. Chances are you will remember your parents, your grandparents or maybe even your great grandparents. Secondly, there is oral history, stories that have been pasted on from one generation to the next. Such stories may, some times include legends, sometimes altering or exaggerating what really happened. Thirdly, there is recorded history, which includes census records, church records, vital statistics, etc..

There are also other considerations when you look into the past. In all cases, one has to “consider the source”. Most recorders of history are consiously or unconsciously biased. Some recorders will actually invent stories and sometimes, there will be mistakes.

One of my most interesting discoveries had to do with the recording of family names.

In the the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many french speaking Acadian families immigrated to Bay St. George, NL . Despite being part of the French Shore, Bay St. George was governed by Great Britain. Churches recorded births, marriages and deaths in english, while english speaking census takers collected census data.

Most of these Acadian familes did not read or write. Most spoke little english. Consequently, when your family name was pronounced with a french accent, the name recorded by the englisn speaking census taker was recorded based on what it sounded like.

Example: A review of vital statistics, census records and church records includes many versions of the family name Cornu;

          • Cornu

          • Corneau

          • Karno

          • Kerno

          • Karnoe

          • Kermy

          • Cormy

          • Comu

          • Curnew

Another Acadian name that was changed by the English recorders was the french family name “Lent“. The french pronunciation of “Lent” sounds something like “laong”. As a result, the family name was recorded and consequently changed to “Long“, a familiar english family name.