Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fur trade research and genealogy

I don't know if anyone is aware how long it takes to research and write a book of this sort; in my case, it has been ten years or more.
I am still learning -- and I thank those descendents of the fur trade for reading this blog and contacting me to correct some of the information that I have posted.
I have recently been speaking with a descendent of the man who Alexander Anderson called Lenniard. (His HBC biography tells us his name is Leonard.)
The descendent told me she thought that he was Scottish, not French Canadian as I have said.
On reading the journals, I noticed that Lenniard was the only man who worked in the fields that surrounded Fort Alexandria -- he was never involved with the outgoing brigades; he never was sent out on the express; he never did any of the work that the typical French Canadian voyageur did.
I think the descendent is correct -- that he was an Orkneyman (perhaps) imported by the company as an agriculturist and sent to Fort Alexandria to work the farm.
Lenniard was truly a farmer in the fur trade -- something that I have often said about Alexander Anderson.

But for this descendent, and for others I have spoken with, now comes the job of confirming the information and finding the birth records of the man.
There are a number of very good genealogical resources available, and I will list the ones I think most relevant to many of you:

French Canadian genealogy has two good sites:
If you are researching French Canadian and English/Scottish residents of Quebec before 1800, this is the resource you should use -- PRDH, or Programme de recherche en demographie historique through the University of Montreal.
It is, however, limited to Quebec genealogy, but it covers all church records from early days in Quebec all the way to 1800.
You will purchase "hits" but they go a long way and never expire. Unless you have a lot of research to do, purchase a small number of hits.
This is amazing site; and very accurate.
To find it, google PRDH.

Another French Canadian site is the Drouin Collection on
To access these French Canadian records you must join at a cost of about $40.00 a year, I believe.
These are broken up into six sections and cover more than just Quebec records -- in fact in the Miscellaneous French records I found the Red River census of about 1824 which listed how many buildings and cattle Joseph Rondeau (later of St. Paul, Minnesota) owned.
The sections are labeled:
Quebec Vital & Church Records
Quebec Notarial Records (this contains contracts, etc., and sometimes you find records in here that can be found nowhere else).
Acadian Catholic Church Records
Ontario French Catholic Church Records
Early U.S. French Catholic Church Records (ie. Sault Ste. Marie, Detroit, Illinois, etc.)
Miscellaneous French Records.
When I was searching for my Beaulieu ancestors these records were only indexed back to 1820 and I had to search every page individually -- an impossible task at best.
I don't know how far back they are indexed now, but certainly the Quebec Vital & Church Records are indexed through the 1700's (they're indexing from the later records to the earlier).

Scottish ancestry is amazing easy to research, but no one seems to know about the Scottish site.
It is Scotlands People, at
This is a government site which gives you access to all Scottish records including statutory registers, old parish registers, census records, wills and testaments, coat of arms search, and catholic parish registers.
Like the PRDH you pay for hits, but you get good value for the money.
Through this site I learned that my great-great grandfather James Birnie had a father was a tanner who worked with leather, and a grandfather who was a shoemaker in Old Aberdeen.
With his familiarity with leather and skins, James Birnie must have been a valuable man in the fur trade of the North West Company.

Another important thing I have learned while I have worked on the research for this book is to give information to get information.
Many of the fur trade forts have descendents groups who share information -- one of these groups is the Descendents of Fort Nisqually Employees.
Find them by googling "Descendents of Fort Nisqually Employees."
I have received a ton of information from members of this group, and appreciate the work they are doing in the area around Fort Nisqually.

If you live in this area, you should attend Fort Langley's Brigade Days to get a feel for life in the fur trade; they also have a group for descendents of employees of the fur trade at Fort Langley.
To find out what's happening at Fort Langley, google "Fort Langley National Historic Site."
The village of Fort Langley is a charming and enjoyable place to visit, especially if you like shopping for antiques.

Spokane House has a celebration every year, and one of the re-enactors plays my g.g.grandfather, James Birnie.
To find them, google "Spokane House Interpretive Centre."
The interpretive centre is well out of town and if nothing is being celebrated then no one is there.
But Spokane is a great town to visit, especially if you are researching the fur trade.
Gonzaga University holds many of the early missionary records; Spokane Falls is a short walk from downtown; Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is to the west of downtown; and finally, the main branch of the Spokane Public library has a large genealogical section and the Northwest Room is full of books of history.
Auntie's Bookstore is in Spokane!
For Beaulieu descendents and David Thompson historians, "Beaulieu's Brook" is one or two hour drive south of Spokane at Dragoon Creek Park.
One of the things I most enjoyed about Spokane was walking the labyrinthe on the banks of the Spokane River overlooking Spokane Falls.
The labyrinthe speaks of the salmon that no longer come up the Spokane River, in the words of Sherman Alexie's poem, "That Place where Ghosts of Salmon Jump."
"Look at the Falls now, if you can see beyond all of the concrete the white man has built here. Look at all of this and tell me that concrete equals love. Coyote, these white men sometimes forget to love their own mothers, so how can they love this river which gave birth to a thousand lifetimes of salmon?.. (Quote from Sherman Alexie's poem contained in The Summer of Black Widows (Brooklyn, NY: Hanging Loose Press, 1996).

Fort Vancouver is having a Metis celebration on Sunday, August 1, 2010, at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Learn about your Metis culture and find your Metis roots.
My American cousin says that we Canadian Metis "have all the fun" -- this is an opportunity for Americans to celebrate their Metis roots.
Contact or call 808-342-6921, or google "Fort Vancouver National Historic Site."

And in Victoria, a group of historians is setting up a re-enactment group to celebrate their past; if you live here and are interested in taking part, I can put you in touch with an organizer.

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