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Family Histories Header

Knowledge of the history of one’s family creates a connection between the present and the past, between young people and seniors, and between communities—whether they are on the same island or on different continents. Family histories can contextualize the evolution of technology and humanize political changes and social upheavals. In short, family histories remind us that we are affected by these global changes, reminding us of our place in the world.

Root meanings
Genealogy and family histories have become more popular in recent years as people eager to find more meaning in their daily lives seek to connect with their cultural heritage and their family’s history. Many Canadians and Americans are discovering among their ancestors Prince Edward Islanders who had moved to Ontario or Western Canada or the New England States to find their fortune. Prince Edward Island and the other Atlantic Canadian provinces are also a stepping-stone for North Americans to trace their ancestral roots especially in France or the British Isles.

What is in a name?
Who’s your father?” It is an often-asked question when two Islanders meet for the first time. In small Island communities, knowing who someone’s parents and grandparents are can be the most important identifier for interpersonal recognition, especially between younger and older generations. Similarly, tagging on the names of parents also helps to distinguish between community members of the same name. For example, two John FamilyMacDonalds would be differentiated according to their fathers’ names, one being John-Angus (or John-of-Angus) and the other John-Francis. A last name can also indicate a family’s religion and geographic origins. Having determined a name, one might safely guess at a family’s economic background or occupation. For example, a person by the name of Arsenault might reasonably be expected to be a descendant from Acadian fishing families in Prince County.

Going to the chapel...
Family lineage plays an important role in marriage on the Island. Historically, couples desiring to be married in the Catholic Church were required to reveal their lineage before they could be wed. For example, when a widow or widower wished to enter a second marriage, priests were obliged to investigate the possibility of blood ties between the first spouse and the intended second spouse. If the two were related, the couple required dispensation before a marriage could be performed. Similarly, engaged couples were required to trace their ancestry back four generations to their great-great-grandparents. Marriages between fourth degree relations (third cousins) or closer relatives would require dispensation. In one case, after a marriage ceremony had been performed, the priest discovered that the couple might be related by blood. He quickly made his way to the reception and forbade the couple to consummate their union until he could have the bishop grant the marriage a dispensation.

A generation a day keeps the doctor away...
Above and beyond people’s interest in family heritage and cultural roots, a knowledge of family history has become more and more important for health reasons. Growth in the awareness and understanding of genetic disease has made family history virtually a vital statistic. The Isaac Walton Killam (I.W.K.) Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is proof of this. The I.W.K. has its own genealogy department that researches family histories in order to find out the possible background on patients’ diseases.

Each year, thousands people from around the world come to Prince Edward Island to trace their family roots. On-line computerized documents, public archives, land registry offices, and genealogy libraries are open to all who wish to conduct their own research. Moreover, in recent years, much work has been done on the history of certain Island families, thus making the genealogist’s work much easier.


Community Histories | Archival Resources | Church Records