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Alms house

Although Cliff and I knew our father's farmer's income could not pay for the Christmas toys and clothes we saw in the Eaton's catalogue, that did not stop us from spending hours looking at the pictures and wishing.

Gram and Mum listened to our chatter and reminded us that in their day an orange, a pair of mittens and a homemade toy was all they expected to get.

Next came a sermon on how the true meaning of Christmas was being overlooked with all the commercializing.

Gram went on to say the most important part of Christmas was being surrounded by family and she hoped she would never be alone and be trudging over the hill to the poor house.

Gramp told of being on the Committee for the Overseers of the Poor and being asked to visit one of the elderly neighbours who was a widower and had been quite ill for some time and was not able to look after his personal care. The gentleman begged them not to take him to the poor house but to let him die at home. Gramp said to remove him from his home was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make. We noticed he wiped a tear from his eye when he finished the story.

Perce was visiting and had been listening to the conversation when he rose from the rocking chair and went over to the stove and took a sliver of kindling to light his pipe. All eyes were on him, as we were certain he was about to tell a story of the past.

We were right. He started by telling of the terrible way paupers were treated in Kings County many years ago.

They would hold an auction and these poor folk would be marched up one by one for the local people to make a bid as to how much they would charge for boarding that person for a year. Paupers went to the lowest bidder. Since the auction was Government funded, they tried to get as much money as they could from the Government for each pauper they bid on. The bidders were mindful as to what work and services they could get from the young, the old, the male and the female.

In the late 1880s, a  fellow from the States, George Francis Train, considered this was just like selling slaves. He came to Sussex to watch and got busy with the quill at the Sussex Weekly Record to bring the story to light.

Train's outburst against pauper auctions eventually led to the establishment of an almshouse in Kings County.

One of the paupers who was sold for several years was Martin Condon. At the time of the Blue ribbon movement in 1875, in an intoxicated state, he went voluntarily up to the desk of the chairman at a public temperance meeting and there and then signed the temperance pledge, and ever after was true to his obligations. But Martin had a wish, he wanted to have a tombstone erected over his final resting place so he gave any money he earned doing odd jobs to a priest. When he died in 1892, the money was used to purchase a tombstone which, by the way, still stands today in the Catholic Cemetery at Wards Creek near Sussex.

I wonder if Gram and the others were aware that New Brunswick's first poorhouse was established in 1801 in a renovated gristmill located on the site where the Admiral Beatty complex, Saint John stands today.

Oddly enough, some of the funds used to support the city's poor came from a dog tax. 

In the Alms House Burials from St. Mary's Church Register, Saint John 1884 -1923 published in Generations, Vol. 23, No. 2, Summer 2000,  I found the death of little William James Sullivan on the 24 of  March 1896 at the age of one year and six months as well as that of Charles Grant who died in the Alms house on the 9 May 1891 at age seventy-four. Generations, the publication of the New Brunswick Genealogical Society can be viewed at several research institutions in New Brunswick.

James M. Whalen has done a great deal of research on the almshouse which he has made available on the internet.

In “Last resort for the poor: The Almshouse, 1843-1900" at, Mr. Whalen states, “In the 19th century, the poorest of N.B.'s poor were put to work, housed in the meanest of institutions -
the Almshouse”.

At,  he writes of "Almost As Bad as Ireland: The Experience of the Irish Immigrant in Canada, Saint John, 1847". Emigrants who contracted fever after arriving in Saint John were usually taken to the City and County Almshouse, which was located in the Parish of Simonds, about one mile from the city. The authorities wanted to remove them from the centre of population to whom they constituted a danger of contagion. The exposure of parish and emigrant paupers to those suffering from a malignant and contagious fever had serious consequences for sick and healthy alike. During the period from March 1847 to March 1848, 2,381 emigrants and 610 parish paupers were admitted to the Almshouse establishment, including the emigrant hospitals and sheds. The death toll was appalling, as 560 emigrants and 126 paupers died during that fateful year.”

In the Graeme Somerville Collection of the Saint John Alms House Records, 1843 - 1884 at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick,  we learn that in 1843 a new alms house was erected in Simonds to care for the poor in Saint John County. These records contain financial information on the operation of the Alms House and the registers list the name, religion, place of birth, age, the parish of residence, state and condition, time in house, date of admission to the house,  and whether the person died or was discharged - the date on which either event occurred.

The second collection at PANB containing Almshouse records is MC249 Saint John almshouse fonds, which contain similar information to the registers from the Graeme Somerville collection.  When it comes to finding information on residents this fonds provides us with Admittance Registers for 1843 - 1965. Of these registers only those from 1843-1897 may be accessed due to restrictions on the remainder.

Enumeration District 9 in Simonds Parish, Saint John, New Brunswick of the 1911 census has been transcribed and can be found on where the names and ages of two hundred and three inmates of the Alms House aging from babies less than a year old to the very elderly in their nineties. For many years there was a school within the walls of this Alms House where the resident children inmates were taught the three Rs.

It was a real eye opener to me when I did a full-text search of Daniel F. Johnson's New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics on the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick website at by using “alms” and “house” and doing a search of the word “almshouse”.

When thinking about the many inmates of almshouses, later known as Municipal Homes, who due to poverty, sickness, old age, mental illness or the lack of a caring family, had little to look forward to as the holiday season approached, one cannot help but wonder what would they have wished for at Christmas if circumstances had been different.

Query 1695
Griffith - Olmstead: William Griffith (died 1904) married Sarah Elizabeth Olmstead (died 1905) circa 1860, in possibly Grand Falls, New Brunswick. Their children were: Elizabeth, Charlotte (Hiram Murphy), Ava (William Brayal), Alice, George born 1873 (Florence McMullen) and Havelock (Mary Jane Goodine).  I am a descendant of George and I am seeking family members who have any family history they are willing to share.
Beverly (Griffith) Lowe

Query 1696
Warren - Hudson: James Warren born circa 1847 in New Brunswick and died 03 Jul 1913  St. Nicholas River, Kent County, NB at age 68.  He married Jessy Hudson prior to 1872, who was born about 1848 in NB and died 10 Aug 1921 in Kent County, NB. In the 1881 Census listed is James Warren 34, Jessy 33, widow Mary Hudson 77, and 3 children Mary, Agnes and David. Who were the parents of James Warren?

Query 1697
Murphy: Harry Alexander Murphy was born 13 Mar circa 1889 to 1895 in Bridgetown, Northumberland County. He was adopted by Irish immigrants named Murphy soon after birth. His mother was of the Micmac tribe. Father unknown. Can anyone help me find a record of his birth or baptism as I am in England and don't know where to start.
Chris Richardson

Query 1698
Betts - Montross - Cameron - Dickinson: In the1780s Loyalist Benjamin Betts, with his wife Elizabeth Cameron (or Montross) escaped to Quebec refugee camps, then to Wallace, Nova Scotia where he died in 1827.  Their son, Abraham, married Lydia Dickinson in 1804.  Has anyone found birth dates and place of birth for Benjamin and Abraham?

Query 1699
Keith - Disbrow: I am a descendant of  Daniel Keith and Elizabeth Disbrow. Where are they buried?

Query 1700
Grandame - Middlemore Home Children:  Francois (Frank), Gustave, Marie, and Adeline Grandame were Middlemore Home children sent to the Fredericton area in late 1800s with Adeline coming in 1904. I'm looking for information on the families they lived with, photos, etc.
D. Mitchell

Query 1701
Mcintyre - McDonald - Rye: Looking for info on the family of Solomon and Ann Mcintyre, arrived in possibly Charlotte County, New Brunswick in1821 from Inverary, Argyll, Scotland. Their children were Catherine born 1824 in Letang, Charlotte County, NB who married Joseph Rye,  Donald James born 1825, Mary born 1829 in St George Parish,  Peter born 1830, Janet born 1834 in NB and Archibald was born in 1841 in Ontario. The family moved to Huron County, Ontario circa 1840. Peter later returned to New Brunswick. There may have been a son John born in 1822 in St. Andrews who married Janet McDonald, as the 1871 census of Ontario has John, a widower with ten children living with Solomon and Ann. Since John’s youngest child was four years old in the census, his wife Janet died between 1867 and 1871.

Query 1702
Rae - Marr: I am researching Alexander Rae, an orphan in Edinbourgh in the early 1850s. He was sentenced to the Wellington School, in Peniciuk, Scotland for 5 years, in March 1860. He was 14 at the time. That school sent boys over to New Brunswick through an Immigration agent, Robert Shives. I believe he came to Studholm, King's County between 1864 and 1866. He married Margaret Marr in 1870 who was born 1846 in Studholm, daughter of Alexander Marr.  He died in 1875, and was buried in the Jordan Mountain Cemetery, although there is no grave marker. Can anyone provide me with information that helps confirm this data?

Query 1703
Jones - Gallant: Thomas Edward Jones, born circa 1812 in either England or New Brunswick, married  Helene Gallant born 24 Mar 1822 in Quebec. They lived in Grand Anse, New Brunswick.  They had a number of children: John, Thomas, Sara, George, Robert and Elizabeth all born in Grand Anse area of New Brunswick. Two older children William S. and Mary were born in Quebec in1836 and 1838.

Query 1704
Little - Kelly: I am looking for the place and date of birth and date of emigration from Ireland to Saint John for Lindsay Little who married Elizabeth Kelly in Saint John on 7 Jan 1856 and had three sons. Lindsay died on 27 May 1861 and his obituary indicated that he left them and his "aged mother", Does anyone know her name?.
Jim Day, Ottawa

Query 1705
Thomas - Toner: I am looking for the date of death and the place of burial for Alice Caroline Thomas, born 1864 or 1865 in Mispec, Saint John County, New Brunswick who married Simon Toner and they had 6 children. She died from a miscarriage in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Ruby M. Cusack is a genealogy buff living in New Brunswick, Canada. Send your New Brunswick genealogical queries to her at:  Please put "Query" followed by the surnames in your query as the subject. For more information on submitting queries, visit

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