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Petitions that predate the provincial Census a valuable resource

Ruby M. Cusack

The wind howled down the stovepipe, the windows rattled as the snow drifts build up over them and the old house that had been built circa 1800 and had weathered many a storm and cold weather groaned and creaked with the smashes of Jack Frost.

Mum was terrified of a chimney fire so she insisted we put on heavy sweaters as she was letting the fires die down. She had another fear of someone getting hurt on a stormy night, thus she had us sitting quietly at the table practising exercise in penmanship from the MacLean Method of Writing.

I grumbled about having to make a whole page of straight strokes. Cliff skipped the exercise of free wrist movement and filled pages with all the upper and lowercase letters of the alphabet.

Dad and Gramp were in the barn as complications had arisen during the birth of a calf. But finally the situation remedied itself. When the men came through the door looking like snowmen, they brought a blast of cold air that blew Cliff’s scribbler from the table.

Gramp picked it up, took one look at Cliff’s writing exercises and suggested he practise writing his name, as everyone needed to develop a unique signature which would live on long after the person had been taken to their final resting place in the cemetery.

I could not figure out the connection of writing, to living on after dying.

Well, a database recently added to Provincial Archives of New Brunswick's website has provided valuable insight into my question. The House of Assembly Records 1786 to 1833 came online in early December at  The names of many of the individuals found there, particularly on the petitions, reveal signatures that are really all that is left to personalize many an
ancestor, as this time period was long before the picture taking days. So Gramp was correct!

The petition of sundry inhabitants of the Parishes of St. Martins and Hampton, Kings County, praying aid to build a bridge over Hammond River of 14 Feb 1826 has about eighty people signing their names including, John Wilson, Thomas Godso, William Ganter,
Andrew Jinks Sherwood and Jabez Upham.

The petition of William Ryan of Saint John County, dated 24 Jul 1787 requests the House to pass an act which will enable him to be released from prison to pay his debts.

Petition from Doctor John Agnew and captain Stair Agnew on 10 Feb 1791 prays that the House establish and regulate a public ferry from their farm on the east side of the Saint John River to Fredericton and also across the mouth of the Nashwaak River.

Way back on 1 Mar 1792, taking care of the environment was a concern of the government officials as a Bill was passed for preserving the bank of the River Saint John in front of Maugerville, Sheffield and Waterborough as far as the mouth of Jemseg by putting in the pound any neat cattle, horses, sheep, swine or goats pasturing or going at large in the highway in front of the said towns from the first day of May to the fifteenth day of October.

A Petition on 6 Feb 1802 from Thomas Menzies and other inhabitants of the Musquash River in the Parish of Lancaster, County of Saint John, prays for funds to improve the road to Saint John.

Petition of James Reid of Westfield Parish, Kings County, praying to be reimbursed for building a bridge in 1824 over the Little Millbrook on the Nerepis Road is dated 20 Jan 1826.

The Petition of 1807 of Christopher Hargill seeking financial assistance in his old age gives details of his military career.

The Petition of Eleanor Dunn of Westmorland County in 1828, the wife of John Dunn of the Royal Artillery  who was discharged in New Brunswick thirty years ago, and since which time she has been teaching school prays that, since she is no longer able to teach school because of old age, she be granted pecuniary assistance.

John Grayson, a disbanded soldier, prays in his petition in 1825 for assistance to take his family to the United States. He had an infection in his leg which made it necessary to be amputated and no work could be found to support his family thus wishes to go to the North Carolinas where relatives will give him assistance.

The Petition in 1833 of Peter Yeamans and others of Grand Lake, Queens County, prays that the Coal Mine Incorporation Bill may not interfere with them.

A letter of 1820 from Stephen Humbert to H. H. Carmichael Deputy-Secretary, describes the prevailing attitude towards the Plaster Law, the means used to contravene it, and requests troop support for his endeavours, and suggests ways of enforcing the Law.

For the genealogist the obvious uses of the new RS24 online database will be in the numerous petitions tabled before the House. As this series covers a time period that predates the initial Census for New Brunswick, those petitions that contain lists of residents in a particular geographical location provide proof that an ancestor resided there in a particular year. Beyond that there are the occasional individual petitions of those in dire straits appealing for aid, or applying for government positions, which provide background on the person's past.

Outside of the petitions there are reports and returns that sometimes contain lists of names of settlers, or occupants of Provincial institutions, or those receiving government assistance.

It is important to remember that the individual names on these returns and group petitions will not be searchable in the index, but the type of return, or the area or institution it represents will be. In other words, one must examine the document to discover the individuals there. Sometimes the key is to use the locality, the Parish or the County for the best results in your search terms.

All told, these Government records can assist in nailing down some of those details of the family heretofore only guessed at. Even a general search on the term 'assistance' returned a number of documents relating to various types of requested Government assistance, including assistance in regards to the establishment of businesses, be it mills or inns.

A search on the term 'bridge', provided me with some wonderful gems of genealogical information on my ancestors as well as signatures that I had not previously seen. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, so dive in and have fun.

Please note - Jan 16, 2010 -  Ruby Cusack has suffered a computer failure and most of her e-mails are gone.  If you have sent her a message please resend to

Query 1706
McGowan: William McGowan, born 1809 in Ireland; living Blissville, Sunbury, New Brunswick at the time of the 1871 census where he was listed as a widower and residing with his son William McGowan Jr. born in Mar 1848.  When and where did William McGowan Sr. die? Can anyone provide information on his wife?

Query 1707
Devereux - Mace: I am seeking information on the parents and siblings of Catherine Ann Devereux who according to the Massachusetts Death Record died Newburyport, Massachusetts, 28 Feb 1876, was born in Saint John, New Brunswick circa 1832 to John and Catherine Devereux. She married George William Mace in Rowley, Massachuestts, 27 March 1851.
Jan in Seattle, Washington

Sullivan: The death of Margaret Sullivan widow of Dennis Sullivan occurred at her home in St. John, Feb. 23rd, 1896 at the advanced age of 92. For years she was a resident of Titusville, Kings County, New Brunswick. The funeral services took place in the Titusville Baptist church conducted by Rev. J.A. Gordon.
In 1891 Census Margaret Sullivan was living with son James Sullivan in Lorne Ward, Saint John. In the 1851 and 1881 living in parish of Upham, Kings County, New Brunswick. In 1881 living with son James and son William appears to be living in the adjoining household in Upham Parish, Kings County, New Brunswick. Any information on this Sullivan Family would be appreciated.
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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.

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