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Goose grease, mustard poultice among popular home remedies

Cliff had been coughing and complaining of a sore throat for days. Finally the bug hit and he was in bed with a fever.

Gram and Gramp decided it was time for action. Gram came with a bottle of goose grease. She wanted to put some olive oil on his chest, then rub on the horrible-smelling goose grease and cover with a piece of brown paper.

Mum suggested mixing some flour and dry mustard paste and applying it to his chest. She would then cover it with flannel, which was actually a piece of an old pair of Dad's Stanfield's long johns.

Gramp shared a story about an ill fellow from the Tobique, who was working in the lumber camp. His cure came from Father Frederick Ryan, who recommended black pepper and turpentine mixed with either bear or goose grease, then warmed and applied to the chest morning and night.

Dad grumbled and said Cliff should have been wearing a little bag of camphor around his neck. This would have prevented the cold in the first place, he said. I kept quiet but I felt like saying the smell of camphor would also keep friends at a distance.

Mum's course of action was finally chosen after she told some family stories of how her father's pneumonia was broken by a mustard poultice.

Poor Cliff was so sick I don't think he cared what home remedy was used.

Rolf Munroe of Taymouth published 365 Rural Musings in the Daily Gleaner in Fredericton from 1959 to 1963. In the column, he told of life in the country and how people cared for themselves and one another.

The chapter on Country Remedies is extremely interesting. A cure for warts, for example, was to have someone rub a piece of fat meat over the warts, then bury the meat in a secret place.

An attempt to cure Quincy was to soak the outer paper of a hornet's nest, then wrap it around the person's neck.

Munroe's Rural Musings has many great entries. The family researcher will enjoy The Halfpenny Atlas of York County, Memories of Barns and Machinery will bring thoughts of joy to the grown-up country kid. Personally, Harvesting Ice and Molasses Memories took me back a few years.

Getting back to home remedies, folk medicine was brought to New Brunswick from the Old World but was also influenced by aboriginal medicine, which consisted of using plant and animal products from the local environment for treatments and cures.

People treated themselves, but there were also practitioners of folk medicine. These included priests who drew on both European and aboriginal traditions. The most famous of these was Father William Morriscy who grew up in Halifax, where he attended school, worked in a dry-goods store, and studied medicine for two years with a licensed physician. When James Rogers was appointed bishop of the new diocese of Chatham in 1860, he recruited a number of candidates for the priesthood, including Morriscy.

The many Mi'kmaq people in Father Morriscy's congregation would have given him ample opportunity to pursue the study of traditional healing, which became an important component of his practice in later years.

Morriscy's medical practice at Bartibog soon became much more widely known than his pastoral work. There were times when he was being consulted by as many as 20 patients a day at the rectory. His services were available to persons of all religious denominations at no charge.

He was a believer in herbs and balsams but also prescribed conventional medicines. People came from many parts of New Brunswick and beyond to be diagnosed by him.

When a medical act was passed by the New Brunswick government in 1881 restricting the practice of medicine to licensed professionals, an exemption was allowed for "clairvoyant physicians".

The most colourful of these was Father Frederick C. Ryan, who ministered and practised medicine at both the Tobique and Red Bank reserves in the first half of the 20th century. In the book, Metepenagiag, Mi'kmaq author Lois Genova and her colleagues share some of Dr. Ryan's cures.

If  you are fortunate enough to be the keeper of an old hand-written scribbler recipe book, often family cures for illnesses are written on the back pages.

Another source is Old Settlers Remedies, compiled in 1960 by Marion Robertson of Shelburne, N.S. It suggests curing Chilblains with chalk dipped in vinegar, then runbbing it gently over the surface. Another way was to dip a hog's bladder in Spirits of Turpentine, then apply.

With today's health care and medical technology, it is not advisable or necessary to use some of the old cures.

Home remedies are enjoyable to read, giving us a glimpse into life in days of the past and how illnesses were treated at home.

              For Sale
Old Settler's Remedies by Marion Robertson.


Query 1780:
McCurdy-Hutchins - In the 1891 census of Waterborough in the household of James Hutchins are Elizabeth and Michael McCurdy. There is also an Edith McCurdy, born circa 1879. Seeking information as to her connection to the family. Contact

Query 1781:
Mean-Mechan-Mahony - Robert Joseph Mean emigrated from England with his family - father Thomas Mean and stepmother Bridget (Mahony). Found in the 1881 Canadian census under the name Mechan, Carleton Co., New Brunswick. Information on them and/or their passage to Canada would be most appreciated. Nathan Mean, email

Query 1783:
Coster-Peniston-Ratchford - I am looking for information on the Rev. Nathaniel Allen Coster, the Anglican minister in Gagetown, who later moved to Richibucto. I would like to know anything about his time there, when he arrived and left, the names of his children and his second wife (if one). His first wife Amelia Peniston died in Gagetown in 1857. His second wife, Caroline Sophia Ratchford, was his widow at the time of her death at age 88 in 1911. Any information would be appreciated. Contact Kay Clearson/Wilkins by email

Query 1784:
Pelham-Woodward-Travis - I will be in the River De Chute area of New Brunswick during the summer of 2011 to see the property the Crown gave, circa 1817, to my Pelham ancestor for fighting in the war of 1812. If he died on his new farm in 1825, where would he be buried? I am also interested in Woodward and Travis, who also received grants along the St. John River. Contact Jerry Pellum by email,

Query 1785:
Ward-Quinn - Mahoney- Green - Looking for connections between the families of Peter Ward, who lived at 148 Mill St., in Saint John, and neighbours Mary and James Quinn. Mary Quinn, who was well-known at the Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception., died in 1936. Minni and Mammie Quinn came to Rothesay to visit Mary Mahoney, the daughter of Jeremiah and Mary Mahoney, who married Andrew Cornelius Green. The family considered them to be aunts. Contact D. Carson by email

Query 1786:
Brown - Robert Oscar Brown was born April 4, 1871, in St. Martins. He moved to Duluth, Minn., and married Jean. There is speculation that he may have had a family in New Brunswick. Any help would be great. Contact Eric Brown by email

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

Ruby contributes a "Family History" column to the Telegraph-Journal on the third Saturday of the month.

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