On the March Break in 2012 I visited Archives Canada to do some family history research.
I did not have a plan. I had a thick file holding three years of research notes, an iPad, and some blank paper. Generally, I wanted to know more about the Metis, the Voyageurs, lighthouses, and my family.
NOTE: When we arrived at Archives Canada we had to sign-up for a Library Card. This process was easy–some photo ID, a computerized form, and a signature. Once our cards were ready we signed in at the security desk and received a key for a locker. It is helpful to read all the information on the Archives Canada website, Preparing for a Visit.
Starting the Research
Prepare to be overwhelmed. We began in the Geneaology and Family History section. Around the space there are lots of brochures and tips for getting started. There is also a full-time staff member in the room available to answer questions.
I spent the morning reading all the records for St. Anne’s Parish in Penetanguishine. Birth records, marriage records, and death records of family members from the mid to late 1800s. As I found relevant information I recorded it with my iPad. Wireless Internet gave me instant access to everything I had stored on Ancestry.ca too!
After lunch we went to the information desk. I wish I had noted his name–the archivist was helpful and friendly. He shared with us a number of online tools. My favourite: a database of Voyageur contracts.
The Voyageur Contracts are only available in French. I wish I paid more attention when I studied French in high school! “Ezechiel Solomon et Compagnie” resulted in 87 items. Ezekiel Solomon was my great(x5)-grandfather. He owned the company that hired voyageurs. This is before Northwest Company and Hudson’s Bay Company. The contracts are fascinating!
New Family Connections
It is possible that this is a contract for Joseph Normandin in 1820, my great(x3)-grandfather. He would have been 23 years old. It lists St. Anne’s as his parish. Joseph’s family would have been living in Penetanguishine around that time. I have also seen the name David Mitchell, who is listed as the employer, in my reading (although I cannot remember where). Again, I wish I better understood French. He was given a boat and three years to do the south. It includes four cotton shirts, a pair of shoes, a necklace, and some other things I can not determine. He signed his name with an “X.” He was paid “600 livres ou chelins.” At a glance, it looks like the voyageurs were paid in books! But I imagine they were paid in pelts or pounds.
I found another contract that I believe is Joseph Berger’s, another great(x3)-grandfather. In 1819, Joseph Berger was given a three year contract to work in the Nipissing area, passing through Michilimakinac. He is given an advance of “50 piastres) whatever that means and will be paid the rest until months after he returns. I wonder if the employer worried he was not going to return. His parish is listed as Montreal. I think he eventually lived in Penetaguishine too so I am not sure if I found the right Joseph Berger.
Finally, I found a 1791 contract for Francois Solomon. He worked for Levy Solomon who was Ezekiel’s brother (or maybe his son). I am still trying to piece together the Solomon family. Francois is listed not as a voyageur but as a rudder. According to a free French translation website here are the terms of Francois’ contract: CHILIMAKINAC, BIG PORTAGE OR OTHER PLACES THAT WILL BE INDICATED HIM AND DESCEND IN THE FALL – ORDINARY EQUIPMENT – 3 A DAY AS TO COUNT DAY OF LEUF DEPARTURE TO GO OF THIS CITY TO THE DAY OF HIS RETURN.
And Now More Questions to Explore
Next I would like to search the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives for relatives, although I think the men of my family had moved on from being voyageurs to becoming lighthouse keepers when HBC dominated the waterways.