New Brunswick Irish (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: New Brunswick Ancestors  by Althea Douglas, MA, CG(C). The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

The Irish in New Brunswick[edit | edit source]

The Irish probably represent the largest group of immigrants to come to New Brunswick and it seems sensible to concentrate much of the information about them in one place. Two books offer background information:

  • New Ireland Remembered: Historical Essays on the Irish in New Brunswick, ed. P.M. Toner (Fredericton: New Ireland Press, 1989), examines various aspects of the “hostile environment” faced in New Brunswick.
  • The Irish in Atlantic Canada, 1780-1900, ed. Thomas P. Power (Fredericton, New Brunswick: New Ireland Press/Goose Lane, 1991) is a collection of essays by noted scholars bringing together new findings on the Irish experience in all four provinces.

Like so much in New Brunswick, the Irish are divided, into Protestant and Catholic, and they brought the antagonisms and rivalries of the old world with them to the new. “The Orange and the Green”, by George Schuyler in his Saint John, details many of the social causes of an ongoing antagonism.

On The Mirimichi[edit | edit source]

A comparative examination of Irish Settlements in Eastern Canada[1] includes a detailed study of an Irish settlement on the Barnaby River, a tributary of the South West Mirimichi. Figure 3 is a map of the Mirimichi area showing the 1851 population distribution of English, Scots and Irish along the Mirimichi. Clearly the Scots arrived first, taking the land along the rivers, shared with a few English (Loyalist?); most of the Irish are inland. The migration from Ireland to the study areas largely occurred between 1810-35. Genealogists should note:

Only 19 of the 153 nuclear Irish families recorded in the 1851 census had children born in Ireland, and genealogical evidence suggests that the majority of household heads arrived in Mirimichi as single adult males, and had married girls who came as child members of nuclear Irish families or the daughters of earlier Irish immigrants born in Mirimichi.

Single Adult Males[edit | edit source]

Had records survived, this preponderance of single Irish men would probably hold true for other regions of the province as well. Single adult males can move around, find work in the woods, on the docks, in the fishery. They are hard to trace until they find that “daughter”, marry and settle down. Equally mobile were the tradesmen—cooper, blacksmiths and other iron workers, boiler-makers, joiners and carpenters—any skilled craftsman could be useful in the docks, sawmills and shipyards found on every river.

Irishtown[edit | edit source]

“Irishtown”, one on the outskirts of Saint John, one on the outskirts of Moncton, tell us that enough Irish had come to both cities to form a visible community. Three Irish immigrants settled north of Moncton in 1812 and were joined by others to form a prosperous farming community. At Saint John and on the Mirimichi, they arrived off the returning timber boats, however shipping manifests are few and far between, much of the 1851 census is missing, and both the Mirimichi Fire (1825) and the Saint John Fire (1877) destroyed records. How to find these Irish ancestors?

Irish Famine Database[edit | edit source]

The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB) website has a searchable database: Irish Famine Database—Migration to New Brunswick 1845-1852.

At first glance that sounds like the answer but when you read the detailed description of the sources used it is clear that this is a Famine database, and not a list of everyone who migrated to New Brunswick between 1845 and 1852.

The Irish Famine Database was constructed from some seven separate data bases, explained in detail in the introduction; read it! Most of the names (cases) are derived from records of the Saint John City Almshouse and Municipal Home (MC249), Infirmary residents, May to August, 1843, Alms and Work House residents, 1843-1847, and the Peter Toner Collection (MC1852), databases assembled for studies on An Index to Irish Immigrants in the New Brunswick Census of 1851 and the New Brunswick Census of 1861, plus a database on passenger lists, compiled from shipping registers, 1847-1867 of the J. and J. Cooke Co. of Derry, Northern Ireland.

As well, RS555 Provincial Secretary: Immigration Administration Records, of Sick and Destitute Immigrants—Correspondence Relating to Diseased Passengers on the “Eliza Liddell” 1847-1848 offers more names. Clearly the majority of names in the databases are the sick and destitute that the community had to take care of or the Provincial Secretary wrote letters about.

You can learn a lot about this unfortunate sector of the immigrant population, but unless someone ended up in the almshouse, or a hospital, or an orphanage, and cost the community money, records were rarely kept. Arrive with a skill, get a job, settle down, and with most of the Saint John 1851 census missing, government records are few and far between.

Other Scattered Sources[edit | edit source]

Daniel F. Johnson, Irish Emigrants and Their Vessels, Port of Saint John, New Brunswick, 1841-1848. (Saint John: self published, 1996). Reviewed in Generations, Volume 18, n.3, Fall 1996, pages 62, which pointed out that:

As the passenger lists received at the Customs House, Saint John, have long since disappeared, it was necessary to draw from other New Brunswick records, both public and private. ie. provincial emigration records, relief and alms house registers, lunatic asylum entries and newspapers of the time period.

Passengers to New Brunswick: Custom House Records - 1833, 34, 37 and 38 (Saint John: Saint John Branch NBGS, 1987, reprinted 1999), 483 pages, with an index. It was compiled from the very few records that survive, and gives passengers’ name, age, occupation, as well as the ship, port and burthen, number of crew and Master, with a date it was compiled at the port of embarkation.

A Chronicle of Irish Emigration to Saint John, New Brunswick 1847, compiled by J. Elizabeth Cushing, Teresa Casey and Monica Robertson (Saint John: New Brunswick Museum, 1979) contains extracts from local newspapers, including many lists of deaths and burials at the quarantine station on Partridge Island. Well indexed.

The Spring 1997 issue of Generations has printed the “Passenger List for the Brig Ambassador Londonderry, Ireland, to Saint John, New Brunswick, 1834” (pp. 4-6), Thomas Vaughan, Master. This list names the nine members of the crew and the 115 adults, 20 under 14, 37 under 7, and 6 under 12 months. The total was 178 persons equating to 137 1/3 passengers, on a 196 ton ship, with upward of five feet six inches between decks.

Professor Peter Toner’s An Index to Irish Immigrants in the New Brunswick Census of 1851 (Fredericton, 1991), may prove useful, but do read the introduction with care. It notes the missing sections of the 1851 census: all of Gloucester and Kent Counties, most of Queens, and major parts of Saint John and its county. The missing wards in Saint John explain the book’s failure to pick up any of my Irish families living there. (Toner’s database is incorporated in the Famine Irish Database on the Internet).

More recently, Peter D. Murphy of St.Mary’s University published Poor Ignorant Children: Irish Famine Orphans in Saint John, New Brunswick (1999), the story of one orphan asylum with detailed entries in one of its original ledgers.

Again, except for Peter Toner, most of these published lists are of people who came into the care of the community. It will be church records, newspaper notices, and the census returns for 1861 and onwards, that will turn up your more fortunate Irish ancestors with all the others.

A Mirimichi Resource[edit | edit source]

Particularly if your Irish families were Roman Catholic, you could contact:

St. Michael’s Museum and Genealogical Centre
P.O. Box 368, 10 Howard St.
Miramichi, New Brunswick E1N 3A7
Telephone: (506) 778-5152

Holdings: Church and census records, genealogical files relating to families of the Miramichi region, with emphasis on the Irish.

Reference[edit | edit source]

  1. Mannion, John H., Irish Settlements in Eastern Canada: A study of Cultural Transfer and Adaptation (Toronto, London; University of Toronto Press, 1974, reprinted 1978).


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: New Brunswick Ancestors

offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at  

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