The following announcement was written by Ancestry.ca:
(Toronto, ON – February 4, 2009) Ancestry.ca, Canada’s leading online family history website, celebrates Black History Month with an unprecedented array of online historical records that trace the lives of black Canadians dating back to pre-Confederation, including records from the First World War’s Second Construction Battalion, the only all-black military battalion in Canada’s history. These records are a treasure trove of information for almost 800,000 black Canadians living today.
Public records, personal narratives, legal documents and letters all detail the contributions of the black community in defending our country, in government, in forging new ideas and in helping lead thousands to freedom through their involvement in the Underground Railroad.
Some of the significant black Canadians that appear in these records include members of Canada’s Second Construction Battalion. At the beginning of the First World War, black men were turned away at recruiting stations when they tried to enlist for battle. Many would not accept the policy that excluded them based on racial grounds.
After lobbying the government, 605 men from across Canada formed a segregated unit on July 5, 1916 in Pictou, Nova Scotia. The attestation papers of these men can be found in the Canadian Soldiers of World War I collection, most notably:
- Roy Fells from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, was awarded the Military Medal while serving with the famed 25th Battalion
- Curley Christian born in Pennsylvania, was the only quadrilateral amputee to survive the war and he was present at the unveiling of the Vimy Ridge memorial in 1936
- Jeremiah Jerry Jones from Truro, Nova Scotia, was remembered for crossing the bloody battlefield at Vimy Ridge to take an enemy machine gun nest
- James Grant from St. Catharine’s Ontario, was awarded the Military Cross in 1918
“More and more Canadians are interested in tracing their roots and now, thanks to the online preservation of these kinds of records, people of any background can discover where their ancestors came from.”
By making this information widely accessible, Ancestry.ca is making it easier for people to uncover and share the personal stories that make up their family history and heritage.
Other prominent figures that can be found through various collections on Ancestry.ca include:
- Abraham Doras Shadd (1801-1882) an active member of the American Anti-Slavery Society as a conductor for the Underground Railroad and President of the National Convention for the Improvement of Free People of Colour. In 1851 he settled in North Buxton, Ontario and became the first black man to be elected into political office as the Counselor of Raleigh Township (record found in the Canadian Passenger Lists)
- William Edward Hall (1827-1904) was the first Canadian Naval Officer and the first person of African ancestry, to receive the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration in the British Empire. (record found in the 1901 Census)
- Ray Lewis (1910-2003) from Hamilton, Ontario was a track and field athlete and the first black Canadian-born Olympic medalist. He won a bronze medal as part of the 4 x 400 relay race in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics (record found in 1911 Census)
- Delos Davis (1846-1915) was born in Maryland and came to Canada via the Underground Railroad to Colchester, Ontario, a destination for slaves escaping the US. On November 10, 1910 he became the first black person appointed as a King’s Counsel (Records found in 1891 Census and 1901 Census)
- Anderson R. Abbott (1837-1913) was the first black Canadian doctor to be granted a medical license under the Medical Board of Upper Canada. He participated in the American Civil War and attended the death bed of Abraham Lincoln (multiple records found including marriage and death certificates)
- Lincoln Macauley Alexander Sr. was the father of Lincoln Alexander, Canada's first black Member of Parliament and the 24th Lt. Governor of Ontario. Alexander Sr. can be found in the Canadian Passenger Lists, arriving in St. John from St. Vincent to start his new life in Canada on April 13, 1920
- William Daniel Peterson and Kathleen Olivia John were the parents of internationally acclaimed pianist Oscar Peterson. Their marriage on October 9, 1918 in Montreal can be found in the Drouin Collection
- Freedman's Bank Records, 1865-1874 - Shortly after the Civil War in March 1865, several New York businessmen started the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, or Freedman's Bank - a savings bank where soldiers and former slaves could invest their money. The Freedman's Bank records show depositors' names and sometimes other personal information such as age, place of birth, and occupation
- Slave Schedules, 1850 & 1860 - Slaves were counted separately during the 1850 and 1860 U.S. censuses. In most schedules, the names of land owners only were recorded; individual slaves were not named but were simply numbered and can be distinguished only by age, sex, and color
- Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy, 1718-1820 - Detailed information on over 100,000 slaves who arrived in Louisiana between 1718 and 1820. The records include rich personal details such as, gender, race, birthplace, family names and relationships, skill or trade, personality traits, and information about how the person was freed
- Slave Narratives - A collection of one-on-one interviews with more than 3,500 former slaves collected over a ten-year period from 1929 to 1939. The interviews, written exactly as they were dictated to preserve the spoken dialect of the former slave, are very rich in family history data and often identify ages, places of residence and birth, and names of spouses, children, siblings, and parents.