How to use the Upper Saint John Valley (Northern Maine and Northwestern New Brunswick) Historical Land Grant Database to Find Your Ancestors

Do you have ancestors from the Upper Saint John Valley? I do. That’s 50% of my ancestry and I also lived there for a few years. I was recently told of a great genealogy database for the area. If you also have an interest in the history and the people of the Upper Saint John Valley, you will want to read this article written by George L. Findlen, CG, CGL. He describes how to locate a family in a land grants database and how to use the information found there with other resources in order to track a family (some, not all) from 1845 forward in time.

The process requires multiple steps but the effort is worth it. The following is published here with the kind permission of author George L. Findlen:

Upper Saint John Valley (Northern Maine and Northwestern New Brunswick) Historical Land Grant Database

By George L. Findlen, CG, CGL

The 2014 Congrès Mondial Acadien (World Acadian Reunion) took place in the Upper Saint John Valley on the Maine–New Brunswick border in August. The three-week event was filled with cultural, historical, religious, and entertainment events. The core of the CMA was a series of family reunions, 120 of them, which included some Yankee and Quebec names, since they and Acadians have intermarried over the years.

A delightful part of the CMA was an exhibit at the Musée historique du Madawaska (Madawaska Historical Museum) on the University of Moncton campus at Edmundston. Titled “Disputed Boundaries and Rediscovered Families,” the ten-stop exhibit tells the story of the Acadians which led to the settlement of the Upper Saint John Valley starting in 1785, the conflict leading to the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842, the implementation of Article IV of that treaty which acknowledged the grants of 1792 and 1794 and the possessory claims of those who had settled land prior to the treaty, and finally the conflict between Quebec and New Brunswick on their boundary which was finally settled in 1851. A richly illustrated catalog of the exhibit was published as a separate issue of the Revue de la Société historique du Madawaska 42 (January – June 2014) and is available online in both French and English at www.expoatf.ca/en/exposition. The museum plans to retain the online exhibit as a regular part of its website.

Genealogists throughout North America whose Acadian or Quebec ancestors once lived in the Upper Saint John Valley should be excited for two reasons. One, it tells the history of the Upper Saint John Valley in ten graphic panels. Visitors learn as much or more from what they see as from what they read without having to plow through 300 pages of text. Yankees and Quebecers as well as Acadians who have distant family members who have lived in the Valley should pay attention to this exhibit: it is their story. Two, the website version of the exhibit has a searchable version of the land grants made following the Webster–Ashburton Treaty. The paragraphs below will show how to locate a family in the database and how to use the information found there with other resources in order to track a family (some, not all) from 1845 forward in time.

Start by going to the website at www.expoatf.ca. Once at the website, click on “Retrouvez votre famille sur la carte” (Find your family on the map). You will be taken to a different website at the Universite de Laval. I recommend leaving the default settings on the upper right corner with a checkmark at OpenStreetMap and at Mosaïque. The first places the plat maps over their proper geographic location, and I find the orientation helpful. The second gives you the plat maps. (A technician georeferenced each lot on the plat maps drawn in the 1840s so that each plot is exactly where it should be today.) The bottom right contains the zoom in and out buttons which will remain on all images and which you will have to use. The upper left has the Recherche (Search) button. Click on that. That is where all the fun begins.

Type the surname you want to research in the Recherche (Search) box and tap the Enter key on your keyboard. That will produce a list of all individuals of that surname who received a deed to land regardless of whether the land was now in Canada or now in the United States. Click on the name you are interested in, and that person’s plot will fill the screen next to the list. The image will be overly zoomed in; use the zoom out button to see where the land is in the Valley. On the image will be a small box. Click on the word “Details.” The representatives of the two governments who surveyed were supposed to get depositions from current occupants claiming possession of a lot. The Canadian ones survived. The American ones have yet to be found and may not have survived. If the plot is on the American side, the “depositions” field in the small box will be empty. If the plot is on the Canadian side, start grinning in delight. The detail is beyond rich.

Here is an example of a deposition which supplies the equivalent of a four-generation title search:

Angelique Martin : I claim land on the River Saint John. Joseph Martin on the upper side and Simon Martin on the lower side. I have been in possession twenty years since my husband’s death. He had possession twenty two years before his death. My husband bought it from his father. He bought it from Louis Mercure. There was a house and barn on it and about forty acres cleared when my husband died. I have lived on it since his death. He left nine children Simon, Basile, Paul, Marguerite, married to Benoni Terriault, Lateque married to Sifroy Michaud, Celeste, married to Louis Albert, and Judique married to Phillipe Violette. Simon has land given to him by his father. Basile and Paul live with me. (Deed Louis Mercure to Simon Martin £10 dated 1st July 1792) [Lots fronting on the River Saint John commencing at the mouth of the Madawaska River and extending downwards, Allotment No. 1, Examination date: 1845. Madawaska Grant Book, page 158. Commissioners’ remark: The examinations relating to this tract as far as Lot no. 72 were taken in the year 1845, except where it is otherwise expressed To recommend a Grant to the widow for life, and then to the heirs except Simon.]

By clicking on the small gold star below the box, you can make the box disappear or return. Note where the house was located in the mid-1840s. The road on the map is likely where the old Rue Principal (Main Street) is today. By going to the map of the 1792 grants, you can see Louis Mercure’s plot (then no. 37) straddling the Iriquois River in what is today Madawaska County, New Brunswick. By going to the Crown Land Grant Map for the area, you can see the same lot (now no. 34) superimposed on a topo map showing today’s roads.

The first thing this deposition does is supply the chain of ownership—the title search, if you will—over the pevious 52 years: Louis Mercure to Simon Martin to son [Simon] Martin to wife Angélique [Cyr] and to their son Simon. By culling Martin entries in the parish register for Saint Basile (available on microfilm via inter-library loan from the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick and digitally in the “Acadia, Canada, Vital and Church Records” database in the Drouin Collection on Ancestry.com), you can get the baptisms (births), marriages, and burials (deaths) for each of those generations. By going to the Services New Brunswick office in Edmundston, descendants will be able to track the sales of that lot and its owners to the present day from the deed granted occupants following the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. Note the date that Simon Martin, youngest son of Jean-Baptiste Martin and Marie Brun, purchased the land from Louis Mercure. Descendants now have an estimate of when he moved his family up to the Madawaska Settlement from Central Kingsclear further down the Saint John River.

The second thing this deposition does is establish who still has inheritance rights upon Angélique’s death. The deposition amounts to a pre-probate listing of heirs. Note the last sentence of the record, listing the commissioners’ recommendation in accord with inheritance law of the time.

None of this information is available to researchers elsewhere unless they visit the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Here is another example of a deposition which supplies the equivalent of a pre-probate document:

Marie Rose Martin : I claim land on the River Saint John for the heirs of my late husband Benoni Martin. André Martin on the lower side, and Benoni Martin, my son, on the upper side. My husband had possession of the land forty years. He took it all in woods. He cleared about twenty five acres and built a house and barn on it. He lived on it till his death about three years ago. He left twelve children, Benoni, Mariance married to Jean Bte Michaud. Salomé married to Michael Terriault, Louisette, Elizabeth, married to Barthélemi Bourgoine, Angelique Marie, Vital, Rémi, Léonore, Basile and Christie. Benoni has his share of the property given to him by his father. The children that are not married live with me. [Lots fronting on the River Saint John commencing at the mouth of the Madawaska River and extending downwards, Allotment No. 60, Examination date: 1845. Madawaska Grant Book, page 184. Commissioners’ remark: To all the heirs except Mariance, wife of Jean Bte Michaud, subject to widows dower Salome died in April 1847 leaving two daughters Sophie & Marguerite]

Benoni Martin : I claim a share in the property left by my father Benoni Martin. I bought the right of my sister Mariance, the wife of Jean Baptiste Michaud. My sister Salomé, the wife of Michael Terriault died last April. She left two daughters named Sophie and Marguerite. (Deed Jean Baptiste Michaud, and Mariance his wife to Benoni Martin $100 dated 16th April 1846. Acknowledged before L. R. Coombes J. Peace) described this Being the same land the said Benoni Martins mother now occupies, and is known as the homestead farm of the said Benoni Martins late father” : [Lots fronting on the River Saint John commencing at the mouth of the Madawaska River and extending downwards, Allotment No. 60, Examination date: September 1847. Madawaska Grant Book, pages 184-185]

Note on the map where the houses are located. They are close to the river, the medium of transportation, the first “highway” if you will. Bénoni, brother-in-law of Angélique Cyr in the first example above, has worked the lot since about 1822. Marie-Rose [Cyr] is most careful to list her children who have yet to receive their inheritance, identifying who (Bénoni’s son Bénoni) has already received it, and the one child who died before receiving her inheritance but has two daughters who have a right to half of their mother’s inheritance. Note also the commissioners’ remark acknowledging the inheritance law of the time.

Again, none of this information is available to researchers elsewhere unless they visit the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Lest I make all readers think their ancestors all have delightful depositions giving property ownership history and early probate information, take a look at any entry for the American side, where depositions do not appear to have survived. Nada. Nothing. A search through the microfilm at the Maine State Archives will produce the surveyor’s notes outlining the property, and they will supply an owner’s name as of their visit in the mid-1840s, but the rest is up to the descendant to work out.

That said, the resulting map (Hamlin Plantation—Township Letter G, Range 1—in my case) coupled with the 1877 Roe and Colby Atlas of Aroostook County some 32 years later show changes in lot ownership. A visit to the Northern Aroostook Registry of Deeds in Fort Kent will enable descendants to trace those changes from 1845 to the present day. And a careful combing of entries for that ancestor in the parish registers of Saint Basile followed by a careful combing of entries for the same ancestor in the parish registers of Saint Bruno (eastern part of the Upper Saint John Valley) after 1838 or Sainte Luce (Western part of the Upper Valley) after 1842 will enable descendants to identify which ancestor was the owner of a lot as of the mid-1840s.

We Acadian and French-Canadian researchers are spoiled. We expect everyone in our family tree to be in an abstract of marriages. We don’t bother with the story of our family. By visiting this rich website, we get into that story, and it is very much worth our time.

20 May 2015

The author thanks Allen Doiron, French Archivist, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, and Christien Michaud, Curator, Madawaska Historical Museum, University of Moncton at Edmundston, for confirming the accuracy of this article.

4 Comments

Great article! A lot of people came to New Brunswick and made their way down through the states over generations and many families wove their way back and forth over generations. The article does not mention that there is much available for free at the excellent Provincial Archives of New Brunswick site. This includes vital statistics as well as a way to order copies. http://archives.gnb.ca/Archives/?culture=en-CA. Since New Brunswick is officially a bilingual province, one can order them in english as well as french although I doubt the original documents are translated.

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Is Nova Scotia included in this resource?

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    No. The St. John River Valley is in northern Maine and New Brunswick. For many miles it forms the boundary between the United States and Canada. The records described above are all from the St. John River Valley.

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Joseph Donald Cyr May 25, 2016 at 2:04 pm

I went to the Musee du madawaska site and clicked on the map and “no server found” was the response.

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