Public Archives Guide to Tracing Your Family History in PEI
Have you ever wondered where your ancestors came from? Do you know when, why, and how they came to Prince Edward Island? Are you interested in learning more about your family history but don’t know where to start? This guide offers some basic tips to help you get started and point you towards sources for your PEI research.
Start with yourself
The best place to begin to trace your family history is with yourself. From there you can begin to work back generation by generation, from the known to the unknown, to your immigrant ancestors. This means you should do some homework before you visit PEI repositories, which will allow you to make effective use of their resources and your time.
Do your homework
Your first task is to establish the NDPs in your family:
- names of people and their relationships to each other
- dates of events such as births, marriages, and deaths
- places where these events occurred
A pedigree chart with spaces to show the lines of descent from your eight great great grandparents down to you can be helpful in organizing this information. You may wish to do a chart for each of your siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. There are many free genealogy charts available online which can be printed and used. If you prefer to keep your notes electronically, most genealogical software packages have “fillable” pedigree charts that can also be printed as hard copies.
After filling in your charts you will be able to identify what you know and what you need to find out. To avoid confusion, work on only one line at a time.
People are your best resource
Talk to relatives, friends, and neighbours who knew your forbears. Elderly people in particular may be a treasure trove of information. If you cannot visit them in person, phone, email, or write a letter.
Ask your contacts for more than just names, dates, and places. While this information is important, you should try to flesh out your family history. For instance:
- Has anyone already compiled a family history?
- Are there any interesting stories, legends, or traditions that have been passed down over the years?
- Does anyone have old family photographs, diaries, letters, or scrapbooks?
- Is there an old family Bible with birth, marriage, and death information?
- Does anyone have old legal papers such as wills or land deeds?
- What role did religion play in the lives of your forbears?
- How did your ancestors celebrate special events such as birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries? What were their funeral customs?
Document your sources and organize your research
As you gather information, record your data by taking notes, obtaining copies, recording interviews, and collecting or copying photographs. Be sure to document your work by writing down the source, location, and date of each piece of information. This is very important so that you and other researchers can verify your findings. Richard Lackey’s Cite Your Sources: A Manual For Documenting Family Histories and Genealogical Record (Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 1985) is the classic genealogical citation guide but it predates the use of websites, databases, and other online resources. Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1997) is an example of a comprehensive and more up-to-date citation guidebook.
There are several options for storing and organizing your research. One tried and true method is to store your material in a three-ring binder with sections for each generation or branch of your research. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and easily expandable. If you prefer to go digital, there are several kinds of genealogical software available at a range of price points. Read reviews and talk to other users about ease of use, functionality, and output options to make the best choice to meet your needs.
Consult available community and church histories to learn more about the area in which your ancestors lived. Such works often include some genealogical information about local families. A general history of PEI such as F.W.P. Bolger's Canada's Smallest Province (Charlottetown: Prince Edward Island 1973 Centennial Commission, 1973) and Ed MacDonald’s If You're Stronghearted: Prince Edward Island in the Twentieth Century (Charlottetown: Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, 2000) will also help place your ancestors within an economic, social, and historic context.
Consult Island repositories and resources
Once you have done your homework and organized your data, your next step will be to visit or contact Island repositories and access other resources. Be sure to check hours of operation in advance and bring your notes with you so you can make the best use of your time.
Repositories in Charlottetown
- Public Archives and Records Office – Home to the largest collection of PEI genealogy material in the province. Visit Genealogy at the Public Archives for details.
- Estates Division, Sir Louis Henry Davies Law Courts, 42 Water Street, PO Box 2000, Charlottetown, PE, C1A 7K4, (902) 368-6000 – Probate records, including wills, administrations and estate papers, 1930 to present.
- Registry of Deeds Office (Land Registry Office), Jones Building, 11 Kent Street, PO Box 2000, Charlottetown, PE, C1A 7N8, (902) 368-4591 – Land records for all of PEI from 1900 to the present.
- Public Library Service – Books on PEI, Canadian, and world history, as well as general genealogical reference material. Branches are located at the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown and across PEI.
- Robertson Library, University of Prince Edward Island, 550 University Avenue, Charlottetown, PE, C1A 4P3, (902) 566-0583 – Reading material on PEI, Canadian, and world history, the PEI Collection, and microfilm copies of PEI census records, newspapers, and business directories. A number of digital resources are also available through their website.
Repositories in Summerside
- MacNaught History Centre and Archives, 75 Spring Street, Summerside, PE, C1N 4K4, (902) 432-1332 – Microfilmed copies of the Master Name Index, a selection of PEI newspapers, census records, and cemetery transcriptions, as well as many published and unpublished community histories and genealogies. PEIAncestry, a subscription-based database resource, is also available through MacNaught.
- Eptek Art & Culture Centre, 130 Heather Moyse Drive, Summerside, PE, C1N 5Y8, (902) 888-8373 – A small genealogical library with microfilm holdings including the Master Name Index, census and church records, newspapers and other materials pertaining to the Summerside area.
- Registry of Deeds (Land Registry), Summerside Office, Access PEI Summerside, 120 Heather Moyse Drive, Summerside, PE, C1N 5Y8, (902) 888-8000 – Pre-1900 land records for all of PEI on microfilm and post-1899 records for Prince County only. An index to wills and administrations, post-1930 wills, and post-1967 administrations are also available on microfilm.
Repositories in other locations
- Alberton Museum, 457 Church Street, PO Box 515, Alberton, PE, C0B 1B0, (902) 853-4048 – A large collection of historical photographs and extensive genealogical information on Alberton-area families.
- Acadian Museum and Centre for Acadian Research of Prince Edward Island, 23 Main Drive East, Route 2, PO Box 159, Miscouche, PE, C0B 1T0, (902) 432-2880 – Exhibits showcasing Acadian history and culture on PEI and genealogy resources specific to Acadian families.
- Garden of the Gulf Museum, 564 Main Street, PO Box 1237, Montague, PE, C0A 1R0, (902) 838-2467 – Exhibits, archival collections, and genealogy resources related to the Montague-area.
- Vital Statistics, 126 Douses Road, Montague, PE, C0A 1R0, (902) 838-0887 or 1-877-320-1253 (toll-free within Canada) – The official registry of vital statistics information for the province of PEI. These records are not open to the public and some material is permanently restricted. There is no public reading room. Visit "Search Vital Records" for information about requesting records.
- Prince Edward Island Genealogical Society, PO Box 2744, Charlottetown, PE, C1A 8C4 – A volunteer organization founded in 1976 to serve the genealogical community and to further genealogical research in PEI. The Society provides a forum for exchanging information through its quarterly newsletter, meetings, workshops, and indexing projects.
- Island Register – This genealogical website contains a wealth of information about PEI families and can be a great way to connect with others researching your surname.
Compile your research and share your findings
While many would argue genealogy research is never truly complete, you will probably want to write up your research at some point down the road. There are a variety of ways to do this and there are many books and websites on the topic. Check your local public library for titles and talk to others who have written their own genealogies for suggestions and tips.
Consider sharing your findings with relatives and your local genealogical library or archives. The Public Archives, for instance, has a large collection of genealogies donated by researchers. These are a wonderful resource for other researchers and are accessed on a regular basis in the Reading Room.
Take your time
Beginners often try to do too much too fast when tracing their family history. As a result, they may get overwhelmed or miss important information. Don’t let that happen to you. Instead, take your time. You may find yourself revisiting repositories or double checking sources to ensure you have not missed vital information, or to explore new avenues of research as you learn more. Most well-done genealogies take years to research, so take your time, and strive for accuracy and thoroughness in everything you record.
Tracing your family history can a challenging, absorbing, and rewarding pursuit. Good luck and happy researching.