AFHS General Program Meeting - 2 March 1998
by Graham MacDonald
See also current AFHS
I want to discuss with you tonight, the value of a fairly recent
research publication which has come out recently by Elizabeth Briggs
and Anne Morton of Winnipeg (Bibliographical Resources at the Hudson's
Bay Archives, Volume I. Winnipeg: Westgrath, 1996). and which I
think will be of special interest to the group assembled here this
evening. But before doing so, I will just briefly point out a few
of the items which are listed on the short bibliography which I
have circulated to you. The items on display represent the fruit
of much detailed research into fur trade families which have been
published in the last two decades.
Fur Trade History
As you may know, Fur trade history has been something of a growth
industry since the early 1970s, and continues to be so. The year
1980 was a particularly good year for family history in fur trade
studies. Alberta born Sylvia Van Kirk at the University of Toronto
and Sylvia Van Kirk at the University of Winnipeg, both published
- Van Kirk: Many Tender Ties
- Brown: Strangers in Blood
The book by Jackson on the Fur Trade families of the Pacific Northwest
is a relatively new book and will be of interest to those of you
working in the geographic area. It contains many interesting photographs
and it will demonstrate the value of many other archive repositories
in addition to that of the HBC.
The book by Lois McDonald I have included as an example of what
can be done with respect to a specific family on occasion. In this
case, the Ermatinger's represent a large and very well documented
family whose business activities spread to many quarters of Canada
and the Pacific Northwest. In Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. for example,
it was the enterprise of Glady McNeice to spend countless hours
gathering records with respect to Charles Oakes Ermatinger In support
of the Ermatinger Old Stone House built by Ermatinger between 1814
and 1823. Ermatinger had labored for both the North West Company
and the Hudson's Bay Company. In the letters of Francis Ermatinger
then, we have yet another case of documentation for this family,
the originals in this case having been preserved by the Oregon Historical
Biographical Resources at the Hudson's Bay Company
A few brief words about the general structure of the HBC Archives
might be in order. Some of this information is summarized in the
handouts provided. The actual records are grouped in six lettered
series, A to F and by several additional record groups.
- Section A - Records of the London Office. 1671-
- Section B - Post and Headquarters in North America, 1684-1943
- Section C - Ships and Shipping, 1751-
- Section D - Governor's of Rupert's Land, Commissioner's etc.
- Section E - Red River Settlement/Private Manuscripts. 1682-
- Section F - Related and Subsidiary Companies., 1786-1934
The additional Record Groups are described as:
- RG 2 - Canadian Committee Office, 1912-1970
- RG 3-RG 7 - Fur Trade Department/Northern Stores, 1910-1987
What Can be Found in the HBC?
The HBC employees were broken into three main groups:
- commissioned officer (chief factors and traders)
- clerks and postmasters
Now some records may list employees from all these groups while
others may list them according to class. It is possible to trace
the career of HBC employees through the following:
- correspondence, which may include letters of application and
- contracts and abstracts of engagements
- district and departmental records, company ledgers
- annual evaluations or personal comments on employees
Successful searching of the Company records can reveal the following
- birthplace and parish
- the district or post where active
- annual salary or wage
- capacity or occupation
- personal evaluation.
Ways into These Records
There a number of ways into these records and the start is made
in the Reading Room where there is a master Card Catalogue. It is
divided into four main sub-catalogues as follows: Search File Catalogue,
Archives Files, Library Catalogue, and Photo Collection Catalogue.
Search File Catalogue
This is not an index to every name mentioned in the records of
the HBC but does contain more names in alphabetical order than other
finding aid in the HBC. To use it one merely goes to the family
name or surname in question, for example, the well known fur trade
figure Alexander Ross. In this case the name is listed. One then
has to fill out a document request form in order to obtain the actual
Search File for this individual, which lists all that has been,
to that time, summarized about Alexander Ross in the Archive holdings.
For Alexander Ross (1783-1856) the Search File reveals that there
are published Biographical Sketches in four different standard reference
works. The Search File also refers the researcher to other Files
where info. on Ross will be found. Miscellaneous material will be
summarized in the Search File as well, such as an 1822 evaluation
of Ross by Sir George Simpson, Governor of the HBC.
Good Clerk & Trader, reputed to be dishonest, but it is
considered to be good policy to employ him, to prevent him falling
into the hands of the Americans.
Cards of this nature refer the researcher to standard works such
as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, The Beaver, publications
of the Hudson's Bay Record Society or the Moccasin Telegraph, all
of which are available in the Reading Room.
This major record group contains many references to personal names,
since it is the main holding area for Private Manuscripts.
This is a section of the catalogue which has been maintained by
Archives staff over the years whenever a reference to a person has
been found in a document or a publication. The reference was noted
on a Brief Reference Card, and filed according to surname. An example
is as follows:
| Tait, John, (b) (fl. 1852-1857)
Parish: North Mavine (Shetland)
Nil Cards and/or Correspondence Cards
This is a part of the card catalogue where archivist maintain a
public access to past enquiries for individuals. If HBC staff were
unable to find a reference to a specific enquiry, a Nil Card is
filed. Follow up may be done by a contemporary researcher with an
Archivist, who will check the public enquiry files to see what the
documentary basis was for the preparation of the Nil Card. For instance,
the original enquiry may have come from a person who had reason
to believe a certain person worked for the HBC, and such provided
information is retained on file.
It needs to be mentioned here that there are also free standing
Binders in the Reading Room known as the 'Biogs' - the Biographies.
These may be easily accessed under the appropriate surname. Lets
take a quick look at the summary for one Patrick Cunningham.
Now we come to another main division of the Card Catalogue - The
Archives File. This is the top right hand drawer of the Search File
and represents files previously kept by the HBC in Winnipeg and
based on files maintained in London, England. These may be worth
consulting in certain contexts.
Little need be said about this part of the catalogue. Like most
archives, the HBC has gathered many books and pamphlets which complement
the archive holdings. The use of this is standard, and is a great
resource with respect to people who have gained a certain fame or
Photo Collection Catalogue
Similarly with the Photo Catalogue, which is self-explanatory,
except to say that a certain amount of information may be attached
to a photograph of an individual and so the Photo Collection Finding
Aids may be worth consulting.
Section 3.1 of Briggs and Morton: Fur Trade General
This section deals with sources which are either alphabetically
organized or have name indexes and which cover long periods of time.
The McCloy Index
Names for this index of Fur Trade Biographies were taken from
- Appendices of Volume. XXII Of The Publications of the Champlain
- Volumes I to XII of the Champlain Society, HBC Series
- Publications of the HBC Record Society
- Appended entries from HBC Staff
Now lets get into the real record groups a bit. There are a number
of records which can be consulted under the heading of Fur Trade
||Servants Contracts, 1780-1818
||Servants Contracts c.1820-c.1925
||Officers and Servants Wills, 1763-1913
||Microfilm 425-431, etc.
Lets Look at Servants Contracts: 1780-1818.
Now lets look at another Record Group - A. 36: Officers and Servants
Another Record Group is A. 44: Register of Wills and Administrations
of Proprietors, 1771-1903.
Another Record Group. Officers and Servants Legers. A. 16
Another Record Group. Lists of Servants in Hudson's Bay Company.
1774-1841. A. 30.
The format for these records changed over the years. For example
in 1785 lists were kept by district. By 1818 there is one list for
employees of the Northern Department and one for the Southern Department.
North West Company
Some of you will be interested in the HBC holdings for the NWC
which was absorbed into the HBC in 1821. The records for the NWC
are generally in short supply and so the amalgamation of 1821 was
probably a good thing from the standpoint of record preservation.
Similar charts as these we have already seen summarize the holdings
for these records. Lets take a quick look at the summary provide
in Record Group F. 4/40 for one Solomon Chartier
Post and Headquarter Records. Group B
There are a variety of things to be learned from records in this
group. Genealogists are always interested of course, in Marriage
Record Group D
Is the place where Inspection Reports live, and in these quite
often are found lists of employees at a given post and comments
A few words are in order about Native Peoples and what can be
learned from the Records. Here, we will want to check the records
in the usual way, particularly through Post Records where Native
Census records were often kept.
There are many other kinds of specialized headings which we can
not touch upon tonight, but which are well set out in Morton and