The Big Newfoundland Book

GenealogyBookThe following Roots to the Past column was written and published in March 2011.

The big brown box almost filled our mailbox. At first, I didn’t know what it was, but when I saw the Chapters’ logo on the side, I realised it was the books I had ordered last week. But why was the box so big? I pulled it out. It was heavy for two books, one just a pocket novel. When I opened the box, I saw one of the biggest books I’ve ever owned: Family Names of the Island of Newfoundland by E. R. Seary.

I heard about this book about ten years ago but never back then did I think I’d ever own a copy. The original edition must have sold well because second-hand copies I found on the Internet were priced well over a hundred dollars. Recently, I was pleased to find the book was reprinted and selling at $61.75 (plus tax).

The Family Names book was originally published in 1977. The newest edition has been reset and incorporates additions and corrections. In the extensive introduction, E. R. Seary “discusses the historic and linguistic origins of Newfoundland surnames and their cultural sources – notably English, Welsh, Irish, Scottish, French, Syrian, Lebanese and Micmac.”

The body of the book contains a dictionary of family names. The research for each surname includes variant spellings, countries of origin, meanings and other references.

For example, Cove is “a surname in England from the English place names North and South Cove (Suffolk) or Cove (Devon, Hampshire).” Also, “The Cove family came from the north of England to Petty Harbour in the mid-17th century.” And “Early instances: Robert(t), ? of St. John’s, 1796; Robert, of St. John’s, 1821; Thomas, of Petty Harbour, 1871).”

Although I didn’t note the references for these Cove individuals, the book does note sources, so readers can both verify the information and see if there is more to learn from the records.Newfoundland Book

The modern status for each surname is listed. For example, the surname Sweetland is ‘scattered, especially at Bonavista.” and the German surname Steinbrink is “unique, at St. John’s.”

If a surname gave birth to a place name, the location is recorded. For example, from the surname Burnell came Burnell Beach (Labrador) and Burnells Brook, and the English surname Gaulton resulted in Galton Island and Galton Point.

Family traditions have also made their way onto the pages. For example, the surname Duncan states: “Between 1785 and 1800, Lieut. Alexander Duncan, R.R. deserted his ship at Anchor Point (St. Barbe district) to marry Mary Watts and assumed his mother’s maiden name GOULD to avoid detection.”

At the back of the book is the Order of Common Surnames  –  listing White as the most common – and Surnames Recorded Before 1700.

Newfoundlanders have cast their nets far and wide across Canada. They have settled in every province and in some instances every corner of a province. Anyone with roots drawing ancestral blood from the Atlantic island will find this book useful for genealogical research and for general interest.

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