The Newfoundland Vital Records Collection
Here is the explanation of the difference between church and government vital records in Newfoundland which is found on the Familysearch.org website page associated with the “official” Vital Records from 1891 an earlier:
Newfoundland, including the area of Labrador, became a province of Canada in 1949. Official registration of births, marriages, and deaths began in 1891. This collection also contains “Delayed Registration of Birth” certificates as well. Some of these date back to 1840. A delayed birth certificate is considered to be a birth certificate not filed within one year of the date of birth. Delayed birth certificates are generally a separate type of document and can include more types of documents than just late filings.
Until 1948, most vital records were copies of church records. Clergy were required to register the baptisms, marriages, and burials they performed with the civil authorities. Also, as most of the records were handwritten and then copied from there may be transcription errors and mistakes in orthography of some individual’s names. It is important to check for alternate and similar spellings.
Official registration of Births, marriages, and deaths did not occur in Newfoundland until 1891.
Civil registration started in Newfoundland in 1891-1892. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Newfoundland Department of Public Health and Welfare, requested that churches transcribe their pre-1891 baptisms and marriages. This collection contains the records of those churches which responded to the request. Beginning dates vary with each record, and many dates are out of chronological order.
It is from the Familysearch.org website that copies of the relevant pages from the Newfoundland Vital Records which appear below were downloaded. The records themselves are the property of Provincial Archives Division, housed at The Rooms in St. John’s, but these images are the property of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) and the Familysearch.org website they operate and should be acknowledged accordingly if borrow or used.
Roman Catholic Records for the Southern Shore
At that the time that the call went out in the 1930s and 1940s for all church registers to be transcribed for the Vital Record Collection, a common problem affecting many of these communities was that there were no churches present in the village for the time of interest (prior to 1891). And even if there were, as was the case for Ferryland, in far too many instances, unfortunately, the records for those churches were subsequently lost due to fire or other causes. So for the RC Parish of Holy Trinity (originally Holy Family until ca 1920) in Ferryland, even though there had been a parish church in existence for much longer than in other villages, the original wooden church was destroyed by fire around 1863 and with it went all of the records, not only for Ferryland, but for the communities up and down the shore that used the Ferryland church to celebrate births/baptisms and marriages and to carry out funerals, though burials were more often in the village of the deceased. Construction of the present stone church began shortly after the destruction of the wooden church but was not completed until 1898 and it appears record keeping during this period was sporadic.
Joan Edward has this to say about the church in her book “This is Our Place. This is Our Home.” (Breakwater Books Ltd.; 2006), portions of which are available online on Google Books, I presume with the permission of the author and publisher: https://books.google.ca/books/about/This_is_Our_Place_this_is_Our_Home.html?id=O5rmyOCnJTkC&redir_esc=y
Joan recounts a visit to the church and encounters with various parishioners some time in the early 2000s before the book was published She learned the following from Joan Sullivan Costello, who had cooked at the Convent for ten years:
“The two prominent buildings standing side by side on a hillside in Ferryland are the Holy Trinity Church (Catholic, built in 1865, and the only remaining stone church in Newfoundland), and the convent next to it. The convent was first built in 1900, burned down, and the present building erected in 1914. Between the convent and the church, a school was built in the early 1900s, where the Sisters taught the primary and elementary grades. It was taken down in 1986 when the primary and elementary schools were combined in the new Baltimore High School.”
This seems to be consistent with what information is available elsewhere.
Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Ferryland, ca 1950, before the steeple tower was removed
Image from “Ten Historic Towns: Heritage Architecture in Newfoundland”
Digital copy available at: http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/ref/collection/hist_trust/id/242
As a result, despite the fact that a Roman Catholic clergy presence in Ferryland dates uninterrupted from at least 1789, there are only a smattering of existing records of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials for the Roman Catholics on the southern shore prior to 1871. In most cases, these records were recorded at the Basilica in St. John’s, though more than likely the ceremonies were performed in Ferryland.
According to Kevin Reddigan, Holy Apostles Parish center was created at Fermeuse about 1838, but moved to Renews in 1867. The first resident parish priest, Father James Murphy, served all Southern Shore settlements starting from Admiral’s Cove, Fermeuse (Port Kerwin) south to Cape Race. The Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador website indicates that the present church in Renews was built in the 1870s. Theoretically, therefore, there should be parish records for the Renews/Fermeuse area in the Vital Records collection for at least the period from 1867-1891, or even since 1838. The church records certainly survive. But in fact no parallel Vital Records exist. This may be simply a result of the priest at the time the government sent out its request for transcripts in the 1930s and 1940s refusing to cooperate.
Holy Apostles Church, Renews (From Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador website)
Other RC churches and parishes that exist today (e.g. Immaculate Conception, Cape Broyle; Immaculate Conception, Calvert [formerly Caplin Bay]; St. Charles Boromeo, Fermeuse; Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Port Kirwin) did not exist prior to 1891.
Thus, the Vital Records collection does not contain ANY transcriptions of RC Church Registers for the Southern Shore.
Church of England Records for the Southern Shore
When settlement began on the Southern Shore, Protestants (mainly English, Church of England planters and merchants) outnumbered the Roman Catholics (almost exclusively Irish fishermen and their families). In addition, even if that were not the case, English laws restricting the observation of the RC faith existed in Newfoundland, as well as in England and Ireland, well into the 1800s. Liberalisation, or a reduced adherence to enforcement of the law, actually began in the late 1700s (note the reference of the presence of RC clergy in Ferryland since 1789), but when emancipation was announced in England and Ireland in 1829, the Newfoundland governor at the time refused to apply this new liberality under his jurisdiction, and it was not until 1832 that true Roman Catholic emancipation came to Newfoundland.
Thus, the only churches that existed on the Southern Shore in the earliest days were C of E. But, at the outset, they too were few in number and insubstantial structures, which did not stand the test of time, and were later replaced with more elaborate and commodious buildings. The two that served the area around Ferryland were St. Luke’s in Ferryland, initially in a converted house near the Pool and later in a larger building on the north side, and St. Philip’s in Aquaforte. St. Luke’s parish existed in some form from at least 1800 onward, and probably earlier (there are references to C of E clergy present in Ferryland in 1792 according to Kevin Reddigan). St. Philip’s church came into being around the middle of that century, but again the parish undoubtedly existed long before that. St. Philip’s church still stands and serves a small Anglican community that lives in the area. St. Luke’s fell into disuse after WWI, with a dwindling C of E population in Ferryland, and was taken down before WWII.
It is sad how little is presently known or available in writing concerning the history of St. Luke’s church. Of course, that is in large part the result of the decline in the congregation and the demolition of the church so long ago. It is believed that St. Luke’s church in its most recent form was consecrated in 1832 during a visit by the bishop, who then resided in Nova Scotia. Few people today can even recall the exact location where it stood. The photo below and only one or two others have been found which help to locate the church, below the Forge Hill cemetery more or less. It was right on the edge of the ocean, and it is a small wonder it had not washed away to sea long before it was actually demolished.
St. Luke’s Church of England, Ferryland, ca 1940. Courtesy Kirby Family Group Facebook
Because St. Philip’s (St. Philip the Apostle, to use its correct, full name) still exists and there are still members of the congregation locally, a bit more is known about it. An account of the history of this church is found in Joan Edward book “This is Our Place. This is Our Home.” (Breakwater Books Ltd.; 2006), mentioned above.
Joan recounts a visit to the church and encounters with various parishioners some time in the 1990s or early 2000s before the book was published:
A Chapter from the book “This is Our Place. This is Our Home.” (Breakwater Books Ltd.; 2006) by Joan Edward
Church of St. Philip the Apostle, Aquaforte
May 24. This morning Robert and Janet Fleming led the way to Aquaforte, the next village over from Ferryland, where Janet spent her summers as a child. The Flemings, of St. John’s, had spent the night at The Downs Inn and we spent a lovely evening together. They pointed out many spots to me, the most intriguing being a very small, old church perched on the hillside, old leaning tombstones standing here and there amidst the long grass surrounding it. When the Flemings left, I returned to the church to investigate and sketch.
The door was open (as always, I was told) and I entered a pleasant, sparse area, so obviously of another time but with a modern stove installed right in the middle of the pews to the left-hand side, a large stovepipe rising and curving to its exit through the church wall.
I noticed one plaque only on the wall, so eloquent in its simplicity:
Plaque on the wall of the church of St. Philip the Apostle, Aquaforte
[N.B. by Although the image has been removed from the online rendition of the book for copyright purposes, I believe that the only plaque on the wall of St. Philip’s church is the commemoration from Clara Isabelle [Windsor] Morry to her husband, Capt. William Sweetland Morry, who was lost at sea shortly after they married in 1877.]
Also on the wall. beside the door entering the church hung a framed document:
Presented to the New Parish
In commemoration of the Re-Structuring
of our Parish to form two Parishes
May we continue to Journey
as friends on the road we
Have travelled together and
May God Bless
Parish of St. Paul’s
It was a simple, pleasant church, with its dark wood and its window behind the altar, dark wood beams and posts, warmer-coloured wood pews, rich red curtains behind the altar and a beautiful cluster of lamps hanging from The ceiling. I sat for some three hours and sketched…
Outside I wandered around the tombstones. One old, weathered, white one read
‘Erected by Manuel Hall in memory of his mother Esther Hall, died Dec. 24. 1895, aged 55 years. Also his brother James, died April 1, 1895, aged 1 year and 6 months. Also his brother Henry Harrison, died Feb. 7, 1917, aged 17 years.” What a story that seems to summarize; of tragedy in health, and probably, in war. A very ornate tombstone, so weathered that I could hardly read it, stated, “Jacob Thomson” (I think) “died 19 Dec. 1858, aged 79 years” and much more that I could not fathom.
May 25 – This morning I finished sketching the interior of the small church on the hillside in Aquaforte. That done, I settled on my little stool down by the wire fence marking the churchyard limits, and proceeded to sketch the exterior. Quite a challenge! Once finished, I returned to my car by the roadside and packed away my things. Another car drew up, mistaking me for a friend of hers.
In talking, I learned that the driver was Grace (Winsor) Stoodley, member of the Winsor family in whose memory the new church had been dedicated. She pointed out the large white house atop a hill at the end of Aquaforte, where her family had lived, and where she still lived. Upon asking her the age of the church, she invited me to go back into the church with her so we could look at the large old bible on the pulpit stand. “The date the bible was presented to the church will be written in the cover, and the church would go back about two years before that.” In opening this immense volume, with its soft, tan leather, gold-embossed cover (“We had this all restored,” she said, “with the original cover put back on. It was all falling apart.”), we saw the beautifully written script “To the Church of St. Philip the Apostle of Aquaforte…May 24, 1859.” So this Anglican Church was probably 136 years old! How amazingly it had withstood the years, this little structure made entirely of wood. Grace Stoodley told me that it was only recently that a furnace had been installed, the one I had seen in the middle of the pews. “There was only a small oil stove before, and we froze!” she said. She also added that it was this very coldness, and lack of any condensation on the wood, that had probably preserved the church so well.
Grace Stoodley also told me a little of the history surrounding the church…From early times Newfoundland was mainly Church of England, and vehemently so. However, Lord Baltimore fostered and supported Catholicism in his colony of Ferryland, and In time both Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths were practiced on the southern shore, as well as elsewhere in Newfoundland. Aquaforte, though a small community, has two churches, one Catholic and one Protestant. The Protestant, The Church of St. Philip the Apostle, is the only one of its kind, architecturally, now remaining on the southern shore. Its charm brings many people for a special visit each year.
The records of these two churches and the substantial C of E Population in Renews were preserved at the regional office of the church in Petty Harbour. Thus, when looking for Vital Records for these parishes for the period prior to 1891, one must turn to the Petty Harbour records, which are considered a part of the St. John’s West collection.
There are in total 17 pages of records from the Southern Shore in the Baptismal collection from Petty Harbour. These have been downloaded from the FamilysSearch.org website for ease of reference. They cover the period from 1823 to 1891. There are a number of unaccounted breaks in the records and there are also numerous errors in the transcription completed in 1945 by the current incumbent, Rev. Frank Severn, so the user must exercise caution in employing this data. The last page includes a few omissions from much earlier in the church records but these “omissions” also include some duplicates of records that are in fact found on the earlier pages, so caution must be observed to ensure that the two records are consistent with one another.
There are only eight pages from the Petty Harbour C of E marriage records that pertain to an individual or couple from the Southern Shore. Of these, three are actually pages that pertain to Petty Harbour and vicinity marriages in which one of the couple is from the Southern Shore. Also, one is actually a misfiled letter pertaining to a request for a baptism record for Blanche Isabel Carter. I am including it here, nevertheless, because it represents a perfect example of the many errors made in the original Vital Records transcript made by Rev. Frank Severn in 1945. The user of these Vital Records must be cognizant of the fact that many such errors exist and the church register itself, if available in some form of reliable copy, is the only true primary source as a reference.