Last fall I used Hutchinson’s 1864-65 Nova Scotia Directory to write a column about Valley people and Valley places as they were in the middle of the last century. In the column I mentioned some of the discoveries I made when reading the directory. The surprising number of people who listed farmer as their occupation, for example. The ratio was something like two-thirds farmers and one third every other occupation.
You may think it odd that someone would derive pleasure from reading a publication some 130 years old that contains nothing but lists of people, occupations, and a few advertisements. However, if you’re interested in local history, the old directory is what book reviewers call a “good read.” I often spend hours pouring over the directory pages and speculating about the names and occupations listed in it.
When the old directory lists Elisha Woodman of New Minas as a shoemaker or Daniel Allen of Long Island as a farmer, for example, I have no problem picturing what the ancestors of the Woodmans and Allens did to earn a living. There are a few conundrums, however. What did a shipjoiner, a shipwright or a wheelwright actually do for a living? And caulker, joiner, house joiner, currier, way office keeper, plasterer, shipsmith, blockmaker. What were these occupations? One can guess at some. A plasterer was probably a mason and a house joiner a carpenter, but the other occupations are puzzlers.
One of the games I play with the directory I call ancestor joining. I look for familiar surnames and speculate about their connection with the shakers and movers of today. In the Halls Harbour, Cornwallis listing, for example, we find the rare surname of Bucknam – John a marine and naval architect and Judson a shipwright. Is one of them the father of the famous Buchnam Pasha or perhaps the great Admiral himself?
Benjamin H. Calkin, listed as a Justice of the Peace and merchant. Is this the founder of T.P. Caulkin Limited which for generations was a Valley institution? Is Ebenezer Cox of Oak Point (Kingsport), who is listed as a shipbuilder, the man who built one of the largest sailing vessels ever to ply these waters? B.W. Chipman, merchant and postmaster. Is he the Chipman of Chipman corner or a close relative? Or would that more logically be the Hon. Samuel Chipman, occupation farmer and a resident in 1864-65 of Church Street?
What about the various Belchers, four of them, listed in the Kings County section. Were they connected with the man prominent enough in his day to have a street named after him? Which Borden listed in Kings County is the father or close relative of the famous Canadian statesman, Sir Frederick William Borden. Five Bordens are listed in the Canard, Cornwallis area as farmers. Or would that honour belong to one of the five Bordens, prominent businessmen of Canning in 1864-65?
The old directory offers possibilities of endless speculation and is a goldmine for amateur genealogists. If you know where your ancestors lived in the middle of the last century you can probably find them listed in the old directory. I found a great uncle who was lost for years, for example, and I can tell you it’s gratifying and assuring when you find proof of your roots.