The Rooms’ Archives: Why You’d Go, and How to Use It

The Rooms is best known as a museum and art gallery. Did you know it's also the largest archive in the province?

There are plenty of great reasons to visit The Rooms, but you may be missing one of the best: the quiet, library-esque room on the third floor.

Those rooms contain the provincial archives, containing the government and community history of the province and a treasure trove of information for everyone from academics to curious Newfoundlanders looking into their family’s history.

“Our mandate is to properly preserve archival records of the government of Newfoundland and Labrador that have significance,” said Melanie Tucker, though non-government files are also included in the archive, which is the province’s largest. Though they see visitors doing work including legal, film, and book research, the largest percentage of their visitors come to do family research, said Tucker, archivist in the Reference and Access Section of the Provincial Archives Division at The Rooms.

The archives get many visitors from Newfoundland, of course, but they also see visitors from all over the country and the United States, Tucker said, particularly searchers from New England who’ve been lead here by their own searches. They’ve seen researchers, for a variety of reasons, from Europe and as far away as Australia.

Genealogists can access records including church and parish records, vital statistics, census information, voter lists, government records, military records, grants, and wills. “For each community or place, there are going to be different things available,” Tucker explained. St. John’s and the Trinity area have the oldest records, some going back to 1750s. Many other areas have records dating back to the mid-1800s – it all depends on when communities were founded and parishes established.

Users can access the archive’s website to see what is available for the place and dates they’re interested in, saving time when they come in to view them. Whether or not they access the site, the archive’s employees can help in-person visitors refine their searches based on what they’re trying to find. “Our role here is to help people narrow down the sources,” Tucker said. That’s necessary because the archives contain what she describes as “kilometres of records” going as far back as the 1700s.

So how do you become one of the more than 26,000 people now registered at the archives, and begin your own research? When you go to the archive, there is a simple form to fill out and one-time registration fee of $10, which gives you a lifetime membership to access the archives. When you visit you fill out a form indicating which records you want to access – if you haven’t already found the locations and box numbers online, you can look in the physical database of records available at the archives or ask an employee for assistance.

Each box contains a specific set of records. In my case, I accessed boxes containing parish records from the Church of England in Fogo Island, in the early 1900s. Records within those boxes are organized by date and category: baptisms, burials, weddings, confirmations. Finding the specific information within is a matter of scanning through, then using the information within to take your search further back.

My own look at the Fogo records revealed the wedding records for my great grandparents, Issac King and Ivy Combden. But beyond confirming the information I already knew, it revealed a few names I didn’t previously have: Ivy’s parents, Henry Combden and Leah Lewis, and their fathers, Eli Combden and James Lewis. All that in just an hour – image what most of us could find with even a single day of digging at The Rooms. All that and the view’s great, too.

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