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Dec 17, 2021

Book Documents Maine’s Original Acadian Families Left Out of 1790 U.S. Census

If you have Acadian heritage in your family tree, you may find some of your ancestors in a book produced by Aroostook County genealogists. Those people might be difficult to find in any other records.

For those not familiar with Maine’s geography, I will point out that Aroostook County is the northernmost county in the state, bordering New Brunswick and Quebec provinces. It is also (by far) the largest county in the state and the least populated. For many years, it was also disputed territory, claimed by both the United States and by Great Britain (which felt it belonged to what today is called Canada).

By the way, I used to live in Aroostook County and I later identified a number of my ancestors in a book produced by Aroostook County genealogists.

NOTE: During the War of 1812, the British occupied most of eastern Maine, including Washington County, Hancock County, and parts of Penobscot County, Maine, for eight months, intending to permanently annex the region into British North America as New Ireland. That plan obviously never succeeded. 

The disputed claims of which country governed the territory was settled by negotiations between British diplomat Baron Ashburton and United States Secretary of State Daniel Webster who quickly settled the dispute.

The Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842 established the final boundary between the countries, giving most of the disputed area to Maine while a militarily vital connection between Lower Canada and the Maritime colonies was secured by Britain, as well as a project for a commercial right-of-way that would allow British commercial interests to transit through Maine on their way to and from southern New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

Prior to the treaty that was signed in 1842, the territory was settled by both Americans and Canadians (mostly Acadians). There were few legal restrictions; most of the settlers felt they (and their governments) had a legal right to live there. Because of the disputed territorial claims, very few government agents or employees would ever set foot in the area. These agents and employees from both governments were afraid of being arrested and then incarcerated as “foreign spies.”

These “government agents or employees” who would not set foot in the area included census enumerators (those who record the census records). As a result, most of the families living in the area were never listed in the U.S. census records of 1790 through 1840. (The first Canadian coast-to-coast census was not taken until 1881.)

The families that were never documented in U.S. census records were primarily French-speaking Acadians families who had earlier escaped the British Army following the British victory after the Seven Years’ War fought between England and France. The British took command of what had been known as Acadia (including present-day regions of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the Magdalen Islands, and Prince Edward Island).

The book “The Families of the Upper St. John Valley in 1790” contains information regarding 68 families that were not included in the United States’ first census in 1790, compiled and published in 2014 by members of the Aroostook County Genealogical Society.

The 172-plus-page softcover book documents families on both sides of the St. John River, and includes information from all of the known original Acadian families. Some land deed reproductions along with basic details — like marriages and deaths — are included. This publication is a compilation of all the known original families now contained in one volume.

From this small community, literally thousands of descendants are scattered to the four corners of North America. Each chapter includes the head of household, their spouse(s) and their respective parents, their children, and who they married. Other information that will be found is the head of household’s occupation(s), applicable crown land grant(s) and acreage received. Most of this information is not available elsewhere.

The book “The Families of the Upper St. John Valley in 1790” might be found in public libraries in the former Acadian cities and towns but probably will not be found elsewhere. However, you can purchase a copy directly from the Aroostook County Genealogical Society at https://ac-gs.org/publications-for-sale/ for ($34 + $11 shipping & handling) USD funds.

To find out if a person you are searching for is in this book, click here: 1790 Families Name Listing