While vacationing on Prince Edward Island this summer, the kids and I had fun rhyming off place names.
These weren’t just any place names, but those we’ve heard before in our own home province or in other locations around the globe.
“Take my picture beside the Norway sign!” my daughter said from the back seat. “I’m going to tell everyone I was in Norway.”
Elmsdale, Brookfield, Fredericton, Summerside, Westmoreland, Albany, Georgetown, Middleton, Sherbrooke, St. Andrews, Victoria, New Glasgow... familiar names kept appearing. Were we on the island, in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland or some European country?
My mind drifted to a time when I struggled to find vital records for my father’s mother. A location name had been uncovered in a record and I began digging for further information in that community. I came up empty handed. A few family members insisted this place was in Cape Breton because that was where the family was said to have originated. I kept digging, but found no Chegoggin anywhere else in Nova Scotia except in Yarmouth County.
I set the research aside until one day, while searching a map, I discovered a Gegogan only 20 minutes from where my father’s family had settled. Saying both names, one could easily be mistaken for the other, and given the number of different spellings in bad handwriting I found for each, it was logical that the place I was looking for was Gegogan. A quick check proved this was the case.
After that little episode of mistaken place identity, I learned to not jump to conclusions. Not only does spelling confuse the issue, but places with the same name can be mistaken for each other. Being from Nova Scotia, I might assume the New Glasgow noted in family histories would be in this province, but I could be wrong. I wonder how many researchers have mixed up St. John’s with Saint John, N.B., particularly when those unfamiliar with the area might write Saint John’s or St. John. And then, of course, there was the former St. John’s Island (P.E.I.)
How common are Atlantic Canada place names? Albany can be found in every corner of the grid. It is the capital of the state of New York and the name for communities in P.E.I., Nova Scotia and Ontario. It also appears in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, South Africa and more than a dozen locations in the United States. Long ago it was used to indicate Scotland, particularly the northern area of the Firth of Forth and Firth of Clyde.
Westmoreland, which is often now spelled Westmorland, can be found in many places, including Canada (P.E.I., N.B.), Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand and the U.S.
Being aware that places with the same name exist is one way to avoid mistakes that can lead to frustration and brick walls. Thoroughly researching all possible place names, including former names, will help conclude if you have the right location or just the right name.
Seeking information on F. Murray Fraser of Nova Scotia who married Audrey Roulston. Audrey was the daughter of Ida Jean McKinnon (of Summerside, P.E.I.) and Joseph Millidge Roulston (from West St. John, born Aug. 25, 1878). Contact: Dianne Jordan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Diana Lynn Tibert is a freelance writer living in Milford. Submit a query. It’s free!: RR No. 1 Milford, Hants County, NS, B0N 1Y0; email: email@example.com