Shymanski Genealogy Research

digging up your roots

Shymanski Genealogy Research

Using Hudson Bay Company Records for Genealogy

Journals from almost 500 Hudson Bay Company (HBC) posts can be viewed online. These will be of interest to genealogists with fur trade ancestors, and fur trade enthusiasts and researchers. The digitized collection includes pre-1870 journals, annual reports, incoming and outgoing correspondence, and accounts from Hudson Bay Company posts. Completed in 2019, these most requested records were digitized and put online The HBC Archives website states “This project was realized as part of the National Heritage Digitization Strategy with funding from the Hudson’s Bay Company History Foundation”. What a phenomenal resource for those interested in the fur trade.

Archives of Manitoba; Hudson Bay Company Records; York Factory Post Journal 1764-1731; Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

The unindexed, often difficult to read, the journals are arranged by date and place.  Reading through will be time consuming and eye-straining. Most will not contain birth, marriage, or death facts. If this is the case, why would you want to wade through them? The answer is because the records offer insight unto life at a trading post. You will learn what your ancestor experienced as an employee of the Hudson Bay Company.  

The Hudson Bay Company was established in 1670. The British crown gave them exclusive fur trading rights to a vast area called Rupert’s Land. The Canadian Encyclopedia online has a description of their history. (’s%20Bay%20Company%20(HBC,and%20the%20development%20of%20Canada).

Archives of Manitoba; Hudson Bay Company Records; Moose Factory Post Journal 1730-1731; Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

The digitized records include journals written by factors or clerks at the posts.  The journals contain daily comments about the weather, furs obtained from the indigenous people, visitors to the post, and work done by employees. One thing the journals show is how important for survival it was to acquire food. I’ve never eaten porcupine and can’t imagine being so hungry that I would.

Fort Lac la Pluie 1796
1796 Decr 1oth
Saturday Wind South clear sharp weather. got 10 small pike from the nets, and 11 Rabbits from the snares.
18th Sunday Wind S.W. extreme cold weather. we got since the 10th inst, 40 Rabbits. 24 Pike and a Porcupine.
19th Monday Wind West and so extreme cold, that we could not visit the nets. Some of the people went round the snares but got nothing.”[i]

Fort York Factory Hudson Bay 1715
Fair Weather the Wind Northerly the Indians since yesterday went away. I sent 2 English Men wth them to fetch some deer….My deputy sent home 124 geese…[ii]

Another thing I noticed was the excitement brought from having visitors. I love this entry because it shows how important visitors were to life at each fort. Fort William was a major post, because of it was a mid-point between Montreal and the posts further west.

Fort William 1832
Sunday 5th
A light canoe arrived from Red River. We are much disappointed to find that the Governor was not on board of her. The backward Spring prevented his coming hither. The Ice in Lake Winipic [Winnipeg] he found to weak to walk on, and too strong to get through with a Boat or Canoe.[iii]

The next entry lists employees’ names and the work they did. I chuckled at the mention of sheep. Even in the 1980’s when I worked as a tour guide at the historical Old Fort William, the sheep would get into the square.

Monday 18th 1832/33
Sent Michel Collin and Indians to rise Canoe Bark. Old Collin and Dechamp were employed the same as on Saturday. Sicard was putting up a temporary fence in the back part of the fort for to prevent the Sheep from coming into the Square. Fine weather.

Reading the journals, you sometimes come across names of employees, indigenous people, and in this case a woman’s name.

Rocky Mountain House 1868
Friday, January 3
Weather stormy today two men left for Edmonton. Men doing very little today. More Stonies (men from the Stoney First Nations in Alberta) came in today got only a few furs from them
2 beaver
2 bear
2 lynx
1 wolf
1 moose skin
Mrs Borwick gave birth to a daughter at one o’clock in the evening.[v]

In an annual report, written by the Chief Factor of Ruperts’s River District, he writes a glowing review about an employee and we learn life at the posts wasn’t all work.

Rupert’s River District 1825/26
By /Josh Bieolery (C.F. Chief Factor) in Charge
ugh Linklater – An excellent Mechanic…industrious…active useful man. His period of service is expired…expressed his intention of returning to Europe this season But I have no doubt I could have prevailed on him to remain had it not been for the misfortune he experienced on 13th June last…to break his Collar Bone while wrestling in play….he is worthy in the first instance of being retained and in the second of being reengaged in the service.[vi]

The records are written in English, but the writing can be difficult to interpret. With no index, you read a PDF version of the document. If you have an ancestor at a certain post or an interest in the fur trade the records are worth reading. 

In the next post I explain how to access these records.

[i] Archives of Manitoba; Hudson Bay Company Records; Lac La Pluie Post Journal 1796-1797; Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

[ii] Archives of Manitoba; Hudson Bay Company Records; York Factory Post Journal 1715-1717; Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

[iii] Archives of Manitoba; Hudson Bay Company Records; Journal of Transactions and Occurrences at Fort William from 1st June 1832 to 1st June 1833; Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

[iv] Ibid

[v] Archives of Manitoba; Hudson Bay Company Records; Rocky Mountain House Post Journal 1866-1868; Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

[vi] Archives of Manitoba; Hudson Bay Company Records; Annual Report, Ruperts River District 1825/1826 Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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