The industrial and social history is recounted vividly in the Millyard Museum on the first floor of Mill No. 3. Exhibits reach back 11,000 years when Native Americans first fished at the Amoskeag Falls. Channeled with canals and dams, that same 54-foot drop provided the raw power for the AMC’s industrial complex. The AMC began building mills along the river in 1838. At the company’s peak just before World War I, 8,500 men and 7,000 women worked there, turning out 600 miles of cloth per day. Manchester’s main drag, Elm Street, bustled with shoppers on payday Thursday evenings. Displays of looms and other manufacturing equipment, oral histories, and evocative photographs conjure a way of life that abruptly disappeared when the company went bankrupt and closed the mills in 1935.
The mills may be gone, but the Franco-Americans remain — less as a diaspora from French-speaking Canada than as a now indigenous culture with roots (and cousins) in the north. More than 1,500 people belong to the American-Canadian Genealogical Society, founded in 1973 to help research family histories. But anyone who wants to do genealogical research is welcome. The simple shelves filled with plain bound books hardly hint at the depth of the resources.
In one form or another, the society’s library contains about 20 million records of births, baptisms, and marriages from Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia as well as Franco-American records from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. The earliest notations go back to the founding of New France in the early 1600s. Some of the many books of records are photographic reproductions of the original parish records.
“From a genealogical standpoint, that’s the gold standard,” said Gerry Savard, current president of the nonprofit group. “Those are primary records as written in the priest’s hand. There’s no question about transcription error creeping in. The Catholic Church kept excellent records.”
Savard has traced his family back to Paris and their first landing at the Île d’Orléans near Quebec City in the 1600s. His great-grandfather worked in the Manchester mills in the 1880s, but later returned to Canada.
“If you’re Franco-American from New England,” Savard said, “chances are we have records of your family.”
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.