Since he was a youngster, Michael has had an intrinsic interest in family history. As early as age 14, he would convince his mother to take him to visit distant relatives, local libraries and old cemeteries. That enthusiasm was not to subside with his teenage years, but, instead, would continue to grow into a passion in his adult life.
Michael at the 2004 Melanson Reunion in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
Upon discovering his Acadian heritage and the history of the Acadian people, Michael found his true niche. His Acadian roots descend through three of his four grandparents via Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (with Melansons in all three branches). His quest began by writing letters to various parishes in New Brunswick, ancestral home of both his grandmothers, requesting baptismal, marriage and burial records of his ancestors. After supplying a number of records, one parish priest suggested he contact Stephen A. White, the genealogist at the Centre d’études acadiennes, Université de Moncton. And so, in the fall of 1976, Steve and Michael began their ongoing correspondence. By introducing Michael to the methods of Acadian research and genealogy, as well as the works of Placide Gaudet, Patrice Gallant, Auguste-E. Daigle, Clément Cormier, Arcade Goguen and Archange Godbout, among others, Steve became Michael’s unofficial mentor. They corresponded for 16 years before finally meeting at the first New England Regional Genealogical Conference held at Sturbridge, Massachusetts, in 1992. Steve’s first words to Michael were “I didn’t think you’d be so tall and you probably thought I’d be about 80.”
In 1994, the first Acadian World Congress was to be held in New Brunswick, during which there would be thirty-five family reunions, including one for the Melansons. In preparation for this event, Michael began to concentrate his genealogical research specifically on the Melansons of southeastern New Brunswick. In the summer of 1994, he made his first pilgrimage to New Brunswick – the contemporary heartland of Acadia. There he met his Acadian cousins for the first time and was introduced to the wonderment of the Acadian people and their culture, not found in census records and old parish registers. At the reunion, he shared his notes on the Melansons with fellow attendees. He was encouraged to publish his research, which was the impetus to produce his first book.
Over the next four years, he scoured all the original, nineteenth-century parish registers and census records of southeastern New Brunswick and toured every cemetery he could find. There were countless hours of research, data entry and editing involved – spending evenings and weekends in front of microfilm readers deciphering poorly written documents in English, French and even Latin. The result was his first book, The Melansons of Nineteenth-Century Southeastern New Brunswick – A Genealogy, which was launched at the Melanson Family Reunion held at St-Anselme, New Brunswick, in the summer of 1998. His knack for being consistently thorough, accurate and organized was evident in his work. His book met with high praise from both reunion attendees and genealogy professionals alike.
Never one to be idle for too long, Michael decided that his first book was just the beginning. He felt a need to explore the rest of the Melanson family. At first, the task of compiling a comprehensive genealogy of the entire Melanson ~ Melançon family appeared to be a formidable one. To make it less daunting, he approached the various branches of the family geographically. Until 1755, the Melansons were in Acadia. The subsequent 1755 Expulsion of the Acadian people scattered them across the American colonies, Nova Scotia, England and France. However, by the start of the nineteenth century, they had reestablished themselves in five distinct areas: Pomquet (Antigonish County), Nova Scotia; St. Mary’s Bay (Digby County), Nova Scotia; Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, and southeastern New Brunswick; northern New Brunswick; Quebec; and Louisiana. Using these divisions as guidelines, one extremely large project became five smaller, more manageable ones. This also afforded Michael the opportunity to get to know each branch of the family thoroughly before moving onto the next.
His second book, Melanson ~ Melançon: The Genealogy of an Acadian and Cajun Family, was launched at the Melanson Family Reunion held at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, during the Acadian World Congress in August 2004. Covering over 250 years of Melanson history and genealogy, the book was an instant hit and has been dubbed “the Bible of the Melansons.” With over 20,000 people in its index, most Melansons, regardless of the spelling, were able to find a grandparent or great grandparents within its pages.
Although he had taken a short break after completing his latest work, Michael’s passion is calling him again. He is currently toying with a few projects, but has not yet divulged the topics…. We’ll have to stay tuned.