Jocelyn Freeman wanted to keep her mind active in retirement, so in 2019 she started a Facebook group on Nova Scotian history. With a small audience to start, the group was an outlet for her lifelong interest in history.
Little did she know the page would grow to become a popular resource for Nova Scotians looking to brush up on their history: today, the group has 13,300 members. About half are located in Nova Scotia, but she has a worldwide audience.
“I think the first year I had 11 people. It got shared once or twice and they enjoyed whatever story it was at the time,” Freeman, 70, said in an interview.
Her group, Historical Stories of Nova Scotia, is a showcase of photos, articles, and stories from the province’s past. The posts focus on one town, person, or time period, sharing stories and documents she has found in her research.
The data entry retiree living in the Annapolis Valley had no history background, and never finished high school.
“I really wasn’t a good student, but I was always interested in history. But when I retired, I had the time to do it, so I did.”
Freeman combs through online archives, digital scans of old books, and public databases, and shares what has been written about her subjects. Her research often begins with a simple Google search.
Freeman doesn’t author the stories herself, but she groups together and reprints relevant stories and facts found in her archival sources based on the theme of the post. She posts almost daily.
Through her group, she has been able to build her own community, getting to know her regulars who read and comment on her posts every day.
“I think of them as friends, the ones who come every day. I know it sounds goofy, but they brighten my day… I get a lot of enjoyment out of this, I really do.”
From family to history
The content of the group is personal for some followers.
Stacy Marshall-Tabor was scrolling through Facebook one day when she recognized a photo on Freeman’s page of her grandparents, of Millbrook First Nation, in traditional Mi’kmaw regalia.
Her grandmother, Rachel Marshall, was the first woman elected as a Mi’kmaq chief, and her grandfather, Charles Marshall, was a Keptin on the Grand Council. Marshall-Tabor knew the photo well, since as a child she saw it displayed in her grandparents’ house.
“She had that picture up, I always looked at it, and then to see it on the website, I was like, ‘wait a minute!’ ” Marshall-Tabor says.
She was honoured to see her family in the group as an example of Mi’kmaw history.
“My grandparents were always on top of keeping our traditions and stories alive. I got a lot of that info growing up… I’m very grateful for that, because now I have to pass all that on to my children. This site here helps with that.”
Many stories from the past
As Remembrance Day approaches, Freeman shares more stories of veterans and war heroes. Two recent posts detail the stories of Samuel Glode, a decorated Mi’kmaw veteran from the First World War, and Dorothy Lutz, a labourer on the home front during the Second World War.
While the group is focused on Nova Scotia history, the hunt for stories takes Freeman beyond sources within the province, especially for research on the Halifax Explosion.
“I found a lot of photos from the Massachusetts archives that they had taken that weren’t available here in Nova Scotia.”
Freeman hopes that the group inspires her followers to do more digging of their own.
“Sometimes when I’m doing a story I won’t put all of the good stuff in because I hope that if they want to, they’ll finish it off themselves,” Freeman says.
Many followers do take it further.
Robyn Cross Bradshaw is a descendant of Lunenburg’s European settlers. Even coming from a family that was proud of their heritage, she says that the group helped her learn more beyond the settler’s perspective.
“That was super eye-opening and led me down some other research tracks on my own. Sanitized history isn’t history, so I think that what she’s doing is so important and so exciting,” Cross Bradshaw says.
About the author
Sam is a fourth-year King's journalism student from Boston.