Monday, 28 July 2014

Paul Marsden on digitizing Canadian WW1 service files

Library and Archives Canada military archivist Paul Marsden was interviewed on Monday on Canada AM regarding LAC's project to digitize complete WW1 service files. See it at

Paul with be giving part of a pre-conference seminar on the afternoon of Friday, 19 September at the BIFHSGO conference.

University of Toronto and WW1

As did many universities in combatant countries the University of Toronto was a significant source of soldiers for the First World War. They came from students, faculty, and graduates. As the war progressed the University also played a role in training, notably for the Royal Flying Corps.

Find out more about the University's role at

On July 31 U of T's Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History and the Munk School of Global Affairs, with support from the Canadian Armed Forces present: 1914-1918: In Memoriam, an event that will commemorate the sacrifice of Canadian men and women in World War I with distinctive military band performances, military formations, and commentaries. (Sign up for free tickets.)

If your ancestor who served during the war was associated with a University it may be worthwhile checking their website, perhaps digging into the University archives website.

Experience counts in genealogy search

The results of the survey on ease of search on genealogy databases are in.

Those who responded to the survey, 71% of whom were female, had a lot of genealogy search experience. 43% had more than 10 years of frequent use; 14% more than 10 years of occasional use; 30% had 5 to 10 years of frequent use.
6% of respondents fully agreed that genealogical databases at Ancestry, FamilySearch and findmypast are generally easy to use. 71% somewhat agreed with that statement.

To the statement Ancestry, FamilySearch and findmypast provide adequate instructional material to permit making good use of their service only 4% expressed full agreement while 62% felt that "most do, some don't."
Of all those responding 93% selected experience [trial and error] as the best means they had used to improve overall search skills. Magazine articles [61%], and conference presentations [58%] also was selected by more than 50% of respondents.
41% fully agreed that standards are needed for genealogy search so that you don't need to learn different search techniques for each database or database supplier. Another 36% somewhat agreed.

The reliance of long-time genealogical database users on their experience suggests a reason for strongly negative reactions to changes in search. Both Ancestry and findmypast have experienced this in recent years. 

Start of the Great War

A century ago on this date, July 28 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia starting, in terms of nation to nation conflict, a tragic chain of events.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Québec and WW1

As someone who never studied Canadian history at school the WW1 conscription crisis in Québec is something of a puzzle for me. I was at school in England and I don't recall the Great War being a topic in history classes, it was too recent.

An article Quebec’s conscription crisis divided French and English Canada has helped fill the gap in my education.

“In Quebec, Vimy means absolutely nothing to people. But for Quebec francophones with a bit of education, the First World War was about the conscription crisis.” “For French-Canadians, it’s a marker of identity, and also of pride, for having resisted”

Untold stories of the war

From The Guardian, a dozen short articles by writers including Jeremy Paxman, Michael Morpurgo and Margaret MacMillan telling some of the surprising and heart-rending stories still emerging from the conflict a century later.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Debbie Kennett debunks genetic astrology

DNA can be interpreted to enable major breakthroughs in family history, but can also be over interpreted. There is no regulation or professional standard to rely on; it's caveat emptor.

BIFHSGO conference speaker Debbie Kennett has reproduced the full text of a letter which was published in part in the August Family Tree Magazine.

For a more comprehensive treatment see the website Debbie has worked on with colleagues at University College London:

Canadiana seeks feedback to improve genealogy collections

The following is from Canadiana.

"Over the past few months, has partnered with Library and Archives Canada on a massive project to digitize 40,000 reels of microfilm from Canada's most important archival collections. This project, known as Héritage, will comprise 60 million page images when digitization is completed next year.

Much of the Héritage collection will be of interest to genealogists. Canadiana would like to enhance access to this content by partially transcribing select collections. Once transcribed, researchers can conduct key-word searches on a collection, allowing them to find specific personal names, geographical locations, events, etc. within a document.

We need your help in choosing which collections to transcribe first. By participating in this short survey, you can have a voice in telling Canadiana which collections are important to you."

35 datasets are included.

It's clear they need help. One database is described as
Edwardsburg Township (Ontario) fonds, 1801 & 1818 This collection consists of a births, marriages and deaths register for the current-day Prince Edward Island, then known as Île St Jean, dating from 1724 to 1758.
The detailed description makes it clear it has nothing to do with PEI!
Edwardsburgh/Cardinal is a township in the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville in eastern Ontario. The township was formed in 2001 through the amalgamation of Edwardsburgh Township with the Village of Cardinal. It currently has a population of about 6,500 residents. The township borders the St. Lawrence River Seaway to the south. Early settlers to the region included the Irish, Scottish and United Empire Loyalists.
This collection consists of Upper Canada census returns and related records for Edwardsburg Township in Grenville County in 1801 and 1818, Elizabethtown in 1818, Johnstown District in 1822, Oxford-on-the-Rideau Township in 1841 and 1842, Westminster Township in 1840, and Woodhouse Township in 1812, 1827 and 1829.
Only heads of families are listed.

Thanks to Bruce Elliott for the tip.

Friday, 25 July 2014 free this weekend

Free until midnight Sunday (BST), search ‏UK collections at with free registration.

New OGS video

The social media panel at last May's OGS conference gets a look-in in a new promotional video for the Ontario Genealogical Society.

The British Newspaper Archive progress

Did you receive an email that 1 million newspaper pages have been added to The British Newspaper Archive in 2014? That's an average 4,878 pages a day, seven days a week. At that rate 1.78 million pages will be added each year.

There are currently 8.37 million pages in the database so to get to the project goal, "to digitise up to 40 million pages" will take more than another 17 years at the present rate. The initial project goal was to achieve that in 10 years. Perhaps they're looking at technological improvements to increase the pace.

Each page added increases the value. I do wish they'd add some Great Yarmouth newspapers. Norfolk is looking rather neglected.

Wiltshire baptismal records

Over half a million baptism record transcriptions for the English county of Wiltshire dating back to 1530 are now available on findmypast. There are about 200 parishes in the collection with 17 indicated as NEW, Bishopstrow, Britford, Calstone Wellington, Cherhill, Codford St Mary, Codford St Peter, Compton Bassett, Enford, Great Bedwyn, Hilmarton, Huish, Lydiard Tregoze, Lyneham, Pewsey, Potterne, Sevenhampton, and Sopworth.
The period of record is typically from around 1600 to 1837 and the start of civil registration. These are transcriptions from the Wiltshire Family History Society; no images of originals are available.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Free access to New Yorker archives

Looking for a genealogy break?

According to an article in the New York Times, The New Yorker is overhauling its website and making all the articles it has published since 2007 available free for three months before introducing a paywall for online subscribers.

Why we join

Gail Dever has posted results of a major survey that should be required reading and food for thought and action by family history societies everywhere. Read at

Bowlers, Beavers and Holmes

Did your father, grandfather wear a hat? It used to be said "If you want to get ahead, get a hat." Look at films of street scenes from the early 1900s and everyone is wearing one.
Continuing to catch up with Gresham College lectures, Timothy Long, Curator of Fashion & Decorative Arts at the Museum of London, explores the history of the bowler hat. You can read the transcript, which is not complete, but I recommend taking the time to view the presentation which has interesting extra information. Both are at
The earliest newspaper reference to a bowler hat that I could find was in The Times in 1856, a court case in Taunton "They had on their heads "bowler" hats fastened under the chin."

In the US, where they're known as the Derby hat, and Canada, mentions are from the 1880s. This ad from March 1883 is from the Ottawa Citizen.