Monday, 21 August 2006

Unorthodox Sources for Family History

The other day I came across a web site listing patents granted in Canada. That's not land patents but patents for inventions. It's here. You can access over 75 years of patent descriptions and images covering more than 1,500,000 patent documents. That isn't the kind of resource most people would go to when researching their family history although if your ancestor was an inventor it may be a good bet. Many of the patents were not granted to Canadians so try it even if your ancestor lived elsewhere. The same site gives access to trademarks and copyright databases which are more recent.

Anywhere names are given is fertile sleuthing ground for the family historian. Experienced genealogists know their way around a variety of records where life events are recorded. We're familiar with government records (civil registration of births, marriages and deaths; census; adoption; immigration and border crossings; military records; voters lists; land transactions; naturalization; wills), and church records (baptisms, confirmation, marriage banns and licences, marriages, burials, memorial inscriptions, older wills). Then there's war and other public memorials that may be either government, church or community sponsored. But where do we look after those? Think about what your ancestor did and what organization was involved that might have records back that far.

Top of my list would be newspapers. Checking death notices and obituaries for a few days, even a couple of weeks, after the event is likely to yield that most sought after genealogical resource, the names of relatives. You may learn the names of parents, siblings, offspring, greats, nieces and nephews, and where they were living. You may find mention of the year of death of a deceased spouse. On a happier note there are engagement announcements and reports of marriages.

Newspapers also hold plenty of other potential. Social notes, scholarships and awards, sports participation and much more. The problem for that type of mention is that until the past few years you had to plough through reels of microfilm on the off chance a family member would be mentioned. That's still the case with many newspapers, although digitization and OCR technology (however imperfect) are a reality for some, particularly the largest communities. Ottawa, unfortunately, has no newspaper digitized after the 19th century until the born-digital era.

City and telephone directories are widely used. We are fortunate in Ottawa to have a good collection of these at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) for all the country. LAC have placed quite a few late 19th century city directories online.

Did your ancestor go to school, or university? If so was there a year book? Perhaps there are still records existing. An article in the Summer 2006 Anglo-Celtic Roots, quarterly chronicle of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa, relates the story of finding material in a university archives for a relative who died in WW1.

Did your ancestor ever author a book? You may not know it, but it could be worth checking library catalogues online, especially if the name is not so common. Many libraries incorporate their catalogue into a collective one, such as at here for Canada. However, if your ancestor wrote a book of purely local interest it may be held only in the local area library so check it's catalogue too. The same is true of publications of specialist interest. I found scientific books written by a person I was researching in the catalogue for Natural Resources Canada library.

On the topic of local books, you should not overlook the possibility of your family appearing in a local history. Canada has many of these digitized and searchable at the Our Roots web site. The Prairie Provinces seem particularly blessed with these publications thanks to the initiative of the pioneers, or sons and daughters of pioneers, who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and wanted to record their history before it was forgotten.

Don't forget other local publications. Churches publish magazines. So do clubs of all kinds, and they acknowledge the contribution of volunteers. You may find your ancestor mentioned because he or she made coffee, served cakes, moved tables or collected tickets.

I blogged recently about finding photographs of people I was researching on the walls of local sports clubs. You may also want to investigate whether there are any records for local organizations such as the Women's Institute, Masonic Lodge or Knight's of Pythias. Names may be on the walls at their assembly hall or in newsletters. If you don't know where to start ask at the local family history of genealogical society, family history centre, public library or municipal archives. If there's a local university with a history department they may have a faculty member knowledgeable about local history.

There's at least one more type of unorthodox government record I didn't mention. Do you know what it is?

No comments: