Friday, 29 February 2008

BIFHSGO March Meeting

There's a great double bill for BIFHSGO's March meeting on Saturday, 1 March 2008 at Library & Archives Canada.

At 9 am there will be a Pre-BIFHSGO talk by Murray Watson entitled Unlocking Memories: recording and listening to family histories. Murray is the author of “Being English In Scotland,” and is currently conducting oral history research with postwar English-born immigrants to Canada.

At 10 am the main talk is by David Thomas, a BIFHSGO member presents "The Great Trek" recounting the 1813 to 1815 odyssey of a group of cleared Highlanders to Lord Selkirk’s Red River Colony in Manitoba and thence to Ontario, called "the most appalling journey ever undertaken by ... European emigrants to North America."

Members may also pick up their copy of the March issue of Anglo-Celtic Roots.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

NZ Cenotaph Database

If your searching for family strays a large database from the other side of the world could be a goldmine. The website for Auckland's War Memorial Museum includes a link to Cenotaph, a biographical database of New Zealanders who have died in the 19th century, from the New Zealand Wars and South Africa, through the First and Second World Wars to Korea, Malaya and Vietnam. That isn't just war dead, but anyone who served.

The database already consists of 115,000 records, including for 1,000 women who served as nurses or in other roles, many of which include a portrait taken from published sources or supplied by family members, drawing on information from a range of published sources and from the Museum Library's manuscripts collection and references to personal items on display in the Scars on the Heart galleries.

I found quite a good entry for Capt Conrad Gordon Saxby who died in London in the influenza epidemic at the end of WW1. He is buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery. Saxby was the grandson of Stephen Martin Saxby, a British naval instructor well known along the shores of the Bay of Fundy for his supposed prediction of a hurricane which struck the area in October 1869. In fact he had forecast a storm, but did not specify the area in which it occurred.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

LAC Consultation Summary - 26 Feb 2008

Despite adverse weather about 30 people, plus LAC staff, attended the afternoon consultation session on Tuesday 26 February. The session was led by LAC Assistant Deputy Minister Doug Rimmer, with Director General of Services Michelle Doucet assisted by consultant facilitator John Benesh.

After introductory remarks and a briefing on LAC, the first substantive item was a presentation and discussion on the proposed improvements to LAC services, building on email consultation with members of the Services Advisory Board.

1. Add one hour of fully staffed services weekdays
LAC response: the extra hours would be applied in the different services, as follows:

Reference Services and Canadian Genealogy Centre
Monday, Wednesday and Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Tuesday and Thursday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

Consultation Services
Monday to Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

2. Increase the range of activities in the consultation rooms outside regular hours (self-serve photocopying, etc.)
LAC response: will review and simplify approaches to rights management . A single researcher service agreement will soon replace separate forms for the use of digital camera, facilities, etc. Microfilm printer/scanner self-service will be available during all opening hours. Purchase of new printer/scanner equipment plus revised researcher agreement digital camera use will be permitted during self-service hours on Saturdays (six-month pilot project). Hiring of part-time staff for Saturdays (from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm) plus revised researcher agreement .

3. Improve access to research tools
LAC response: Will make research tools and more computer terminals available to users after service hours. Will increase the hours of access to the reference rooms, as follows:

Monday to Friday until 8:00 pm
Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

4. Improve service quality by reviewing the organization of work and internal procedures
LAC response: On-going public consultations will inform the design and implementation of a new LAC Services Strategy. Pursue the development of new public access systems (AMICAN), such as: pre-registration off-site ordering of material.

While participants generally saw these as improvements there was continuing concern about accessibility of consultation services to those not able to get to the building during regular business hours. One suggestion was to have a full service Saturday once a month.

The discussion broadened and there were many specific comments, some reflecting service that should be available but was not offered in the particular case.

The second major element of the afternoon was consideration and voting to identify priority within a list of issues previously raised by clients. They were:

1. Quicker and more accurate delivery of purchased reproductions and photocopies;
2. Quicker response to reference enquiries;
3. Quicker access to telephone service;
4. Provide confirmation of on-site loan orders/other requests;
5. "My boxes aren't here!"
(4 and 5 about were combined for voting)
6. Clients don't know how to begin research, are physically lost in the building;
7. Enforce quiet in the consultation rooms;
8. Digitize more finding aids to government records and provide better access to electronic databases;
9. Line-ups to consult both reference archivist and consultation staff;
10. Lack of access to specialist librarians and archivists;
11. Aside from Genealogy, all researchers share less space;
12. Replace/maintain microfilm readers. Allow portable scanners;
13. "I can't find it on your web site!";
14. Announce when new holdings available.

The comment was made that some are much more costly than others. Most should be pursued anyway as part of good management. I didn't count the votes but my impression is that 4/5, 8 and 12 attracted most support.

The meeting was quite amicable, although attendees weren't shy about expressing their concerns and frustrations. Michelle Doucet noted that management would be accountable for improvements promised.

An official meeting summary, including the evening session, will be posted on the LAC web site.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

LAC public consultation

Today, Tuesday 26 February, sees public consultation sessions scheduled at Library and Archives Canada.

They will take place in Room A, located beyond the sunken lobby on the main floor of the Library and Archives Building, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa.

There will be two sessions: the first will take place from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. followed by a second session from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.

The agenda has a strong focus on hours of service.

If you've had concerns about hours of service this is your opportunity, don't miss it. Although there's snow in the forecast only 5 cm are forecast before evening, hardly anything compared to what has truly been our winter of discontent.

Monday, 25 February 2008

February Backlog

This isn't a confession about the genealogy items I'm missed posting while away, but the unlikely name of a man I found while researching my ancestors in Norfolk. It's one that came to mind while reading a short article, In Search of Silly Names, in the March issue of Ancestors magazine.

The article, by Russell Ash, summarizes the research behind his book Potty, Fartwell and Knob: Extraordinary but True Names of British People published last October and reprinted six times by Christmas. You'll be amazed at the names some British parents give their children; Philadelphia Bunnyface, Bodicia Basher and Ostrich Pockinghorn are mentioned in the article. Luke Warm, Minty Badger, Tiny Slurd and Albena Whalebelly also.

For more on the book go to russellash.com. It sells at a good discount at amazon.ca.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Newspapers Digitisation Project: British Newspapers 1800-1900

While on London earlier in the month I had the opportunity to try out the result of this digitization project at the British Library. First made available in October last year, it comprises 1,000,000 pages of content drawn from a geographically diverse range of British newspapers.

Searches were completed very quickly and scans of the pages found downloaded quite quickly. The page is sub-divided into articles, or segments. Searching with a combination of terms finds only items within the article, not the whole page as with other digitized newspapers I use more frequently.

I started with simple searches on surnames in my family tree across the whole range of content and found an overwhelming number of hits. To reduce them to a manageable number you need to be quite selective in the search by specifying a single publication, location and/or date range.

The quality of the OCR was exceptional. I tried checking a few pages found with a search on cholera, the words identified are highlighted, then checking for the same word not highlighted in the article. I didn't have time for an exhaustive test but found very few cases where the word was not highlighted.

Plans for the project in 2008 call for digitising 3,000,000 pages of British newspapers and to offer worldwide access to that collection via a sophisticated searching and browsing interface on the web. I hope some way will be found to provide affordable access for those of us outside the UK.

Friday, 22 February 2008

British WW1 Medal Cards on Ancestry

After three weeks away getting relief from Ottawa's winter weather it's good to return and find a significant new British resource on Ancestry.co.uk.

Images of the front of British WW1 medal cards have been available for some years through TNA's web site's Documents Online service. At £3.50 per image viewing them is an expensive resource through Documents Online.

The cards were subsequently de-accessioned, and saved from destruction by the Western Front Association. Part of the reason for saving them was that many had additional information on the reverse side that had not be captured digitally.

Ancestry have rescanned the cards, including the reverse. Information recorded includes: name of solider, corps, rank, regiment number, name of medal received, and other information pertaining to the soldier's military service.

The content varies a bit depending on the type of card used. For details are better explained at the Documents Online site than by Ancestry.

I was fortunate and found an address of the reverse of one of my family member cards.

Some people I searched for were not found. The scanning is likely incomplete.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Mary or Margaret or Annie?

At a recent Gloucester Historical Society meeting there was mention of a tornado that struck Ottawa on 6 June 1888 killing three people. The storm demolished a Catholic church and set fire to the Protestant hospital ... a non-denominational event.

A comment at the meeting was that it was a cyclone, but that's not a term that would be used today in North America. A deadly tornado in Ottawa is pretty rare. As a former meteorologist I was curious about it, and interested to see what online historical research might reveal, especially about the fatalities.

An article on page 1 of the 8 June 1888 issue of the (Toronto) Globe, available online to Ottawa Public Library cardholders, stated there were three fatalities.

The 15 June 1888 issue of the weekly Perth Courier, accessible free with registration from Paper of Record, gave the names of the fatalities as Mary McVeigh, age 12; Wm Grey; and John Mulligan, age 55.

Checking the names in the Ontario civil registrations for 6 June 1888 showed no death registration for a Mary McVeigh, but there are two separate McVeigh registrations, for a Margaret McVeigh, age 12, registered on 16 July 1888 with cause of death " accidentally and instantaneously killed by the falling down of the Roman Catholic Church in a hurricane." Much later, on 22 April 1889 the 6 June 1888 death of Annie McVeigh age 12 was registered with no cause given.

W Grey, age 23, had his 6 June 1888 death registered on 22 April 1889 with the cause given as fever.

John Mulligan, age 51, a farm labourer, had his death registered on 14 July 1888 with cause given as "accidental, death was instantaneous."

The damage from this event was widespread along the Ottawa valley. The listings of barns blown down and other structural damage in local newspapers would make from an interesting postmortum on the unusual event.

For the genealogist its another example, if any is needed, reminder us to always check the full range of available resources for any event.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

LAC public consultation on services

Here's a reminder, early as I don't expect to be blogging much for a couple of weeks, about LAC's public consultation. The sessions are 2 - 4 pm and 7 - 9 pm on Tuesday 26 February at LAC's main building at 395 Wellington St in Ottawa.

Aside from the issue of opening hours some other concerns I've heard are outages on the website, backwardness in implementing online services, reluctance to acquire files of genealogical interest that do not meet archivist deemed standards for archival collection, food services, and policy on use of digital cameras.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Major expansion at World Vital Records

Malcolm Moody at Archives CD Books Canada informs me that 88 items from their catalog will be appearing on the World Vital Records service. WVR made a major announcement a few days ago that also includes content from findmypast.com and digitized newspaper content which looks suspeciously like that from Cold North Wind.

Times of economic challenge are always good times for takeovers, consolidations and building partnerships. Yahoo being taken over by Microsoft would be just the most high profile current case.

These type arrangements are good for the consumer as long as there is still some competition. Its frustrating to have to manage multiple subscriptions. A danger is duplication in offerring, you find yourself paying twice to get some things just to get a few unique items.

Malcolm says their content is only being licences to WVR so presumably can be withdrawn if the arrangement doesn't work for either party.