Wednesday, 23 July 2014

How does LAC rate?

On Tuesday Chris Paton posted Comparing the UK's three national archives on his British GENES blog. Chris compared the National Archives at Kew (, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (, and the archive facility at the National Records of Scotland ( along 11 dimensions: Coverage/responsibility; Centralised location; Convenient opening hours; Wifi access; Cafe facilities; Ordering documents; Digitisation programme; Cataloguing; Can you take photos; Social media use; User base engagement.

Benchmarking an organization service against those provided by peers is a standard management practice. Let's look at how Library and Archives Canada performs.

Coverage/responsibility: Unlike the UK institutions LAC integrates the functions of the national archives and library. LAC has a legislated mandate and operates within a national reality, summarized by Mackenzie King as too much geography and not enough history. Provinces and territories, and municipalities have archival functions and LAC has a mandate to "facilitate in Canada co-operation" but no role in providing strategic direction. In recent years LAC has been criticized for neglecting its mandate to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada choosing instead to focus on its role as an archives for federal government records.

Centralised location:
LACs public face is at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa on the ceremonial route. The location is less than one kilometre from the Parliament buildings, half a kilometre from a major public transit corridor and with limited three-hour pay-parking on-site and close to other pay parking.

Convenient opening hours
LAC offers full service from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. each weekday with some services available from as early as 9 a.m. and as late as 5 p.m. depending on the day and facility. However, see the comment below re ordering documents. The facilities are open for consultation of self-service items and items ordered in, previously retrieved, and stored in lockers, from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m each weekday and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Wifi access
Yes, freely available throughout the building.

Cafe facilities
Vending machines on ground floor.

Ordering documents
Very little original archival material is available in the building, it has to be brought from off-site involving significant delay. Those accustomed to waiting for less than an hour between ordering and delivery at other archives are shocked to discover delays of several days to a week are common at LAC depending on where material is stored. This is not prominently disclosed on the LAC website. Much material is available on microfilm and, increasingly, online.

Digitisation programme
Key parts of LAC's holdings are digitized, either through partnerships, notably with Ancestry and more recently's Héritage project. LAC is currently digitizing complete WW1 service files. Much of the recently digitized material is neither name indexed nor well covered in finding aids.

Is this something LAC has forgotten how to do? Legacy catalog available.

Can you take photos?
Yes, requires permission and depends on material and equipment.

Social media use
LAC makes substantial use of Twitter, Facebook, a blog and occasional podcasts. LAC provides no means to speak directly to an information service; you access a series of pre-recorded messages or leave a voice-mail.

User base engagement
Essentially none. No stakeholder group. No volunteer programs. This lack of any meaningful user engagement is a telling indicator of client-orientation at LAC.

With the exception of the hours when the facility is open for consultation of self-service items there are no aspects of LAC service that excel compared to that provided by the three other archives Chris reviewed. The delay in obtaining ordered materials means LAC service lags substantially in this respect.

US WDYTYA series starts tonight

American actress Cynthia Ellen Nixon is the subject of the first of the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? which starts its run on cable channel TLC this evening, 9 pm, 23 July.

Nixon appeared in the HBO series Sex and the City as did previous WDYTYA? subject Sarah Jessica Parker. Parker's episode will be repeated immediately prior to Nixon's, at 8 pm.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Lost hospitals of London

If a London hospital played a part in your ancestor's life, or death, you may find it's one of the many that have closed since the National Health Service came into being in 1948. Lost hospitals of London provides an alphabetical list of hospitals with a potted history for each, much the same for London hospitals as Peter Higgenbotham has done for workhouses.

There's also a timely section on military auxiliary hospitals of WW1
A new book, Hospitals of London by Veronika and Fred Chambers with Rob Higgins is due to appear next month.

One World One Family Conference

A reminder about the fifth annual One World One Family Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being held this year on August 23.
I had the privilege of attending and speaking last year and enjoyed it. Unfortunately there's a conflict with another conference I'll be attending this year.
Speakers include:
- Jim Ison, a manager at FamilySearch for the past eight years, currently serving as Northeast Area Manager for the Family History Department.
- Harry van Bommel, author of over 50 books and founder of the Canada 150: Canada's Untold Stories project.
The location is 10062 Bramalea Rd., Brampton, Ontario with proceedings getting underway at 9 a.m.
Further information at

Monday, 21 July 2014

Identity and Identification

Professor A Jane Caplan introduces a series of four lectures from Gresham College

You may know who you are, but how do I know that you really are who you say you are?  How are you going to prove to me, a sceptical stranger or a suspicious official, that you are telling me the truth? How, in other words, can you be identified as an individual, and how are you going to prove this identity? The answer to these questions has a long history, and that history is the subject of this series of four lectures.  These days we are bombarded by information and warnings about identity documents and identity theft: scarcely a week goes past without some lurid story in the press or blogosphere. But these news stories are not so good at telling us why we should be more concerned now than we were in the past: they usually lack any historical perspective. In these lectures, I hope to persuade you that learning what identification meant and how it was recorded in the past will give you a better understanding of what it means in the present. And rest assured that I am not just going to tell you the history of the passport – even if some of us think that is quite interesting enough. No, I am going to talk to you about your name, your signature and your tattoos, and why they have mattered.
The lectures, available as video, audio and transcripts, are:
1.  Identity and Identification -
2. What's in a Name? More than You Might Think -
3. Your Hand: Signatures and Handwriting -
4. "Speaking Scars" - The Tattoo -

Sunday, 20 July 2014

London in 3D

Recognize this building? Google now have 3D mapping of inner city London in Google Earth and on Google Maps (when you zoom right in.)  To access the view in Google Maps, click the “Earth” button on the bottom left, then click the tilt button below the compass on the right, to access the 3D view. via a Mapping London blog post.

You'll need to use your imagination if you want to see how the city looked when your ancestors lived there. Get inspiration from this video.

Improving family history searching

This posted was stimulated by the article What Do Researchers Need?  by Jody L. DeRidder and Kathryn G. Matheny in the July/August 2014 issue of D-Lib Magazine

Research using 11 faculty researchers from a variety of disciplines at the University of Alabama as subjects found, among many other conclusions, that "even experienced researchers now need training in searching." How well does this finding, and perhaps the others, apply to family history researchers?

Thinking about your use of the genealogy-focused websites Ancestry, FamilySearch and findmypast, please respond to the survey at

Thank you.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Gibraltar records, the website of the Gibraltar National Archives, includes details of the registers of population (census) of Gibraltar going back to 1777.  Population lists and registers for 1777, 1791, 1814, 1816, 1817, 1834, 1868, 1871, 1878, 1881, 1891 1901, 1911 and 1914 are now online for free.
The later more detailed censuses show the name of each resident, their nationality, occupation and other relevant information. Images of originals are not online.
Browsing the surnames shows a mix of a majority Spanish and a large minority of English. Gibraltar has been formally part of the British Empire since the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. An embarrassingly large majority of the population have voted to reject Spanish claims to the territory; Spain apparently does not see any parallel with that country's enclaves of Cueta and Melilla in Morocco or Llívia in France.

via David Rajotte's Documentary Heritage News

Toronto History Lecture

A brief reminder about the fourth annual Toronto History Lecture which will take place on Wednesday 6 August at the City of Toronto Archives. The speaker is historian, author and York University professor Craig Heron on the topic of The Workers’ City: Lives of Toronto’s Working People.

Registration is now open.  More information at