31 July 2006

Update your searches

Has someone got the key to your genealogical puzzle? Every day people post new results of their research on the internet for you to find. Some of the postings will be on web pages and blogs accessible to a search engine like Google. Do you search for problem ancestors every so often? Perhaps you've tried and got a lot of hits irrelevant to your interest. I just did a search of the name Northwood, and as usual had to battle pages referring to a London suburb, town in New Hampshire and US university amongst many others. You need to be creative with the search terms to reduce unwanted hits. 7,300,000 for a Google search on "Northwood", shrank to 15,000 for " northwood family birmingham -university -street -wight -glass -alamaba -auctions ". One of them was this image of a Northwood family tomb at Wordsley in the Black Country around Wolverhampton. I know the inscriptions from previous searching, but its neat to see the tomb.

A lot of genealogical data is in databases not accessible by search engines like Google. You usually have to go to each database site and search it individually. One of the biggest sites is Rootsweb's Worldconnect which claims 459,857,161 names, 4,372,310 surnames and 400,262 contributed databases. It's a good idea to search it for those elusive ancestors, but set aside some time. When I search for Northwood I have to wade through multiple entries for 14th century family members. Some people seem to make it their hobby to resubmit the same thing. Although you can limit the search in several ways it would be good to also have a way to specify you want no hits earlier than a certain date.

28 July 2006

Very popular British records to come online

The National Archives (TNA) have announced their intention to close their operations at the Family Records Centre, located in Myddelton Street, Islington. in 2008. Services will be moved to Kew in southwest London at TNA's main location. The Family Record Centre's recent newsletter explains the rationale as economic, coupled with a greater online availability of the service they offer.

Buried in the newsletter is the sentence "Meanwhile we plan to make other records on microfilm, such as RG 4 and PROB 6, which are very popular at the FRC, available online within the next couple of years." New records online are always of interest, but what are RG 4 and PROB 6?

RG 4 is General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857. Find details here.

PROB 6 is Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Administration Act Books, 1559-1858. Details here.

Although I've not used them these look like useful records to have online.

Save some aggro

There's little more annoying than travelling a long distance to do research and then finding the facility closed. Sometimes it can't be helped when a power cut, fire or strike closes the facility. Planned closures are almost invariably advertized well in advance, and that's happening at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Renovations there will lead to the establishment of a new physical Canadian Genealogy Centre, a welcome addition. It looks like there will be disruption of their services until at least mid-September. If you're considering a visit soon see the details here.

27 July 2006

Sahib, the British Soldier in India 1750-1914

I listened to a podcast by military historian Richard Holmes, who examines Indian soldiering in peace and war. He addresses the experience of ordinary soldiers, whether soldiers of fortune, East India Company or regular army, why they joined up, how they got to India and what they made of it when they arrived.

This is a recording of a lecture at The National Archives, and the content makes it well worth listening to. There's not much relevance to Canada and Britain, except that almost everyone has some connection to the British Raj. Some of the regiments who served in India also served in Canada before Confederation.

TNA will would be well advised to put a bit more effort into the technology. The sound is awful, it sounded as if the speaker was too close to the microphone. I would have liked to see the slides too.

26 July 2006

Your Family Tree Blog

There's a new British genealogy blog worth a look. Your Family Tree, a British magazine, has converted their website to a blog and added some good content including five classic articles from recent issues, and the seven golden rules for beginning genealogy which they publish each issue.

You can link to it here. I took advantage of the RSS feed and added it to my Bloglines subscriptions.

On North American newsstands the magazine carries the cover title Your Family History.

Full disclosure - I have written for and am currently working on an article for YFT.

25 July 2006

Framing Canada

There's a new and improved online photographic exhibit online from Library and Archives. Featuring photographs from various public and private collections, Framing Canada: A Photographic Memory presents a searchable database of digitized photographic images from 1843 to the mid-20th century.

As the PR blurb says "these images tell the fascinating and ever-changing story of how Canadians see themselves and their world" although ts worth remembering its actually "how photographers depicted Canadians and their world." The online collection appears to have been augmented with many more digitized images, thematic presentations, and a flash introduction that I've bypassed in the link above.

This image from the collection is of William C Little from the William James Topley Collection. Little was a member of Parliament and immigrant to Canada from England in the 1850s. For more on Little, including his great-grandson, impersonator Rich Little, see my article coming soon in the August issue of the Ontario Genealogical Society publication Families. The article stresses use of a diverse range of online sources.

24 July 2006

The Genealogy Guys Podcast

George Morgan and Drew Smith, well known Florida-based genealogists, included an item on the upcoming BIFHSGO Annual Conference in a Canada-packed edition of their weekly Genealogy Guys Podcast. The program also included an informative interview with Louise St-Denis of the National Institute for Genealogical Studies and a short item on changes in Provincial boundaries.
Its well worth checking out what George and Drew are talking about each week, they both have interests that extend beyond the USA (which I'm told stands for Unexplored Southern Area). Find the Genealogy Guys Podcast here.

21 July 2006

Ups and Downs

Between 1869 and the 1930s more than 100,000 youngsters came to Canada from Britain through programs operated by various charitable organizations. These were kids who had been in some kind of distressed situation and came to Canada to be settled under the care of a host family. Collectively they are known as Home Children in Canada.

The best known agency, responsible for about a third of these young immigrants, was Barnardo's, founded by Thomas John Barnardo . His organization in Canada, with headquarters in Toronto, published an occasional newsletter for the children they brought over. The earliest edition was for 1895, the last for 1949. The most complete collection is likely at Library and Archives Canada, but unfortunately issues from about 1906 to 1919 are missing and cannot be located elsewhere. Likely 200 or so copies were printed, so it seems likely copies survive, perhaps in someone's attic. Please keep and eye open for copies and let me know if you come across any. They are part of Canada's history.

19 July 2006

Don't reshelve those books and magazines

A local librarian mentioned to me yesterday she was in the process of recommending cuts of $21,000 in periodical acquisitions. Asked how this is being done she told me that one of the inputs is based on scanning the codes on items left out on tables by visitors, which indicates interest in the item. So, if you want you local library to maintain its collection in your area of interest, DON'T RESHELVE ITEMS. Mum may have told you to always return things where they came from, but it doesn't apply in the library. You might want to pull out a few additional genealogy items and leave them out.

Manchester Burial Records

The burial registers of Manchester's Southern, Philips Park, and Gorton cemeteries can now be searched on-line at < www.burialrecords.manchester.gov.uk >. It's free to search the index of records and you can pay a small charge for more information including an image of the burial register. This information from a posting in the Rootswen GENBRIT list.

18 July 2006

Help find Megan's Little Orphan Annie

Regular readers will know that I have a great deal of respect for genealogist-author Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak. Yesterday she posted on her blog, Megan's Roots World, the story of Annie Moore, the first immigrant to land at New York's Ellis Island. Annie arrived from Ireland on 1 January 1892 with her brothers Anthony and Phillip. Read the article here. Megan is looking for the real story and is offering $1,000 to anyone who can discover what actually happened to Annie. Did she perhaps come to Canada?

17 July 2006

Mapping Human History

As background for my presentation on DNA and genealogy coming up in September at the BIFHSGO Annual Conference I borrowed a copy of Steve Olson's 2002 book Mapping Human History from the Library. I'm only a little way into the book but the end of the first chapter sets the tone ".... human's haven't changed much over the past 150,000 years. And that's exactly the conclusion geneticists have been drawing from our DNA." It a repudiation of race, in much the same way that Gene Roddenberry did in the episode of the original Star Trek series depicted in the image. Olson's argument seems to be that race is a social construct without physical basis, and that there is as much variation within racial groups as between them. This is debated in the reviews posted at amazon.com . I'll reserve comment on how Olson develops his case until I've read further, and then perhaps looked at a book with a counter view like Race: The Reality of Human Differences by Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele.

14 July 2006

Countries in Your Family History

One of the blogs I visit regularly is Matthew Stibble's Bad Language, where the content puts a lie to the name. One of the links posted today is to a site here where by checking boxes you can produce a map - they suggest colouring in the countries you have visited - mine is shown here. You might also want to use it to illustrate the countries in your ancestry. Its a simple application, but free.

13 July 2006

Genealogical Libraries

These days more and more organizations are putting their library catalogues online for all to browse. These can help track down that elusive resource, especially in planning for a research trip. Here are a few of my favourites.

The British Isles Family History Society recently updated the online catalogue for their Brian O'Regan Memorial Library, found here. I see it is up to 1909 items with particular strength in Irish resources. Our partner organization, the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, has an online catalogue here for a library with more than double the holdings focusing on Ottawa-area resources.

Although not specifically a genealogical library, in Ottawa Library and Archives Canada is THE place to go for Canadian materials. Find their new amalgamated search here.

Outside Canada the Family History Library of the LDS Church, and their online catalogue, should be one of every serious genealogists' favourite links - start here. In the UK I go first to the Society of Genealogists' Library catalogue, here.

Don't overlook published family histories. Some never get to the large libraries, so look for the catalogue of the local public library, genealogical or local historical society for the area where they lived.

12 July 2006

The Digital Revolution – and Service Delivery in National Institutions

"We can't take the view that users are wrong. We have to take the view that if users want to get information digitally, and the expectation is that's its going to be online, we're going to do the best we can to meet that need however hard its going to be."
"(When you find a record in our new catalogue) we'll scan and digitize it for you on demand and email it to your home desktop in 24 hours for eight pounds 50."
"We've set ourselves the ambitious target that 90% of what people want to see we'll let them see online within the next five years."

These are quotes from a presentation in May by Natalie Ceeney, Chief Executive of The National Archives in Britain. Food for thought. Access the sound recording and slides from her presentation here.

11 July 2006

Family Secrets Revealed by DNA Analysis

Earlier today I was asked to provide a short summary for the presentation I'll be making at the annual "Celebrate Your Anglo-Celtic Roots" conference of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa. Read more about the conference, being held 22-24 September at Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, here. My presentation, Family Secrets Revealed by DNA Analysis, is on Saturday the 23rd. I don't like giving away the whole story so wrote a teaser

The record of your ancestry is written in your DNA. Its far from a complete record, but does contain information to be found in none of the conventional genealogical sources. Until recently we have been illiterate when it comes to reading that DNA record. Thanks to advances in science and technology, and the availability of commercial services for genealogists since 2000, DNA is starting to contribute to extending family histories and resolving uncertainties. The presentation is based on my own experience.

10 July 2006

London's Magnificent Seven Cemeteries

If you're into digging up relatives, and they happen to be in one of London's larger cemeteries, take a look at web pages the BBC have for the magnificent Seven Victorian Cemeteries. Kensal Green, opened in 1832, was followed by West Norwood (1837), Highgate (1839), Nunhead (1840), Brompton (1840), Abney Park (1840) and Tower Hamlets (1841). You won't find much of direct help to the genealogist looking for ancestors who may be buried there, but there is a brief description for each mentioning some of the prominent people who found their final resting place. Some of the cemeteries are being rejuvenated for nature preservation, education and appropriate recreation. Start at the web page here.

09 July 2006

Records of Scots Immigration to Canada

Canadian ships passenger lists remain one of the most difficult records of the period with which to work. Now, if you have someone of Scottish ancestry who arrived at a Canadian port, there is help at hand. A local Ottawa researcher, Don McKenzie, has indexed the passenger lists for Eastern Canada arrivals of Scots from 1870 to 1883 and donated the index to Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Its a typescript. LAC hope eventually to OCR the text and make it into an online database. In the meantime you can always contact the Canadian Genealogy Centre and ask for a lookup. To find out how to contact them look here.

07 July 2006

Welsh Parish Registers`

A note in the minutes of the most recent FFHS General Meeting states that the Genealogical Society of Utah has obtained permission to microfilm Welsh parish records which has been withheld for many years. Hopefully that will eventually mean much greater availability of these Welsh records. Another note from a usually reliable source is that filming is starting in Monmouthshire this month.

05 July 2006

Statistics from the 1901 and 1911 Census in Ontario

Now that Ancestry have made an index of the 1901 Canadian census available online, complementing 1911 which has been available for some months, there is an opportunity to look at statistics on changes that occurred. Before anyone howls, yes I realize there are significant problems with the census data and the indexing. The statistics derived will undoubtedly exhibit problems and must be treated with appropriate caution. [End of obligatory academic caution.]

As background for a presentation next year I've been scanning these Ancestry databases for Ontario population trends. Its never been so easy to examine these statistics before, thanks to the availability through Ancestry and the Exact Search specifying the total count.

This was a period of massive immigration, and despite the federal government encouraging settlement in the "Last Best West" many did make Ontario their home. The Province's population increased from 2.2 million to 2.5 million. An extra 108,000 are shown as born in England (searched as Eng*) in 1911 compared to 1901; 15,000 additional born in Scotland (Scot*); 1,500 in Wales; and there was a decrease of over 19,000 born in Ireland (Ire*). The latter likely reflects the death of many Irish immigrants who came well before Confederation. The trend for the Irish-born was especially noticeable for York, Peterborough and Carleton counties, less so for Middlesex or Essex.

The trend for the Scottish-born is less systematic. Scots-born continued to represent the same fraction of the population in all five counties within about one percent.

By contrast the English-born fraction of the population boomed, most noticeably in York where it increased by more than 10%. Carleton and Peterborough saw 4% population share increases for the English-born. There was a 1% increase in Essex and hardly any change in Middlesex.

04 July 2006

National Probate Index

There is an unsubstantiated report that images of indexes to wills for England and Wales to 1960 are to be made available to search online. If these are the calandars,starting in 1858, meaning a short summary of the will, this would be a significant addition to the repetoire of online genealogical resources -- if only that they usually include the date of death. Read about the existing system at Guide to obtaining probate records.

03 July 2006

Security at the National War Memorial

Last November I had the privilige of visiting Flanders and the Menin Gate. For all but ten minutes each day this memorial to more than 50,000 British Empire soldiers, including a great-uncle, who lost their lives in Flanders is a roadway entrance to Ipres (Ypres). At 8pm each day the traffic stops and a simple Last Post ceremony is held, often with a wreath laying by a visiting group. The memorial sees visits by tourists throughout the day as traffic passes under the archway of the gate. There is no security evident at any time. None is necessary as every school child knows that the memorial is something citizens takes seriously, evidenced by the ceremony as part of the community daily routine.

Today's Ottawa Citizen carries a photo of a young man urinating at the National War Memorial, and reports that "veterans" want increased security around the memorial. A fence is mentioned. We should learn a lesson from Ypres. Erecting a memorial is good. Holding an annual ceremony on November 11 is good. But how much better to ingrain the significance of the memorial, and what it stands for, into the minds of every citizen through a daily event, such as a Last Post ceremony.

01 July 2006

Ancestry 1901 and 1906 Canada Census

Just in time for Canada Day, Ancestry have added indexed versions of the 1901 and 1906 censuses to their Canadian offerings.
As with the 1911 census, which Ancestry added earlier this year, the index entries are linked to images of the enumerator's forms on the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) web site. Unfortunately there is no facility for zooming in on the image, if you want to do so you need to copy the image and paste into an image viewer. I use IrfanView.
We are fortunate to have a free index to the 1901 census completed by volunteers, and more than 90% complete index to 1906, which is only for the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Find these at Automated Genealogy.