31 October 2006

The Last Post

The Last Post is the name of a database based on short death notices for Royal Canadian Legion members with military backgrounds. These have been published in the Legion Magazine since 1928, although the online database only goes back to February 1990. It contains over 109,000 names and will increase as further entries are published. Considering that Canada lacks a facility like the Social Security Death Index of the US, or the GRO index to death registrations in England and Wales, a database like this is a good resource to know.

The Legion promises to gradually add entries from earlier editions.

Find the search page here.

As I wrote this I realized it would be appropriate if I were ending the blog. I hope you're not disappointed.

30 October 2006

Rootsweb Archives Search Engine

People are posting queries and responses all the time on a huge number of geographic, surname and other miscellaneous Rootsweb mailing lists. Its a full time job trying to monitor all your lines of interest, and you have to sought through a lot of extraneous material, sometimes opinionated tripe, to find relevant stuff.

Here's a handy resource to save searching year by year and list by list. The heading reads Test Concept so presumably its not fully support, but seems to do a pretty good job. Just enter a search term and Rootsweb will do the searching for you. This is a case where it really pays to spend a bit of time learning and applying more advanced search techniques to reduce the number and increase the quality of hits. From the site search tips file:

  • Search for a phrase by putting quotes around a group of words, like "john jones"
  • Perform a single character wildcard search using "?". For example, j?nes will find jones and janes
  • Perform a multiple wildcard search using "*". This will look for zero or more characters, so jon* will find jon, jones, and jonson
  • Use "AND" to require the search to find all words or phrases. "john AND jones" will only return results with both words
  • Use "NOT" to exclude words or phrases. For example "john NOT jones" will return all results with the word john but not jones.

26 October 2006

Ancestors in the Attic - week 2

The second week of Canada's History Television series featured some sound genealogical technique:

- a man could not be a descendant of Pocahontas as her male descendant line died out. They speculated there might be a link to an earlier generation of her British husband.

- a man's ancestor was shown to be a projectionist in Toronto based on City directories and a record found at the local archives.

- a woman was related to a home child by marriage (genealogy but not genetics).

While nobody wants a TV program showing the hours of mostly tedious research that typically go into solving genealogical mysteries I do wonder whether the host's frenetic style, and quick cut editing, will be successful in broadening the series audience appeal. The BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? and PBS's History Detectives take a more relaxed approach and WDYTYA certainly gets good ratings.

25 October 2006

Canada 1851 Census Indexed on Ancestry

If you've been searching for ancestors in early Canada, meaning present day Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, then you're lucky day may be today. Ancestry.ca have added to the flood of new genealogy database announcements that continue to roll out. Even better, you can search without charge, free registration required, until mid-November

The 1851 census, actually taken in January 1852, is sometimes considered the first complete one of Canada. There were prior censuses that covered smaller areas where usually only the heads of household were named.

Not all the census returns now exists, if they ever did. There were likely no go zones. In previous attempts some of the residents of Lower Canada (Quebec) were so suspicious that the results would be used for tax purposes that enumerators feared for their lives in approaching a community with a book and pencil in hand -- this from the Toronto Globe in its 10 January 1852 edition.

24 October 2006

Problems with browser upgrade

If you use SOGCAT, the Society of Genealogists online library catalogue, expect to run into problems using the upgraded Internet Explorer browser (IE7) released last week. SOG are aware of the problem and have posted a warning note on the site. I found the search still worked, but two warnings were issued at various stages before the search terms could be entered and results read. The new Firefox (2.0) browser has no such problems.

UPDATE: As of November 17 this problem is reported fixed for the SOG catalogue.

23 October 2006

Google Alerts

Google Alerts are regular email updates of the latest relevant Google search results (web, news, groups, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. Its great for keeping track of the latest additions and updates on your favourite topic, including genealogical postings. Try it with a search for your ancestral village or townland. Unless you want to be swamped with messages don't search for larger communities. You can be more selective about the search by using advanced search features which are explained at the Google help page here. Go to < www.google.com/alerts >.

20 October 2006

Major New Genealogy Databases

During the regular Thursday skypecast hosted by Dick Eastman last evening he mentioned to expect two new genealogical services with web databases to come online before the end of the year. He was not in a position to give any details. Dick commented that he saw this as the start of a revitalization of online competition where Ancestry has had a dominant position recently.

One of the services may well be the new British database, Ancestorsonboard, announced by 1837online, featuring BT27 Outward Passenger Lists for long-distance voyages leaving the British Isles from 1960 right back to 1890. According to their announcement "With Ancestorsonboard, you can search for records of individuals or groups of people leaving for destinations including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and USA featuring ports such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Passengers include not only immigrants and emigrants, but also businessmen, diplomats and tourists. Images of the passenger lists will be available to download, view, save and print."

In Canada we are in a little different situation from the US. Library and Archives Canada has an aggressive program to make original records, mostly unindexed, freely available online. I expect to see three new databases appearing on their web site in the next few days. During his welcoming remarks at the BIFHSGO conference in September Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Ian Wilson, announced that "digitized passenger lists for the ports of Quebec and Halifax"


Also "an index to Lower Canada land petitions, some 93,00 entries," and "the Ward Chipman database of United Empire Loyalists." These are great additions to their already strong free offerings.

19 October 2006

Found on the IGI

I missed quite a bit of last evening's first episode of Ancestors (in the Attic) on History Television, but tuned in for the final item about finding a woman's aboriginal ancestor, wife of the War of 1812 British officer.

After trying various paper records the panel resorted to the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and found a name. The source was stated to be oral history.

The IGI is blessed with creativity and good intention which may not necessarily align with the truth. The panelists would surely not fall for accepting such flimsy evidence without other justification. Unfortunately the way the item was edited did give that impression.

18 October 2006

Skillbuilders - City Directories

Looking to upgrade your genealogy skills? There's a load of good advice in a series of articles online from the US Board for Certification of Genealogists. Some of the advice is US-specific: those of us in Canada the UK and elsewhere will have to adapt to our situation. Much of it is short and to the point.

Kathleen W Hinkley has an article on Analysing City Directories. She shows an example of different people with the same last name being found at an address in different years indicating family connections that would not have been apparent from a single directory. If you are have access to runs of city directories for a location of interest take the time to go systematically through the directories. Where did people live? Did they change the way the name was spelt, or the forename presented? How did the description of the occupation change?

Ancestors in the Attic

Don't call those of us lucky enough to live in Canada, and have access to History Television, starting at 9:30PM EDT for the next few Wednesday's. Ancestor's in the Attic starts this evening. According to a detailed article on the Global Genealogy web site " its set at a fast pace, loaded with interesting real stories that thread throughout the half hour program.

17 October 2006

Brits Who Built Bytown - Vernon March

Many of Ottawa's landmarks were constructed by or for people of British or Irish origin. In the lead up to Remembrance Day here is information for Ottawa's National War Memorial.

Vernon March was born in 1891 in Kingston Upon Hull, England, the youngest son of a large farming family. His 1925 statue of Samuel de Champlain in Orillia, Ontario, likely helped him win the commission, after an open competition, for the National War Memorial which was conceived and built in a garden in Farnborough, Kent, England. Vernon died in 1930 and his remaining six brothers, Dudley, Harry, Percival, Sidney, Walter, Edward and a sister, Elsie, shown on this extract from the 1891 census, finish his work. In 1932 the memorial was shown in London’s Hyde Park to wide acclaim. The Canadian government took delivery in June of 1937 and it was officially inaugurated by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939.

16 October 2006

Advice for Genealogy Searches

Your journey exploring your family history may not be as well defined as this path. Any oral history with emotional content is suspect, accomplishments will likely be exaggerated and embarrassing episodes downplayed. These were some of the messages, illustrated by examples from his own family history, with which Terry Findley informed and entertained a large audience in the Auditorium at Library and Archives Canada at last Saturday's British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa monthly meeting.

Many of the cases Terry mentioned had been researched before the records became available in digitized form on Ancestry.com or elsewhere. Now that they are the search can often be completed in a tiny fraction of the time it originally took, if you know how to use the search engine effectively. On ancestry.com, available at some local libraries and Family History Centres, be sure to check out the search tips located at the top right of the search box.

13 October 2006

Leave No Stone Unturned

The BIFHSGO monthly meeting at 10am on Saturday at Library and Archives Canada is bound to be a good one as award-winning local speaker Terry Findley presents on his genealogy research.

"Most family historians run into roadblocks when researching their ancestors. Some unwittingly seize misleading or incorrect information and charge off in the wrong direction. Using case studies, Terry will recount how he got around some roadblocks in his family history research and how he avoided going down some wrong paths. Among his detective techniques, he will talk about getting the most out of online research, particularly Ancestry.com. Whether you are just starting your family history or if you have been at it for a long time, you will find something of interest in this presentation."

12 October 2006

Library and Archives Canada Renovation

The LAC reopened on Tuesday. Their web site states "All public research areas are open; however, some minor work must be carried out to complete the renovations. This may cause some disruption to different service areas over the next few weeks."

I haven't been in to see the reorganized floors, but understand from a regular user that a lot of material is no longer where it was. There is a lot to relearn. Not all the equipment is operational, and there is still considerable work to do over the next months until the physical facilities are complete. Returning visitors should plan on spending extra time to learn the new layout. If your visit is not essential you may want to defer it until things are more settled.

11 October 2006

Ottawa's Active Anglican Archives

One of the items awaiting my return from two weeks in England was a copy of the newsletter of the Friends of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa Archives. This is volume 6, number 3. Congratulations to editor Elizabeth Taylor who puts together a newsy newsletter, so many others are not, and to Archivist Glenn Lockwood under whose guidance the Archives is so active.

The Archives, at Christ Church Cathedral, is an important resource for area genealogists. Find basic information on its holdings, when and how to access them here. As the newsletter makes it clear, the Archives is more than genealogy. This summer Felan Parker, working during during a break from studies at Carleton University, produced a video Misfiled: an archival murder mystery, while co-chair of the recent BIFHSGO fall conference, Brian Glenn, is part way into a project to photograph and catalogue all the stained glass in the churches of the Diocese. Brian will speak on the project at the AGM of the Friends on November 19 at 2pm in Cathedral Hall.

09 October 2006

Smart Family History - Mini Book Review

Earlier I wrote about "Smart Family History", a newly published intermediate level book for the person researching family history in England and Wales. It is another of the selections by Diana Hall, genealogy specialist at the Ottawa Public Library, to be purchased for their collection by way of a donation from the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa.

I've now had a chance to read it. I was a bit surprised at the samll format, easily graspable in one hand. Your Family Tree reviewed it as ... "a useful, concise and informative book to keep at your side."

It is arranged by the stages of life, and the records to be expected for each of them. The writing is not overly technical, but neither is it particularly inspired. The publisher obviously made the choice not to include examples, which would have improved the reader friendliness, but at the expense of making it longer. For me that's a misjudgement and I am hard pressed to recommend Smart Family History over one of the more comprehensive treatments, such as Mark Heber's landmark Ancestral Trails.

06 October 2006

Blood of the Isles: Book Review

With his previous international best seller, The Seven Daughters of Eve, Bryan Sykes gained a considerable reputation for popularization of genetics applied to human history. Blood of the Isles follows in the mould. The scope is the area geographically called the British Isles, which in order to assuage sensitivities he simply calls “The Isles.” It is based on Sykes' analysis of 50,000 DNA sequences, including many collected during the Oxford Genetic Atlas Project, which started in 1996.

The bulk of the book, chapters 8 - 17, takes Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England in turn, reviews geography, mythology, early writing and archaeological evidence, then reports DNA findings in that context. Sykes weaves in the personal story of collecting the DNA samples. Along the way you learn of the Neanderthal brothers of Tregaron, and where to get the best ice cream in Lampeter.

I personally found the liturgy of kings and nobles used as context uninspiring. Some of these men, Sykes claims, had an especially large number of descendants explaining some of the uniformity in DNA. On the other hand, I enjoyed two of the early chapters, about early surveys of physical characteristics; hair and eye colour, and blood type, which provide a nice response to FAQs.

One group likely to find this book thin gruel will be genetic genealogy enthusiasts. They may prefer to skip to the summary chapter 18 and the appendix. The basic data used is low resolution, less than the full range of the currently analyzed HVR1 for mitochondrial DNA, and mostly seven, sometimes ten, markers for Y-DNA. There is an appendix with summary tables, and a welcome web site with detailed data. I searched in vain for a listing of the marker profiles used to define groups.

These days, when much more detailed DNA analysis of mtDNA and Y-DNA is commonplace, this analysis seems rather broad brush, reflecting the state of the art in 2002 when the last samples appear to have been taken. It does show, in a non-technical presentation, that much insight can be gained from careful analysis of low resolution DNA data.

04 October 2006

Pros and Cons of DNA Testing for Genealogy

There is a quick summary of pros and cons posted on the Your Family Treee web site. This is a follow-on from my article in the current issue, number 43, now on newsstands in the UK.

02 October 2006

Genealogy and the Royal Society

Every scientific paper ever written was authored by someone. They could be in your family tree. If so, or if you are involved in a one name study, easily searcheable digital archives can make the investment of a few minutes worthwhile. You might also want to investigate what science says about an event in which an ancestor was involved, such as the 1918 influenza pandemic, or see if a location of family significance is mentioned. If you get into it the few minutes could easily stretch to hours.

For the first time, the Royal Society is making the complete archive of its journals, the earliest of which goes back to the 17th century, available online. Access will be free for two months. The list of journals is here.

Notice of this availability was found in the GENBRIT-L Rootsweb newsgroup.