29 March 2007

New Ancestry Border Crossing Database

Ancestry's title for this newly digitized database is "Canadian Border Crossings, 1895-1956". From where I sit it's more like US border crossings. It records mainly crossings into the US from Canada, although there are a few crossing in the other direction.

Confusingly this series has been known by the name of one of the crossing points, St Alban's, VT. The dates used by Ancestry, 1905-1956, are still those associated with the St Alban's data, even though there are crossings included prior to 1905. For example, at Calais, ME, some of the records date from as early as 1877. It's worth looking at the dates for the most likely crossing your ancestor would have used to see if records survive. The records for Ogdensburg, the nearest crossing to Ottawa, only start in July 1929. Below are the details of what's in the database from the Ancestry website.

  • Calais, Maine (ca. 1906-Dec. 24, 1952) (also includes a few arrivals from 1877 to 1905)
  • Van Buren, Maine (ca. 1906-Dec. 24, 1952)
  • Vanceboro, Maine (ca. 1906-Dec. 24, 1952) (also includes a few arrivals from 1888 to 1905 and a few arrivals at Halifax, Nova Scotia and St. John, New Brunswick)
  • Fort Fairfield, Maine (ca. 1909-Apr. 1953) (also includes a few arrivals at Easton, ME, Houlton, ME, Boston, MA, and Buffalo, NY and a few alien departures)
  • Eastport, Fort Kent, Lubec, and Madawaska, Maine (ca. 1906-Dec. 24, 1952) (also includes some departure records of U.S. citizens)
  • International Falls, Baudette, Duluth, Mineral Center, Pigeon River, Pine Creek, Roseau, and Warroad, Minnesota (Jan. 1907-Dec. 1952) (also includes some departure records of U.S. citizens)
  • Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York (1902-1954)
  • Hogansburg, Malone, Morristown, Nyando, Ogdensburg, Rooseveltown, and Waddington, New York (Jul. 1929-Apr. 1956)
  • Newport, Vermont (ca. 1906-Jun. 30, 1924)
  • St. Albans, Vermont (1895-1954)
  • Babb, Montana (Jun. 1928-Oct. 1956)
If an immigrant ancestor to the US arrived via a Canadian port then they likely went through a US immigration process there, much as air travellers can often clear US customs at the Canadian departure airport today. You may well find an entry in the Canadian incoming passenger list, for information check under the menu of the left hand column here, and in this border crossing dataset.

28 March 2007

For or against the slave trade?

The UK Parliament has a web site where you can view images of original petitions for and against the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1807, from people in Manchester. There is a searcheable transcription of the names. Was your ancestor on the side of the sinners or the saints?

27 March 2007

Your Genealogy Affects Your Health: Book Review

When I found this title some months ago, self-published in 2006 at iuniverse by F. Clark Fraser , Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics at McGill University, I hoped for enlightenment on the impact of different DNA mutations on health. Fraser’s slim book quickly scotched the idea. In most cases disease results from a combination of genetic and environmental causes, the genetic depending on factors associated with different chromosomes.

The main chapters are:
1. Genetics in a Nutshell;
2. Family Resemblances: Common Normal Traits;
3. Genetics of Common Physical Disorders;
4. Genetics of Behaviour: Normal and Abnormal.

The book provides general findings, in no way a substitute for consultation with a medical professional about your personal situation. I found it informative and even entertaining in places. Fraser has a career’s worth of experience from which he draws short anecdotes which lightly punctuate the text.

Your Genealogy Affects Your Health can be purchased online, either for download as an Adobe eBook($6US) or in hardcopy ($12.95US) here. There's a copy in the Ottawa Public Library.

For those wanting more detail Fraser recommends OMIM, the Online Mendelian Inheritance of Man Database, although he warns “you need to wade through a lot of material …”. Another web site recommended at the end of the book, The Centre for Genetics Eduction (Australia), is more oriented to the layperson. They are conducting a Family Health History Campaign, the material for which includes a handy form to use in talking to your family doctor.

25 March 2007

Extra information in 20th century civil registration indexes.

Genealogists who work a lot with pre-20th century data for England and Wales sometimes forget that in the early 20th century extra information is included in the civil registration indexes of births, marriages and deaths. I did. Then I rediscovered it yesterday when trying to trace back a sister-in-law's family. I had her father's name, born in 1915, but nothing earlier and was getting nowhere. There is a family story that they are from the same family as a prominent academic, but I couldn't see any connection.

I was ready to order the birth certificate, but in looking up the reference number found the mother's previous surname. Knowing that made it easy to find the marriage in the marriage index, and so the parents first names. With that, and the indexed census on ancestry.co.uk, in only a few minutes I had the family back another century. There was no connection to the prominent academic, at least after 1800.

The indexes start in July 1837 and retain the same information until 1866 when age at death was added. The mother's previous surname was added for birth registrations starting in the third quarter of 1911. In 1912 the marriage indexes started recording the spouses last name. But it's not a total good news story. From the third quarter of 1910 the second and subsequent given names were dropped in favour of initials in all the indexes. The full name was reinstated in the indexes from 1966.

23 March 2007

Operant conditioning in genealogy

I've been researching a great uncle, one my grandmother had little contact with after he moved to Canada and she married. On Tuesday a copy of his will arrived in the mail. It was gratifying to read that he had not totally overlooked his sister making her beneficiary in the event that none of his descendants survived.

In the will he expressed his wish to be buried next to his wife. It named the cemetery where she was buried and I wondered if he was there. As he had died in Majorca I thought maybe not. I also wanted to know whether other family members were buried there. So I Googled. There is a web site for the cemetery, and I sent an email seeking information. The next day's inbox contained a courteous reply that he was indeed there beside his wife and giving the plot numbers, section and dates of burial. In addition the message noted that his daughter, son and daughter-in-law are all buried in the same cemetery. There was also an offer of a map to show the locations.

A similar request, to a cemetery on a different continent sent earlier in the week, seems to have been ignored. Previous experience is mixed with enough positive experiences to keep one hopeful.

Operant conditioning explains that a randomly administered reward is the most effective way to get a rat trained to press a lever. It seems to apply in genealogy too.

22 March 2007

Battle of Vimy Ridge Anniversary

April 9-12 will see the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, for many a signal event in Canadian history. It will also see the scheduled reopening and re-dedication of the Vimy memorial with 3500 Canadian schoolchildren who have been researching soldiers in attendance.

An increase in interest has been noticed at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) as relatives seek the service records of their era soldier relatives. LAC has an updated exhibition on Canada and the First World War. The Ottawa Citizen, and no doubt other papers, are giving in-depth coverage.

Ancestry.ca has a new database, Canadian Soldiers of World War I, 1914-1918, including images of original attestation papers from the LAC web site. In addition to name of enlistee, birth date, and regimental number indexed on the LAC site they have also digitized address, birthplace, age, and name and relationship of next of kin. It's a timely addition to Ancestry's Canadian portfolio.

21 March 2007

Canadian newspapers languish on microfilm

Searching in the online version of the Globe and Mail on the off-chance of finding reference to a man named Gregson, who married in Toronto in 1915, one of the hits appeared to be him. He was running for city council in Peterborough, which was his residence at time of marriage. It was yet another confirmation for me of the value of digitized historic newspapers for genealogy and family history.

A new US site with digitized newspapers came online in beta this week. Chronicling America allows you to search and read newspaper pages from 1900-1910 for papers from California, District of Columbia, Florida, Kentucky, New York, Utah, and Virginia. Each state had a target of 100,000 pages. These are the results of projects which started in May 2005. The initiative is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress.

There are other US collections. Two are mentioned in the most recent Rootsweb Review. From the Northern New York State Library Network come 550,000 pages from twenty-two newspapers. The other, www.fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html, worked only intermittently when I tried but claims "over 2,725,000 Old Upstate, Western & Central NY Newspaper Pages."

Meanwhile the British Library are continuing with their newspaper digitization project for a virtual library of nationally, regionally and locally important papers from 1800-1900, up to two million pages. It's scheduled to appear in mid-year. This builds on a pilot project with Olive Software.

In Canada we have Paper of Record of which I wrote recently, but where is Canada's national strategy for historic newspaper digitization, especially for local papers? It seems to fall under the mandate of the Alouette Canada project. There are good people involved, although not many clients. In these days of social networking you'd think the web site would have some capability for input from a broader community.

20 March 2007

Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics

If you're looking for Nova Scotia birth registrations from 1864-1877, marriages from 1864 - 1930, or deaths from 1864-1877 and 1 October 1908-1955, they're here and free to view. The long promised web site went live on Monday here.

Nova Scotia's policy is to restricts availability of births registrations to 100 years, marriages to 75 years and deaths 50 years after the end of the year in which the event was registered.

Unusually the province decided to discontinue birth and death registrations between 1878 and September 1908 inclusive.

An initial quick search allows you to specify last and given names and the event type(s). Agree to the conditions of service and see the number of hits for each type of event. Click on the births, marriages or deaths tab to see the first page of ten results. You can flip to the the next set of ten easily, or click the icon to see an image of the original record or order a better quality copy.

I tried it out on the death of one of the Ottawa Company of Sharpshooters, Ernest Arthur Nash. My Nash search would have been much easier if I'd had this database when we did the Sharpshooter research. Although the first names were reversed, maybe the importance of being Ernest isn't so pervasive, the parents names and his birth date were the same as I had previously.

There is an advanced search allowing you to specify a year or year range for the event, and a county.

You see the original image using the Viewpoint reader. It should load automatically, but if not follow the instructions to download. I found the image was often too small to view comfortably, even after having zoomed, and resorted to doing a screen capture and pasting the image into a graphics program so I could zoom in further.

This is a nice addition to the suite of Canadian databases online.

18 March 2007

UK to Canada Immigration History

I've been looking for statistical data on immigration from the UK to Canada for a presentation in June to the annual OGS Seminar in Ottawa, and finally found a source at Library and Archives Canada. The copy was so fragile they only let me read it in the special collections consultation room, and I had to transcribe the data as they wouldn't allow copying.

As the authors make clear, this 1950s HMSO publication data is derived from a very mixed bag of sources. The earliest years are based on returns to local customs officers designed to ensure that departing ships had adequate provisions to see them through the voyage. Persons travelling on business or for pleasure, as well as immigrants, were likely counted. That's why the term outward movement rather then immigration is used.

Having no Irish roots I had overlooked that the Irish were the major component in the early years, about until Canadian Confederation in 1867. According to the LAC online exhibit The Shamrock and the Maple Leaf "Approximately one million Irish landed in Canada in the century before the First World War." As expected there's a huge increase at the time of the Irish Potato Famine, with the English and Scots increase likely being Irish coming through their ports. The Irish immigration to the US at the time was much larger. An earlier increase, in the 1830s, is likely associated with the immigration stimulated by the Poor Law amendments in 1834.

After Confederation the English are the major component, including in the large pre-WW1 spike, which will be the topic of my OGS presentation. The drop during WW1, and following restrictive immigration policies to protect jobs during the depression of the 1930s, is clear.

The reference is: External migration; a study of the available statistics, 1815-1950 / by N.H. Carrier and J.R. Jeffery -- London : H.M. Stationery Office, 1953. -- 163 p. ill. -- AMICUS No. 12298747.

13 March 2007

First Anniversary

This blog is celebrating its first anniversary, and after 245 posts this blogger is taking a few days off.

What's the best web site for genealogy?

It may not be the first that comes to mind, but practically every genealogist has used it. Sure, Google would qualify for that honour too. I determined the best site as the first unsponsored hit, using the ubiquitous google.com, searching on "genealogy".

And the winner is ...

It's FREE. It's brimming with advice on getting started, advice on searching genealogy records and preserving and sharing your family history. There's access to FREE index transcriptions of parish records and census data (1881 for England, Wales and Canada, 1880 for the US). And there's the Family History Library Catalog where you can find out about non-digitized sources you can order into your local Family History Centre.

This LDS site isn't in the media buzz game. The most recent news item on the site is from 2005, but the first ranking reflects the continuing value of the resources.

Familysearch was also the winner amongst the unsponsored links at google.co.uk and ask.com.

Another winning site was genealogy.com. It came first at google.ca, yahoo.com, and yahoo.co.uk.

In case you're curious about genealogy blogs, for "genealogy blog" searched at google.com the winner is ...

Given the url this shouldn't have surprised me, but it did as I rarely visit. It's heavily US oriented.
I was also surprised at the number of death notices of prominent genealogists. Genealogy doesn't come to mind as a high risk occupation. Genealogy as an extreme sport maybe?

12 March 2007

Bicentennial of the Slave Trade Act

Perhaps fortunately for some of us, there are no British records of merchant seaman involved in the slave trade from Africa to America, officially ended when the UK Parliament passing the Slave Trade Act on 25 March 1807.

The Act didn't end slavery but prohibited trading in slaves from Africa. Colonies of the then British North America were bound by the legislation. It came into effect on 1 May, and a similar provision followed in the USA the next year. Nelson's victory at Trafalgar made enforcement practicable. Information on records for commissioned naval officers for the period may be found at TNA.

William Wilberforce, the best known advocate for abolition is the subject of a new film, Amazing Grace. See the trailer here. He lived just long enough to see a bill to abolish slavery in Britain pass through the British Parliament in 1833.

Wilberforce's great-great-grandson, a 48-year-old accountant, is commemorating the event by walking from the Wilberforce home in Hull, Yorkshire, to London and using the occasion to publicize present day sex and other slavery, said to subjugate more people today than the total number transported from Africa to America. There are numerous other commemorative and awareness raising events in Britain this year.

In Canada the Ontario government is "investing up to $1 million to support commemorative projects that tell the history of slavery, commemorate the struggle of African-Canadians, and honour the spirit of those who fought for freedom, justice and equality." The Governor General has mentioned the Slave Trade Act in a speech, but Stephen Harper's "new" government is silent.

09 March 2007

Did Google gobble Paper of Record?

Rumour has it that Ottawa-based newspaper digitization company Cold North Wind's stable of digitized newspapers has been recently acquired by the mighty Google. It would explain why the company's web site Paper of Record, which has been for sale for some while, can now offer free subscriptions.

Google already offers a news archive search, now in beta. The Paper of Record historical newspaper inventory does not presently appear to be part of that database, although other 19th century papers are, including some small runs of a few Canadian papers.

Google getting more heavily into newspaper morgues is exciting for genealogy. If you've found information of interest in your family history search in digitized versions of rare books in Google Books, or Microsoft's Live Search Books you'll appreciate the potential. Local papers are the paper of record for tens of thousands of communities. In them you find not only births, marriages and deaths recorded but a host of community happenings, scholarships, school graduations, sporting events, business openings and closings, military matters, club meetings, social notes and the whole minutiae of daily life which can help bring an ancestor to life, if only you can find the item on him or her.

08 March 2007

Ottawa Sharpshooters Presentation

I'm honoured to have been asked to present a talk "The Ottawa Sharpshooters: The Company and Some of Its Remarkable Men, circa 1885" next Sunday 11 March at 2pm for the Friends of the City of Ottawa Archives. The venue is Library and Archives Canada. For more details on the talk go to http://fcoa-aavo.ncf.ca/ the web site for the Friends, under events. For those not in Ottawa, and others who would like to know more about the Sharpshooters look here at the BIFHSGO web site. The book The Ottawa Sharpshooters can be purchased from Canada Books Online.

07 March 2007

Who do you think you are? - Canada

According to two usually reliable sources the CBC has in production a Canadian version on this popular hour long BBC TV program in which celebrity family histories are explored. Scheduled to start airing in September. For a glimpse of the latest, third, series of the British program click here.

05 March 2007

Improving Family Tree Maker

Do you use Family Tree Maker (FTM) to store and display your genealogical information? I do. I especially like FTM's easy interface with ancestry.com. When I last asked Global Genealogy Supply informed that FTM is still their best seller. They also sell Legacy and RootsMagic, both of which are gaining ground in the race for the hearts and minds of genealogists.

Some folks get quite passionate about the virtues of their chosen software. Others, while seeing things they like elsewhere, have a lot invested in the product they use and don't want to have to climb the learning curve that comes with a new product, or lose some of the data and attachments in their existing files. The concern, along with that of privacy, is equally valid for folks thinking of moving to the online environment with services such as My Ancestry.

If Family Tree Maker wants to maintain leadership here are my recommendations for improvements, some of which likely apply to the competitor products.

First, improve mapping capability. For the last several versions FTM has had a pathetic mapping capability. The company should look at Family Atlas, a product of RootsMagic. I'm a happy user. Dick Eastman has recently done a thorough review.

Second, improve the way of entering source citations. Early versions of FTM had no citation capability, and although recent versions have, I find the format impenetrable. What is needed is built in fill-in-the-box type citation formats for common genealogy sources, especially the censuses and civil registration records for the jurisdictions most FTM users are likely to encounter.

Third, capture the growing field of genetic genealogy by incorporating provision for DNA information. At present Legacy does, but with FTM the only option is to enter such data is in the free format notes section under the edit tab. It would be simple to include another element to record the various types of DNA data under the facts tab or in the medical section. Even better would be a provision to show "derived" DNA information for maternal ancestors and their descendants for mitrochrondrial DNA, and Y-DNA through paternal line ancestors and their male line descendants.

FTM usually releases a new version or update in the summer, in time of the BIFHSGO September conference, although I doubt that's their driving force! It will be interesting to see whether the company has a commitment to keeping their product up to date.

03 March 2007

More on digitized and OCRd newspapers

I was pleased to see a comment posted by Bob Huggins, a pioneer in OCRd newspapers online, who found my blog entry on Paper of Record a few days ago.

Every so often I find myself using quotes like "half a loaf is better than none" and "seeing the glass as half full" when people complain about OCR inaccuracy, or errors in census transcriptions. You don't hear folks singing the praises after success nearly as loudly as they grumble after failing to find something.

Two of my best genealogy finds came thanks to Paper of Record where I located a wedding in PEI where a professional had hit a brick wall, and found a long report of a robbery committed by a person I was researching in Perth, Ontario.

OCR problems are a reality for old newspaper. Experienced searchers know of alternative approaches that may find the item sought when a straightforward search, which should be tried first, fails.

Assuming you've selected the most appropriate paper, it's always good practice to limit the period searched to as narrow a range as reasonable.

Think of alternate ways in which the entry might be unique. Search for the bride's name if you can't find the groom, or the name of the place where one of the fathers live, or any other aspect, such as the name of his regiment.

It can help to understand the format typically used in that paper for the period. For example, does a newspaper report of a marriage give the last names of the groom and bride as a header in a larger typeface? If so a search for adjacent names (Smith Jones) stands a better chance of success that one for John Smith or Cathy Jones.

Wildcard and proximity searches can be helpful if available. With Paper of Record you can search for a word, phrase or Boolean combination. The lack of segmentation of the page into separate stories means that you may get hits because words occur in different unrelated articles on the page.

02 March 2007

Ancestry adds 1871 and 1891 Scottish census

Yet another major contribution of UK census transcriptions to Ancestry's stable appeared on 1 March. The 1871 Census for Scotland was taken on the night of 2/3 April, the 1891 census on the night of 5/6 April. Images of the originals are not available, likely for copyright reasons.

01 March 2007

Fact or Fiction?: Living People Outnumber the Dead

Scientific American has an article referencing, Carl Haub, a US demographer on this FAQ. In 2002 he estimated that over 106 billion people have lived since 50,000 B.C. With about 6.5 billion alive today there are far more dead than alive. How many of the 106 billion would be your direct ancestor?

Genealogy in Wales

March 1st is St David's Day. The patron saint of Wales gets scant attention, and the Welsh get little notice in genealogy as many of the records are part of the English system. Wales being relatively small, fewer people emigrated to form a sizable diaspora. Welsh expats are none the less proud of their heritage, especially when it comes to music.

For those searching for Welsh records beyond the English system a good web resource is the National Library of Wales. The site is bilingual Welsh and English. Check out:

The Crime and Punishment database comprises data about crimes, criminals and punishments included in the gaol files of the Court of Great Sessions in Wales from 1730 until its abolition in 1830.
The Digital Mirror which gives access to collections of Welsh Biography, Pictures, Manuscripts, Exhibitions, Archives, Maps, Printed Material, and Photographs. Go to Sound and Video to download an mp3 of the first recording of the Welsh national anthem made 11 March 1899. It's scratchy, a very different rendition from the more familiar versions by mass choirs or rugby crowds.