30 September 2007

What a month!

This blog had a record number of page loads, unique visitors and returning visitors in September, all up a factor four since the start of the year. Each month this year has seen a new high in all three categories, except for an unavoidable hiatus in August.

Interaction has been increasing too. Comments have been at record levels. I enjoyed chatting with readers at the BIFHSGO conference earlier in the month, itself a record breaker for the Society. There were a lot of new visitors who share a frustration with the reduction in hours and other service problems at LAC.

October promises to be quite a month. October 11 sees the start of CBC's "Who do you think you are?" series. LAC have promised a fresh look for the Canadian Genealogy Centre web site to go along with what they anticipate being a rush of WDYTYA-stimulated hits.

Perhaps October's new session of Parliament, and the speech from the throne, will have something to offer heritage in Canada too.

29 September 2007

Ancestors in the Attic - Lincoln's Assassin

In this episode "A man from Niagara Falls searches for the truth about his ancestor’s involvement in the capture of John Wilkes Booth; exploring the Latter Day Saint’s Family History Library, the world’s largest collection of genealogical records."

Not mentioned is the rather weak story around which the Family History Library item was constructed.

There was a plug for family search indexing which I mentioned a few days ago. Unfortunately, as I write this the link has yet to be placed on the program web site as advertised.

The episode was very US oriented and looked like a demo to market the concept to a US cable channel. But, overall the substance was better than their average, the second best I can recall in the series. I'll be charitable and not mention the style.

The program has two additional showings on Wednesday. Worth considering watching.

26 September 2007

Family Search Indexing Revitalized

Back in March I blogged about Family Search Indexing, an initiative from the LDS Church (Family Search). Just as with FreeBMD and Automated Genealogy, volunteers can extract family history information from digital images of historical documents over the internet. During the summer only US 1900 census images were available. Now we again have Canadian records to index.

Family Search have scanned the 1871 Canadian census and serve images to you for indexing. According to Library and Archives Canada, which holds the copyright, Family Search does not yet have copyright clearance. That means they will be able to makes the transcripts generally available, but NOT display or link them to images of the originals.

If you use the Scottish census on ancestry.co.uk you will have run into the result when a copyright agreement cannot be worked out. Apparently LAC and Family Search are in negotiation to develop an agreement which would make the 1871 census images freely available with links to the Family Search index.

So far the indexing project is in the early stages. I've had images from Ontario's Kent and Lambton counties to index. A head of household index for Ontario records in this census is available at the Canadian Genealogy Centre website to give you a second opinion if you have difficulty reading those names.

With fall now officially arrived, and the dark evenings getting longer, consider helping out with this project. The software is easy to master, you work at your own pace, and will be able to share in the satisfaction of knowing you contributed when another indexed Canadian census becomes freely available.

22 September 2007

Update on genealogy databases

Its time to catch up on news about online resources of British and Canadian interest which I've been neglecting.

LAC Home Child Databases
Library and Archives Canada have substantially augmented and updated their information on home children.

The index database is now complete, or as complete as possible, for children found on ships passenger lists from 1869 to 1922. Years previously missing, 1872, 1895, 1911 and 1915 have been added. Source and reference information has been added. If you find an entry for a specific child there is now a convenient link near the bottom of the page, so you can view the complete list of children in the party.

A separate database, an index to children found in the Board of Guardians Inspection Register on microfilm reel T-537, is now available online for the first time. It contains 10,678 names of children, approximately half of the Workhouse children sent to Canada between 1869 and 1935. I recommend reading the online help section for advice on interpreting the information.

LAC work on home children is cooperative with BIFHSGO. John Sayers leads this project for the Society.

The company continues to grow its online service, now there are over 500 million records on the site.

If you have roots in London the addition of burial records from 75 more parishes to the City of London Burials Index will be of interest. This database now contains 350,000 records of burials within the Square Mile of London. The majority cover the period 1788 to 1855.

Two more counties have also been added to the 1871 census - Yorkshire and Suffolk. There are now 13 complete counties on the website's 1871 census - Cornwall, Devonshire, Dorset, Glamorganshire, London, Middlesex, Norfolk, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Yorkshire. I have heard knowledgeable people claim that findmypast.com census indexes are better than those of ancestry.co.uk; true or not its always good to have a second option.

In addition, a new decade - 1930 to 1939 - has been added to the outbound passenger lists digitized from TNA's BT27 holdings. The digitized records now cover 1890 to 1939 and contain details of passengers travelling on outbound voyages from all British ports to long-distance destinations.

Finally, Findmypast and the Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) have announced an agreement for hosting of the FFHS’ pay per view data service. Read the full announcement here. No date for implementation is given. Thanks to Sherry Irvine for bringing this to my attention.

S&N Genealogy Supplies - Non-conformist records
Another result of TNA's partnership initiative saw realization in mid-September when S&N Genealogy Supplies made available online indexed images of non-parochial and nonconformist registers 1567-1840 held in RG 4 and RG 5. TNA holds 5,000 registers of a huge variety of nonconformist congregations, including Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Protestant Dissenters (known as 'Dr Williams Library') and Independents. There are also registers from a small number of Roman Catholic communities. Basic searching is free of charge, but there is a fee for advanced searching and to download images. If you've searched the LDS British Isles Vital Records Index you may already have some of the data from Dr Williams Library. Now you can access the full record as originally written.

The Irish Times
A fully searchable online archive of The Irish Times , from the newspaper's first edition almost 150 years ago up to the present day, has been launched. Birth notices, obituaries, social notices, court reports and inquests will be of particular interest to genealogists. Reports also reflect the social and historical background of daily life.

The archive contains over 1,100 reels of 35mm microfilm with about 700 individual page images per reel and was digitized in cooperation with Olive Software, noted for the quality of their work.

The site is accessible through http://www.ireland.com/search/ and pricing starts at €10 for a 24-hour pass.

New York Times
As of mid-September articles from the NYT from 1851 to 1921 became available in full text searchable form, and FREE. Go to www.nytimes.com and select NYT Archive 1851-1980 from the drop down box below the masthead. There is a charge to view articles published after 1921. I already found a marriage of one of the English strays in my tree.

20 September 2007

Reflections on Wednesday's meeting at LAC

I posted what I hope was a fairly objective summary of Wednesday's meeting. Now I'll add opinion.

Meeting participants appreciated the opportunity to express their views, and did so freely. With a couple of exceptions, one a person of whom I would have thought better, the comments were free of rants. Some people were surprised when things that concerned them, but they had never expressed, were raised by others. LAC reps listened and were respectful of clients views. Judging by the record number of hits on this blog today, more than 200 with many from the LAC domain, they continue to listen.

Could LAC be more open about their operation? Clients want to be heard; and know their concerns are being addressed. They can be quite tolerant when things don't get done yesterday. But they need to know they're not talking into a black hole. It would be great to see a list of action items, like "add additional power outlets in the reading room", "move finding aids to areas open outside the hours of 10am - 4pm", posted in the building with target dates and notification when they are complete. We also need to see action on a user group. Treated well clients will be the organization's biggest supporters.

I applaud LAC's ambitions to put more of their most used material on the web where it will be broadly accessible. Online self-service should free up resources.

The ambition would be even more welcome if matched by achievement. The most used LAC record set for genealogy is the census. LAC provides images of 1911, 1906, 1901 and 1851 indexed by location. Thanks to volunteer and commercial endeavours there are nominal indexes available for all four, made possible by the availability of the images on the LAC site.

Missing are original images for pre-1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses. The acid test of LAC's claimed ambitions, and that reallocation is occurring, will be rapid progress on making these images available online. This will harnesses the effort of volunteers and companies to produce nominal indexes. What's holding this up? Lack of funding? Were funds ever asked for from outside government? Is it lack of internal digitizing capability? What?

Unfortunately, and along with lack of a sound system this was the biggest failure on LAC's part at the meeting, the financial impact of reducing hours was not revealed. The savings from seem minuscule compared to the impact. How much would it cost of open for full service, or at least ordering, at 9am rather then 10am? What would it cost to close the reading room at 9 pm rather than 8pm?

19 September 2007

Summary of informal discussion at LAC - 19 September 2007

The meeting started at 2:30pm as scheduled with about 50 clients in attendance.

LAC Acting Director General for Programs and Services, Hana Hruska, opened the meeting by explaining that a quick budget cut was necessary when the section received its budget in mid-summer. Another longer-term factor is a desire to shift priority, and resources, to fund digitization projects so that datasets will be widely available via the internet.

In the previous year the section overspent its budget, which Hana explained is not possible this year. LAC regretted that consultation on the reduced hours had not been possible. CHA and one other unnamed organization were informed prior to the general announcement. About 50 organizations and individuals wrote to protest or otherwise comment on the reduced hours prior to them coming into force. None of the comments had any impact on the hours of operation. One LAC staff member acknowledged that not consulting more widely was a mistake.

LAC staff were not prepared to state what savings are being realized. We were told there have been no staff cuts so staff are able to reallocate efforts to duties other than in-building public consultation during the extra closed hours. Information from various clients suggested 40 hours of security staff time are being saved each week, at about $20/hr including overhead. That's about $800 per week, or $41,600 annually.

Perhaps the greatest impacts of the reduced hours is that people visiting from out of the Ottawa area, especially graduate students and other researchers who need access to unique materials never likely to be digitized, are unable to make efficient use of their time by working extended hours. When archival material has to be retrieved from the Gatineau Preservation Centre it is no longer possible to consult it on the day it is ordered owing to the 4 pm deadline for receiving retrievals. Delays to retrieving materials in the building, and getting access clearance, were cited as other ways in which the reduced hours eat away disproportionately into available research time.

Comments from attendees addressed a wide range of concerns at LAC, not just the hours. They reflect a lack of client-orientation in the LAC operation:

- staff attempting to eject patrons well before the advertised closing time;
- poorly maintained equipment, such as microfilm readers and printers;
- a tendency to place out of order notices on machines rather than fix them;
- microfilm printers which are awkward to use, inaccessible to the handicapped, and poorly set up for routine maintenance;
- notices on copy machines, and copyright stamps placed on copies, that are unduly restrictive given Canada's copyright regime;
- finding aids not located where they can be consulted outside the 10am-4pm weekday hours;
- unclear signage on computers to indicate whether they are for ordering library materials, or for accessing databases;
- materials left on the dumb waiter stretching 30 minute retrievals to 90 minutes;
- a general concern at reductions in professional consultation service available.

Clients attending generally agreed that the overall quality of service is declining. One former archivist mentioned that they used to boast of the first class service offered at the National Archives, now nobody does. It's more like third class. One client living in the US commented that the facilities were declining to the state of those she encountered in a third-world archives.

By a show of hands a substantial majority of the clients present indicated they favoured establishment of a user group to meet quarterly for information exchange and feedback between LAC and its clients. Hana Hruska stated that LAC was considering this.

To end on a positive note:
-an LAC staff member stated that it would likely be possible to order archival material by computer in the building at 395 Wellington starting next Spring, and over the internet sometime next year;
-Access to Information queries are now being handled in a timely manner.

Others who attended are encouraged to add comments.

Reminder - LAC informal discussion today

The session is today. Wednesday, September 19th from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in room "A" in 395 Wellington St., Ottawa. All welcome.

18 September 2007

Ottawa Branch OGS September Meeting

The Ottawa Branch of Ontario Genealogical Society is meeting this evening, Tuesday, September 18, at Library and Archives Canada, Room 156, at 7:30pm. Michel Prévost, University of Ottawa Chief Archivist, author and frequent media guest, will speak on the founding of the largest bilingual university 160 years ago and its archival collection.

15 September 2007

More on LAC informal discussion session

Fortunately I didn't have to join one of the increasingly long lines to see a consultant while at LAC doing some research recently. A warning for those visiting LAC -- be prepared for a wait in a line-up if you arrive when consultation hours open at 10 am.

The informal discussion session I blogged about previously is causing some buzz. LAC staff mentioned the item on the CASLIS blog. CASLIS is the Canadian Association of Special Libraries and Information Services, a division of the Canadian Library Association. Beware of riled librarians!

Also mentioned was the graduate students petition found at the following link: http://www.petitiononline.com/history8/petition.html.

At the Friday evening session of the BIFHSGO conference LAC Assistant Deputy Minister for Programs and Services acknowledged that the organization had received much adverse reaction to the cut in hours, and regretted that client consultation had not been possible owing to the need to shift resources quickly. It was ironic that the guest speaker that evening, while explaining the deliberate destruction of Irish census records, those not destroyed by fire in 1922, used the term "bureaucratic arrogance."

A reminder that the informal discussion session will be on Wednesday, September 19th from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in room "A" in 395 Wellington St., Ottawa.

14 September 2007

Popularity of Family History

The folks at the Canadian Genealogy Centre (CGC), part of Library and Archives Canada, are gearing-up, a bit nervously, for a rush of queries as a result of CBC's forthcoming series, Who Do You Think You Are?

Although CBC haven't been doing much advance publicity CGC looks at viewer statistics from the UK and get concerned. Here are recent statistics from MediaGuardian.

In summary:
BBC1's genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? this past Wednesday drew an average audience of 5.6 million viewers and a 26% share over the 9pm hour according to the unofficial overnights. That was down 900,000 viewers and four share points on the previous week's which pulled in 6.5 million viewers at 30%.

These are very good figures, comparable with the most popular programs. ITV1's soap Emmerdale pulled in 6.5 million viewers and a 35% share over the hour from 7pm. The BBC's EastEnders running in the same timeslot got 5.9 million viewers.

If the CBC version proves as popular CGC could have a bit of work on their hands. Let's hope the folks running the web site are prepared for a genealogical tsunami.

11 September 2007

Informal discussion session for LAC clients

Genealogists, and other Library and Archives Canada clients, have an opportunity to attend an "informal discussion session" next Wednesday (not Monday, as previously stated) afternoon. This is welcome. LAC management got failing grades for implementing a drastic cut in service hours without any consultation, and only the briefest of opportunity to comment.

Please attend the session if you can.
A large turnout for this meeting would show LAC management that users are concerned. I hope LAC offers to implement a regular system for client consultation, perhaps through a user group representing a cross section of clients, including genealogists.

BIFHSGO Conference - 14-16 September

Coming up is a big genealogy weekend in Ottawa, the annual BIFHSGO conference at Library and Archives Canada. There's a pdf of the full program here.

Many folks have pre-registered -- it looks like to the biggest BIFHSGO conference ever. The theme of Ireland and prominent speakers coming from Ireland are major attractions. There's a strong non-Irish component to the program too for those whose interests are elsewhere in the British Isles. Other attractions start with a pre-conference seminar for beginners, and another on Family Tree Maker, beginning at 9:30am on Friday. You'll want to stay to the closing sessions for an opportunity to win some great door-prizes. You could win one year database subscriptions from either ancestry.ca/world deluxe, or a one year Explorer package for FindMyPast.com, or a subscription to the Plus edition of Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, and other prizes.

The folks at the marketplace would be pleased to have you come and browse and buy, even if you don't register. I expect to be around most of the time in sessions, the marketplace or the computer room which will have free access to ancestry.ca. Please stop by and say hello.

There's still time to register on site starting at 9am on Friday.

08 September 2007

Ancestors in the Attic II - episode 3

This episode first sullied the TV universe on History TV Canada last Saturday, and, like acid reflux, made an unwelcome return on Wednesday. It was awful. Was the producer aiming to beat some Guinness world record for camp TV?

Supposedly the episode explored how to investigate the history of a property. That's research many genealogists eventually stray into. The resources used, city directories, land and assessment records, and photograph collections are a bit different from the sources used in most genealogical research. There's scope for some good TV programming, scope which remains unimpaired after this episode.

The first segment was about Hat Creek ranch in BC, supposedly haunted. What were we treated to? The host acting as if staggering under the weight of a trunk thrown from the top of a stagecoach, which didn't have the benefit of horses. A mock séance. A supposed overnight stay in a haunted room. All accompanied by overblown theatrics. Worse, there were people identified as associated with the history of the house on the flimsiest of evidence. The worst segment in the whole series to date.

The second segment was almost as bad. The researcher was shown outside an old Toronto building, supposedly thinking he was speaking to the owner. He leaves to research the house, and returns to report to the same person still in the same place, as if rooted to the spot, who turns out not to be the owner. Totally incredible.

History TV seems to be stuck with this inferior production. Perhaps they could unload it on Kid TV where the juvenile antics would find a more appropriate audience. Even so I'd recommend the 2 am time slot.

06 September 2007

BIFHSGO Meeting on Saturday 8 September

The first monthly meeting of the new season starts at 10:00 a.m. this Saturday at Library & Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. Jane L. Down will speak on her experience with the APG Ontario essay competition in a presentation titled "Genealogy Competitions and the Biography of Robert Down." Everyone welcome.

05 September 2007

Temple genealogy

Some of the most interesting genealogy I've been involved with happens when given a sketch family tree and asked if its true. In my experience such trees usually include elements of truth, generous measures of wishful thinking leavened with half-remembered facts.

Recently I've been working on just such a situation, a friend from Newfoundland with a Temple family tree. Copied a century or more ago, its title, An Abstract of Temple Lineage, suggests that not everything is included, confirmed by occurrences of "from whom descended" and "one son."

Branches of the tree lead to British Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston, and the National Trust property of Stowe Landscape Gardens, called "One of the first and foremost of the great English landscape gardens." The tree links my friend's family to James Temple, one of the people who signed the death warrant for Charles I.

I followed the first golden rule of genealogy and worked the family back in time. There is good documentation that the family arrived in Newfoundland from Norfolk, confirmed by letters written back to England. A family Bible has entries that take the Temple line back to about 1800. Unfortunately records for the area of North Norfolk from which they came are not well represented in the IGI. What there is seems to agree with the information in the tree. Original parish records will need to be consulted in Norwich or through the Family History Library.

Information on regicide James Temple's descendants is lacking although five generations of his ancestors are well documented. There are records for the births of several of his children, so there's scope for a link. It looks like there are two generations missing, as yet, and no evidence of a move to Norfolk. On the other hand, if someone wanted to invent a connection why would they choose to make the link to a not very prominent regicide?

Quite a bit of information can easily be found by Googling Temple in various combinations with geographical and first names. One of the gems Google found were transcribed wills for two members of the family, found at TNA's Your Archives website, which is a beta version.

I was rather disappointed in Google Books which found rather little information, and what there was was mostly limited extracts or snippets, even though the material was long out of copyright. Searching in Live Search Books was more productive and I found several digitized books with further elements of this prestigious family's genealogy.

The hunt continues.

02 September 2007

LAC reduced service hours in effect

A reminder that the reductions in service hours previously announced came into effect at the start of the month. Hours of full service are now 10am - 4pm, weekdays. The response to the reduction of service from genealogists and other users was apparently sufficiently muted that LAC management had no problem with implementing them. If users are not prepared to speak out against service reductions they can be expected to continue.

I was pleased to see that not all users are not so passive. A review in today's (Sunday, 2 September) Ottawa Citizen of "An Unlikely Hero", Phil Jenkins' new book on George Dawson, sees him taking aim at LAC:

"I am obliged to say, on behalf of my fellow researchers present and future, that despite the staff's best efforts, the systemic and logistical obstacles at the National Archives, though under assault, remain frustrating."

In the interview, Jenkins moaned about 48-hour delays in retrieving documents, 24-hour delays in getting photocopies and other inconveniences that complicated his research.

"Logistically, I am walking into every sharp corner you've got in the building," Jenkins said he told the archives staff one day. "From the moment you walk in, there's some grumpy vet who looks at you as if you're there to steal everything they've got. I hate it. I go down to other archives, the McGill archives, and they're like, 'What do you need?'"

Jenkins blames the problems on inadequate funding. "The past is a minor deity in the Canadian coffers."

Would there were more users prepared to speak out in this way.