31 October 2007

Canadian Digital Information Strategy

Yesterday one of this blog's regular readers passed along information on a draft strategy, in the form of a copy of a letter to LAC. Today there was a posting about the strategy on the Ten Thousand Year Blog, one I monitor regularly. Although the development of the strategy is being led by LAC there is nothing about it on their web site, not yet anyway.

Perhaps LAC has a new communication strategy that relies on bloggers!

Or perhaps LAC is looking to bury it.

UPDATE: As of 2pm a notice was posted here.

The document describes itself as 'a call to action' and ‘a hymn book from which we can all begin to sing’. It's full of mush like ... Canada can be a leader ... even though a substantial part of the document shows how Canada is a laggard. Most would be appropriate to any country if you replaced Canada and Canadians by the appropriate words.

There seems to be a scratching around for substance when they ask 'As you review this draft, we ask you to consider how to advance its implementation and to suggest concrete follow-up steps that will ensure that the Strategy is acted upon.' They desperately need client input, which is notably absent, and ask for it by 22 November.

30 October 2007

Is Stephen Harper related to Count Dracula?

Recently the press have been having some fun with celebrity genealogy. US vice-President Cheney is related to presidential candidate Barack Obama according to the Associated Press. An Obama spokesman quipped that every family has its black sheep. CBS news reported that Obama is also President Bush's 11th cousin, and the ninth cousin of actor Brad Pitt.

The same CBS report revealed that Bush is also seventh cousin, five times removed of Abraham Lincoln; 11th cousin, twice removed of Princess Diana; and ninth cousin, three times removed to Marilyn Monroe.

Even with the loonie leaving the US buck in the dust, can Prime Minister Stephen Joseph Harper possibly hold his own in that social league?

Now, in an Anglo-Celtic Connections exclusive, I can reveal that the same resource used for Obama and Bush, ancestry.com, shows Harper has similarly notable relatives. The link is through his great-great grandfather Bedford Harper's mother, Susan Crane.

In Canada Harper is related to Prime Ministers Robert L Borden and Richard B Bennett, all three Conservatives.

In the USA Harper is related to President Millard Fillmore, who served for the Whig party, forerunner of the Republicans; and Republicans James Garfield and Gerald Ford.

Is this right leaning tendency coincidence or genetic? A genetic basis may not be so far fetched an idea. If homosexuality can be genetic, as some believe, why not conservatism?

If Harper took a Y-DNA test maybe he'd find he shares the profile associated with descendants of Genghis Khan. Or perhaps there's a connection though his Harper line which goes back to the county of Yorkshire in England. He may descend from marauding Viking raiders.

Let this be a warning to kids out trick or treating in the vicinity of 24 Sussex Drive, a relative of Count Dracula may be in the vicinity!

29 October 2007

UK Newspaper Digitization, and Indexing

In a GENBRIT Rootsweb posting Hugh Watkins draws attention to the free online Cambrian Index database. It contains close to 400,000 entries for birth, marriage and death, most of them extracted from The Cambrian which claims to be the first newspaper published in Wales, and covers the major part of the nineteenth century. There are also entries from The South Wales Daily Post and the Western Mail.

Watkins' post was commenting on a new set of databases from the "Gale Group" which came online 22 October. The 19th Century British Library Newspapers contains full runs of 48 influential national and regional newspapers including the Birmingham Daily Post (1857-1900). Liverpool Mercury (1811-1900) and Glasgow Herald (1820-1900). For those with black sheep grazing in the family tree, or their victims, the collection includes the Illustrated Police News (1867-1900). A full list of titles and coverage is here.

Those of us outside the UK are shut out of access at present. Put a trip to a local university on your list of things to do on your next visit. Supposedly it's available to all further and higher education UK institutions.

28 October 2007

AIA - North West Rebellion

Despite a few problems this Ancestors in the Attic episode, attempting to verify a family legend about the involvement of a man from B Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery in capturing Chief Big Bear during the 1885 North West Rebellion, was interesting.

Contrary to the information given, the CPR was not complete at the time of the Rebellion. This meant that soldiers from eastern Canada had to bridge four gaps in the line north of the upper Great Lakes on foot or in sleighs on their journey west.

Contrary to the impression given, The Library of Parliament is available to the public only in exceptional circumstances, if no other option for viewing the material exists. A television crew gains access where no ordinary researcher can. Fortunately there's a much easier, if less picturesque option to view Sessional Papers for the period. They are freely available through the Early Official Publications project of Early Canadiana Online - here.

Contrary to the impression given there is no big mystery about whether Chief Big Bear was involved in the Battle of Cut Knife Hill. Virtually any book on the Rebellion will confirm he was not.

If you're researching the Rebellion check out BIFHSGO's database containing information on 5,189 men who served in 1885. It's a transcription of a compilation by Charles Arkell Boulton, each record providing the soldier's name, company, and unit. Also provided are the individual's rank, regiment and company and notes regarding fatalities and injuries.

26 October 2007

WDYTYA - Steven Page

In Thursday evening's episode following his maternal line allows Steven Page to explore the life of a Jewish immigrant family in early 20th century Toronto, and trace them back to Poland. There is a good web article supporting the program. While at the site don't forget to visit the Digging Back section to see if there's one of the short video educational segments you haven't viewed.
Maybe it's obvious, but a teaching opportunity was missed when it was not pointed out that only because the family ancestral home-town was mentioned in a diary could they identify it. Without that family record they would probably be stuck only knowing the information from the census, that the ancestor was born in Russian dominated Poland.
The final scene had Page visiting the site of a former Jewish cemetery in his Polish ancestral village, which no longer has Jewish residents owing to the inhumanity of one race against another. The desolate cemetery is marked by a monument erected by local historians.
In an interesting juxtaposition the following program, The Nature of Things, featured locations where people had been driven out by climate change. If that climate change is being caused by our over-reliance on fossil fuels maybe that depopulation too is an example of the effects of blind inhumanity.

25 October 2007

Globe and Mail TV Genealogy Article

There is a good article about the current crop of Canadian genealogy TV shows in today's Globe and Mail, here.

Remarks to LAC

While I'm still waiting for the text of the CHA press release, here are the remarks I made at the meeting on October 23 between a CHA-led client group and the Librarian and Archivist of Canada with other LAC senior executives.

Although officially representing the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa, I believe I speak for most Canadian genealogists in expressing appreciation for the efforts Library and Archives Canada has made to cater to our community by placing some of the most frequently consulted original records online.

Each community represented here probably has an aspect of the cut in hours that hurts most. Based on my consultation, what directly hurts the genealogical community most is the loss of the weekday morning hours, and thus the ability to get material retrieved promptly so that we can work on it during the remainder of the day. There seems to be no data showing that this morning period was not well used.

The other hours cut seem to hurt genealogists more indirectly. Authors and researchers can no longer as easily complete the comprehensive investigations needed for articles, books, films and TV programs we genealogists would like to see. The historians we genealogists would like to have staff archives, maybe even your successors’ successor, find it more difficult to graduate.

I have also heard considerable complaint about a declining level of service at LAC, especially, but not only, regarding the support staff who rarely stay in one place long enough the master the job. Knowledgeable clients find themselves drawn into helping other clients because staff help is so lacking. The newly reduced hours are being cut even more when staff close off facilities early. This happened just yesterday when a lens was removed from a microfilm reader-printer at 3:45pm while the client was temporarily out of the room.

LAC has been under budget restraint for so long I suspect you are suffering from the pernicious death by a thousand cuts and may not appreciate how critical the situation has become. How do you measure this? It appears the Auditor General has never looked at LAC services, and I’m wondering if any recent internal audits or evaluations have been undertaken.

It’s unfortunate your effort to put more material online was presented as a zero sum game – more material online = less physical access. I know you have partnerships, and plans for more of them. That should lead to more information online. It should mean making the pie bigger, not slicing the same pie differently. I asked on my blog, and four out of five people agreed with the statement "I would accept the presence of banner ads on LAC online products if it resulted in more products becoming available and less pressure to cut back on other services?" Ads are becoming increasingly accepted as a way to support online content, witness changes at the NYT and CNN. That’s one opportunity, I’m sure there are others.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to us today.

In his subsequent remarks Ian Wilson made a specific reference to the notion of ad supported products on the LAC web site saying they had broached the idea but it is contrary to government policy.

I'm sure my perspectives are not everyone's. Share your's by posting a comment.

23 October 2007

No change in LAC hours, but early consideration promised

A delegation lead by Craig Heron, President of the Canadian Historical Association, met with Ian Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, and two of his senior executives, to discuss the reduction of hours at LAC and other issues today, Tuesday 23 October. A complete list of meeting participants is below.

A press release from CHA will be posted here soon.

Ian Wilson confessed that the reduction in hours without consultation was a mistake. He listened carefully to the interventions from delegation members and undertook to review the decision on opening hours with his management team within the context of a mid-year organizational review, the results of which should be apparent by the time of the first meeting of the LAC Services Advisory Board which will likely be held toward the end of November.

Meeting participants
Ian Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Doug Rimmer, Assistant Deputy Minister,
Michelle Doucet, Director General, Services

Craig Heron, Canadian Historical Association
Peter Di Gangi, Algonquin Nation Secretariat
Grace Welch, Association for Canadian Map Libraries and Archives
John Reid, British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa
Jean-Francois Lozier, CHA Graduate Students' Committee
Marc Vallières, Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française
Krista Cooke, National Council on Public History
Brian Osborne, Ontario Historical Association
Andrew Waldron, Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada
Susan Swan & Deborah Windsor, Writers' Union of Canada

22 October 2007

North West Mounted Police Records

Complete files of about 4,500 men whose service with the North West Mounted Police
started between 1873 and 1904 will soon become available through the Library and Archives Canada website. That's a total of about 300,000 images. I'm told finishing touches are being put on an index with full name and proper archival reference information.

For those confused about Canada's various national police forces, according to Wikipedia, in 1920 the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP, founded 1873) was merged with the Dominion Police (founded 1868) to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The former was originally named the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) and was given the "Royal" title in 1904. Much of the present-day organization's symbology has been inherited from its days as the NWMP, including the distinctive Red Serge uniform, paramilitary heritage, and mythos as a frontier force.

21 October 2007

AIA - Samurai Secrets

Told in the straightforward manner that Ancestors in the Attic seems to be evolving toward, this simple story was of a woman of Japanese ancestry finding traces of her ancestors, and eventually meeting a relative, in the ancestral country. The search was assisted by having an old passport giving a Japanese address, and by it happening to be a small island. This case especially, with its language barrier and unique form of civil records, demonstrated the benefits of retaining the services of a locally knowledgeable genealogist.

The story was that the person who came to Canada arrived around 1920, with the expectation he would send money home to his widowed mother, but, it was postulated, that was not possible owing to Canada's WW2 internment policy. His failure was given as his reason for shying away from telling his family about his origins. While internment must have been traumatic it leaves open the question of whether he made any remittances in the nearly 20 years between his arrival and the start of WW2.

20 October 2007

Take the survey

Paul Allen (the lesser) doesn't blog that frequently, but I enjoy his views on genealogy from a business perspective. His most recent posting is What our genealogy customers want. I won't steal his thunder on the results of his company recent survey results -- follow the link and you can read it for yourself, and increase his blog hits which I'm sure he must monitor.

At the start of the posting he mentions that the company uses and likes Qualtrix survey software for client consultation. Knowing that LAC is interested in looking at other forms of client consultation I thought I'd take a look. I found it easy to develop a survey, and quickly put one together on Library and Archives Canada. You might want to try the short survey I developed, here. I'll treat the results with the same level of confidence I give to all online polls.

19 October 2007

The Ryan Taylor Memorial Lecture

The Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society is sponsoring the Ryan Taylor Memorial Lecture on Saturday morning, October 20 at 9:30 am at Library and Archives Canada. The topic is: Who Do We Think We Are? Reflections on Family History and Genealogy. The lecturer is Glenn Wright.

The lecture is in memory of noted genealogist Ryan Taylor (1950 - 2006). Ryan had family connections in Ottawa and attended both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.

Glenn Wright is a historian, archivist and genealogist who has worked for the National Archives of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and is the author of a number of books and articles on Canadian history, military history and genealogy.

All are welcome. There is no admission charge.

18 October 2007

WDYTYA - Margot Kidder

The program followed two lines of descendant of actress and activist Margot Kidder's maternal line in search of an "explanation" for some of her personality traits. The exploration took her to Prince George, BC, and Newmarket, Ontario.

One of the pleasures of pursuing your family history is the places you get to visit, often well off the well-trod tourist routes, that grow in meaning to you as you delve further. Most often there are no relatives left in the area, yet as Margot Kidder's journey illustrated, you can draw sustenance from visiting the buildings, churches and museums, known to your ancestors, and the archives and libraries which document them and their environment. You gain an appreciation of the importance of community to their lives, and yours.

Once again, for those who want the more detailed story, including information on the sources used, the program web site has a three page extended story.

I found the program went by very quickly. CBC should be pleased with the way this series is developing. I understand they had more viewers for the first episode than they expected, and LAC's Canadian Genealogy Centre had 92,000 people using their new Ancestors Search facility that evening.

It's slightly ironic that the version of the CGC home page shown in the program is the old version, before the recent update.

Why Municipal Archives?

On Wednesday evening Brian Beaven, Chair of the Eastern Chapter of the Archives Association of Ontario, presented an award to the Ottawa City Archives, in which several local genealogy societies are partners, to recognized participation in the Doors Open Ottawa event earlier in the year. He used the occasion to talk about the role of municipal archives. With his permission I reproduce part of his presentation, which I found insightful, below.

I am not sure if the people of Ottawa or the members of City Council or even archivists from other institutions fully appreciate the work and fundamental transformation that is going on in City Archival programs to make them more responsive and accessible to citizens and city staff who use archival resources every day.

Increasingly Archives are finding their justification in the Corporate mandate and the role they exercise in efficient and effective government, Freedom of Information and accountability to citizens through the duty to document and to preserve a fulsome record of how decisions were made and why. These roles and responsibilities are an important recognition the central place of Archives in an enhanced standard for Democratic Governance. There is a danger, however, that this important connection between Archives and Democratic Governance will eclipse our appreciation of the equally important and essential role in local heritage stewardship of our local communities and cities. Archives are much more than a crucial element of civic government. They are the life blood in the stewardship of authentic civic heritage, an essential component of our cultural establishment that is all too often taken for granted.

What do archives offer to the local community? They offer unique authentic records that tell otherwise unknowable stories, discoverable by each new generation asking different questions posed by evolving social conditions and shifting intellectual concerns. They help to tell us who we are as communities, who we have been and how we have become what we are. Moreover, archives offer a secure place to protect what is, after all, fragile and perishable documentary heritage. Archives encourage citizens to turn over personal records in all media that might be of tremendous value to the community and which otherwise might be lost through inter-generational indifference and neglect. How many papers of local businesses have simply been thrown out because nobody thought them important any more? How many diaries have moldered in basements until they were unreadable? How many pictures sit in albums displaced from their original creators with no notations to indicate who or what is depicted? Preserving treasures that tell the complex story of a community is a unique role that only a local municipal Archives can sustain. But above all, to quote a colleague who has put it better than I could, archives are "a heritage place in which the community can be proud, a resource whose presence reminds all citizens and visitors of a place rich in history with colourful stories and characters."

At one level, Archives are old papers but they are also about making those old papers accessible to diverse users, acquiring key collections that tell unique chapters in the experience of the community and preserving these priceless records over time, and preserving all of them – not just papers, but pictures and audio tapes and home movies and documentary art and an increasingly digital corporate record of City business. And in the end what is it that these archives tell us about ourselves? They tell us about our diversity of experience and the complexity of the past. We often think of the good old days in the sense of older simpler times, but you know, the longer I study documents and history, the more I realize that there were no good old days in that sense. Human society is always complex – at least for the last eight thousand years or so that we have had a written record.. What one generation represses, another celebrates. What one generation values, another discounts and relegates. What was relegated but 50 years ago takes on new meaning for new constituencies in an expanding democracy.

What Archives are doing though Doors Open celebrations is to let people see and experience the rich documentary heritage we have in Greater Ottawa depicting the complex urban and rural landscapes of the last 200 years.

Often we take archives for granted. After all "99% of what is there will never be of interest to me", we often find ourselves thinking. But in order to have the one document, the one series of correspondence, the one set of minutes of an organization, the one set of records of a local business, the missing image of great-grand mother Smith, the one land record relating to our grandparents' homestead – in order to have those items or specific series preserved, we need a systematic archival function of appraising, acquiring, describing, and making the records of all experiences available. Archives, then, serve as a reflection and confirmation of our diversity as a human society. But ultimately they are more; they amount to an essential measure of ourselves as a civilized people living in distinct local communities.

Archives are the foundation of all other efforts at heritage preservation and cultural celebration of the past, from heritage designation of buildings to museums to local history and genealogy and even the creative imagination of fictional work in literature. Without the authentic and reliable original documents preserved in archives and the integrity of process and function which guarantee the reliability of the information that archives make available as digital or photo copies, we would be so much poorer in the resources necessary to tell our real stories, to verify oral traditions and to imagine accurately how our ancestors lived and how and what they felt.

New LAC Consultation Processes

Michelle Doucet, Library and Archives Canada's Director General for Services, was keen to discuss consultation when we met last Friday. It was encouraging to hear a commitment to consultation prior to implementing any major changes to services. Effective mechanisms so that clients can raise and get attention paid to issues are also needed.

LAC is proposing a two-component mechanism:
- LAC services advisory board
- general client consultation

As mentioned previously, and posted here, the advisory board, to be chaired by the Assistant Deputy Minister, Programs and Services, will include 12-15 people with national scope and a mix of perspectives. It will meet 3-4 times a year using telephone/video conferencing for those unable to be at the meeting in person. An agenda of topics for discussion will be established before each meeting (which should not inhibit other topics being raised in a round table agenda item), and all minutes will be posted publicly.

As regards general client consultation a "multi-channel approach" is being considered. One element, regular on-site public consultation meetings, every 6-8 weeks, seems likely to be implemented. Other possibilities still under discussion are virtual, email, chat, Web 2.0 and similar mechanisms, together with things like client satisfaction and feedback forms distributed with mailings of materials to clients.

How will we know if the consultation is effective? There is always danger in government of mistaking existence of a process for effectiveness. If you hold a consultation session and nobody comes does it mean everyone is happy, or do people see it as a waste of time as it never seems to achieve anything?

17 October 2007

More on LAC's budget

As a public servant focused on delivering a program I found the government budgetary process arcane, a shell game. Reallocations, freezes, suspense accounts and over-programming meant one could never really be sure of the financial situation. Finance officers seemed to make sport of moving money around.

On the face of it, according to its 2007/2008 Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP), available here, the government appropriation to Library and Archives Canada will decline from this year. It lists the following spending for Budgetary Main Estimates:

2006/07 - $109.6M
2007/08 - $119.9M
2008/09 - $101.5M
2009/10 - $99.9M

However, LAC DG of Services, Michelle Doucet, last Friday explained to me that the peak spending this year is attributable to one-time funding for capital projects, largely the National Portrait Gallery. That funding had not been anticipated in prior years. In the 2006/07 RPP the amount for this year was planned as $104.3M. In the 2005/06 RPP $91.4M was planned for this year, well below the $119.9M eventually allocated.

Given this record Michelle expressed her conviction that there is no need to be concerned there will be a drastic cut in the funding appropriated to LAC in 2008/09, if you don't count one time capital allocations. Variation owing to capital projects funding can always be anticipated. As is common everywhere in government there is a chronic lack of resources. Client support for the organization mission is always helpful.

According to Michelle the cut in hours of opening at 395 Wellington occurred because management made a decision to reallocate funds away from keeping the building at 395 Wellington open for as many hours as previously. The funds are reallocated to digitization initiatives.

The impact of the cut in hours is apparent in downloading of costs to researchers of all types who must stay extra days in Ottawa, or make extra trips to the building to complete their research. Sometimes a conflict with work hours makes visiting all but impossible.

For some of those researchers the pain might have been easier to bear if the benefits of increased digitization were made obvious. Sometimes one can tolerate short term pain for long term gain if the gain is sufficiently attractive. Instead we are given an intangible, digitization. That has the air of pie in the sky when you died by and by, especially for those wanting to examine records where the prospects of digitization are remote.

16 October 2007

More on LAC 's cut in opening hours

I had an extended conversation last Friday with LAC's Director General of Services, Michelle Doucet, who acknowledged that not consulting on the reduction in opening hours at LAC was a mistake. LAC have heard from a variety of users about the problems this has caused and are meeting with groups, both in Ottawa and elsewhere, to better understand the impacts of the cuts.

I asked for documentation on how the hours of service that were eliminated were chosen and was given the following paragraph.

"In determining the optimum mix of services to provide to our users, LAC must pay close attention to the actual behaviour of current users. To this end we have introduced new client feedback mechanisms, for both onsite and distance users. We also examined usage trends and patterns. For example, we noted that from October 2006 to May 2007, an eight-month period, there were no (0) occasions in which there were more than ten (10) users in our reading room at 9:00 pm or later and only eight (8) occasions when there were more than five (5) - an average of once per month. On all other dates there were less than a handful of people in the room. This does not translate into a high demand by graduate students or anyone else."

I asked for and expect to receive the full data from which this summary was compiled, which should be available under access to information if needs be, and including data for other times (morning and weekend reductions).

There was no indication LAC is yet ready to restore the previous opening hours.

There is the prospect of some flexibility. That could mean opening and closing earlier on some days, and later on others. Other options, not discussed, might be remaining closed one day -- La Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal and several comparable centres remain closed on Mondays. Another possibility might be making certain materials available for extended hours. Copies not vulnerable to damage or theft, and thus not demanding close supervision, would be obvious candidates.

Check back later in the week, or subscribe to the RSS feed, for further postings dealing with LACs ideas for improving consultation, the budget situation and digitization.

15 October 2007

Genealogy and the Environment

October 15 is blog action day for the environment. What's to say! Are genealogists any more culpable than any other group for environmental degradation? Take the environmental issue of our time, global climate change.

There's good news in the latest figures released by Environment Canada. In 2005, for the segments of the economy most reflective of genealogists activities, emissions were down. Residential emissions were down 4.5% from 1990, the base year for the Kyoto Protocol. Emissions from gasoline powered automobiles were down 12.8%. If you drive an SUV or heavier vehicle the picture is not so pretty.

There is one activity on the upswing amongst genealogists that has a poor environmental record ... ocean cruising.

A recent article in The Guardian, Is cruising any greener than flying reveals that "On a typical one-week voyage a cruise ship generates more than 50 tonnes of garbage and a million tonnes of grey (waste) water, 210,000 gallons of sewage and 35,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water." A 2003 study on the cruise ship industry from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives expresses it on a per capita basis ... 10 gallons of sewage and 3.5 kilos of solid waste per passenger per day.

The figure that caught my attention was for emissions of greenhouse gases. According to The Guardian article ... a cruiseliner such as Queen Mary 2 emits 0.43 kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared with 0.257 kg per passenger mile for a long-haul flight.

To make things tangible, and its not atypical, let's look at a specific cruise. The Millennia Corporation, makers of Legacy Family Tree, is promoting a cruise in Europe next July. The route is a round trip from Dover in England with stops at Copenhagen, Warnemuende, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Tallinn, and Stockholm. That's about 5,500 kilometres. Per passenger the CO2 emission will be 2.4 metric tonnes. Adding to that emissions for the return trans-Atlantic flight, about 11,00 kilometres, means an additional 2.8 metric tonnes per passenger.

That's a total of 5.2 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, or more than the annual per capita emissions for over half the nations in the world. It's more than one quarter of the average per capita annual emissions for Canada for the whole year.

If you enjoy a cruise vacation, but are troubled by the impact, you might consider purchasing offsets. Googling carbon offset will reveal companies that for significantly under $100 will undertake to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects that offset your excess emissions for the cruise and the flight.

I wonder why the cruise line, or organizers, don't include a carbon offset purchase built in to the price. The cost is small compared to the cruise total, and should be even less with a bulk purchase.

Naturally it would be better if we all adopted a more sustainable lifestyle that didn't involve so much fossil fuel use in the first place. That will come through collective action, regulatory and economic incentives, that only governments can put in place. Citizens support is needed to implement them, to counter the power of the fossil fuel lobby. The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore should be the last nail in the deniers coffins, and the end of excuses by successive governments for their lack of action.

14 October 2007

TV Genealogy

Saturday evening's History TV Canada schedule included two programs of genealogical interest.

Ancestors in the Attic: Icelandic Horsemen
The episode followed the journey of Icelanders retracing the footsteps of relatives who left the island in the 1870s, forced out by a harsh climate that couldn't sustain the population. Having specialized in atmospheric science for many years I'm always interested to find examples of direct links between a climate fluctuation and a large migration.

The quest was for descendants of emigrant relatives who settled in the inter-lake region of Manitoba, around Gimli. Of genealogical interest was mention of a research centre in Iceland with a large database of emigrants of the period.

Likely owing to the topic I didn't find the episode of personal interest. It did illustrate again that this production team is capable of telling a story without recourse to antics.

Bloodlines: Famous Last Words
This one hour program centered around the Battle of Queenston Heights. Specifically the secondary title refers to an attempt to determine whether Sir Isaac Brock would likely have survived long enough after he was mortally wounded to utter words attributed to him. Contemporary sources, from soldiers names Jarvis and Ridout, told different stories.

Woven into the program was the story of researching the origins of Samuel Thomas who served with a black company at the battle -- entirely separate from the question of Brock's last words.

I enjoyed the program although the interweaving of the Jarvis/Ridout and Thomas story lines seemed forced.

A couple of aspects of the program were quite puzzling. At one point descendants of Jarvis and Ridout are shown walking alongside Ottawa's Rideau Canal, which otherwise played no role in the story. I thought perhaps it would link to information found from Library and Archives Canada, but no such link was made.

Also the descendant of Thomas took a mitochondrial DNA test on the basis of which they announced an origin in Africa, Angola if I recall correctly. However, as males don't pass their mt-DNA to their children the origin was of no direct relevance to Samuel Thomas.

The credibility of the genealogical content was enhanced by the appearance of mensch-like Brian Gilchrist, well known Ontario genealogist. He found land records at the Ontario Archives and the birth place of Samuel Thomas recorded on the Ontario death registration of his son, but was unable to crack the tough nut of his origins in Virginnia (sic).

In the final analysis the investigation of whether Brock died instantly, or would have had time to make a dying statement, was not convincing. Millimetres in the location of a bullet can make a major difference, recall that Ronald Regan survived by just such a margin. Given the inevitable errors in forensic reconstruction the experts conclusion appeared too definitive.

13 October 2007

Bloodlines: The Battle of Queenston Heights

A new TV show "Bloodlines" starts on History Television Canada this (Saturday) evening at 8 pm. Tonight's episode looks at the 1812 Battle of Queenston Heights, when US invaders were repelled, through the eyes of a descendant of a soldier who was there. Apparently well known Ontario genealogist Brian Gilchrist appears. Find a little more information at: www.history.ca/ontv/titledetails.aspx?titleid=103240

Thanks to Mike Brede and the Quinte Branch of OGS for the tip.

11 October 2007

WDYTYA - Shaun Majumder

When I learned that the first subject for the Canadian version of Who Do You Think You Are was to be Shaun Majumder, a comedian, I wondered if we were to be subjected to a vehicle for comedy. I need not have been concerned. The program showed Shaun on a thoughtful exploration of his roots, and the larger context of his ancestral journey.

His mother's roots for many generations in Newfoundland led him to the impact of a shipwreck on his family, so much a part of the province's history. He also traced one line back to an early settler from Dorset in England. The fact that many of the original settlers were from that county is little appreciated outside the province.

On his father's side the immigrant ancestor was his father whose origins were East Indian. The program showed Shaun travelling back to India, meeting an extended family and learning about the trauma of the partition of India and Pakistan.

One of the challenges of this type of program is avoiding the aspects of genealogy that make for poor television, the detailed work which is part of any research, not just in family history. The challenge is enhanced as the program only runs for 30 minutes, less commercials, compared to 60 minutes for the British series which has no commercials. The CBC tackles this through the program web site by providing a comprehensive extended story for the episode, and also a short how to video under the title Digging Back, presumably the first of a series. These both were worthwhile supplements to the program.

This was an encouraging start to the series.

10 October 2007

Who speaks for Canadian genealogists?

Success! Library and Archives Canada is creating a Services Advisory Board composed of representatives of key user communities across the country dealing with the services aspect of LAC's mandate. The draft terms of reference are posted here.

The President of the Canadian Historical Association has been invited to become a member. That makes eminent sense. CHA has a national membership and mandate. "It serves professional historians but membership is open to anyone with an interest in history. The CHA represents the interests of historians and the heritage community to government, archives, granting and other agencies; organizes conferences; publishes the best of Canadian historical scholarship; and awards a range of prizes to historians who have produced exceptional work."

It isn't clear who else, or what other organizations, will be invited to become Advisory Board members. As the single largest user group of LAC facilities, including online, it would be a travesty if genealogists were not represented. Unfortunately there is presently no nationwide organization representing Canada's genealogical interests in the same way that CHA represents historians.

The closest thing is the Canada Census Committee, a grassroots organization. It has done a remarkable job in securing access to historic censuses and continues to work to ensure access for the future. This effort is largely that of Gordon Watts. Gordon continues to keep the community informed through his "Gordon Watts Reports" hosted by Global Genealogy.

Interestingly in his latest issue Gordon reports on meetings he participated in, and thanks the Canadian Historical Association for providing the funding to allow him to travel to Ottawa to do so.

CHA hosts affiliated committees that represent historians involved in specialized areas of historical inquiry. Perhaps they would like to host a Canadian Committee on Genealogy. If I understand the CHA web site correctly, for $50 annually genealogical societies could join CHA as affiliates, much as many of them already belong to the umbrella groups such as the FFHS (Canadian members listed here), FGS and like minded organizations in their own province. If enough did, and put in place a consultation mechanism, it could become the recognized body representing the interests of genealogists and the genealogical community to government at the federal level.

07 October 2007

TV Genealogy

The CBS investigative program 60 minutes aired an item on genetic genealogy on Sunday. Through a Y-DNA test they demonstrated a common paternal line ancestor for two people named West, one black, one white. Nothing surprising in that if you've followed the field, apparently one third of black Americans have a Caucasian direct male line ancestor. The finding could be quite a surprise for people new to the field, as it was to the Wests.

As an investigative program 60 Minutes needed to dig up some dirt. By testing DNA samples from the same person with different companies they attempted to show the companies were being deceptive in informing people about their geographic origins. In part this was because of the large number of ancestors, doubling each generation back. The program did a good job of explaining many of these ancestors will likely have different regions of origin.

60 Minutes tried to make a case that DNA science for geographic origin is oversold. Different companies use different DNA databases and can differ in there opinions as to the origin. I suspect there was also a bit of deception on CBS's part, maybe inadvertent. CBS appeared to claim the test used was only of mitochondrial DNA, which everyone inherits from their mother, whereas some of the companies mentioned analyze markers from the autosomal DNA to which many ancestors contribute.

On Saturday evening History Television Canada's Ancestors in the Attic aired an episode, the main story being about locating a descendant of a WWII Canadian soldier from a bracelet he lost on a European battlefield. The shorter segment, involving the panel of genealogists, was more interesting genealogy involving finding ancestors who fought in the Napoleonic War. The episode is to be shown again twice on Wednesday, and early on Thursday morning.

06 October 2007

LAC Establishes Service Advisory Board

The following announcement, dated on Friday, appears on the LAC web site.
Library and Archives Canada to Establish Public Consultation Process Regarding Service Delivery

(OTTAWA, October 5, 2007) - Today, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced that it is establishing a new and continuing process of public consultation on the delivery of its public services. This new process is in response to the legitimate desire of LAC's users to provide LAC with advice on how best to deliver its services and access to the LAC Collection.

This new public consultation process has two components. First, LAC is creating the LAC Services Advisory Board composed of representatives of user communities across the country. Its mandate will be to consider issues directly related to the services aspect of LAC's mandate. Chaired by Doug Rimmer, the Assistant Deputy Minister, Programs and Services, the committee will meet 3-4 times a year. The first topic for discussion will be hours of service. Further details on the LAC Services Advisory Board are contained in the attached Backgrounder.

In addition, LAC will conduct regular public consultations on a continuing basis on a variety of topics. Feedback will be collected in person, through the Internet, by mail and on the phone. All Canadians, wherever they are located and whatever their interest in the LAC Collection, will have the opportunity to provide their views on how LAC can best deliver the service portion of its mandate.

Ian E. Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, said today, "Over the past thirty years, the environment in which LAC provides public services has changed considerably, both as a result of the technology and information revolutions, and also because of the sharp increase in interest in the history of Canada and in its social, cultural and political development. Our increasingly diverse client base includes, among others, high school students, genealogists, academia, the artistic community, and people who have a new, more general interest in the LAC Collection. As a result, the scope and complexity of the needs of LAC's users have increased. Not surprisingly, demand for access to the LAC Collection has risen and the nature of these services is changing.

Serving the changing needs of our users means balancing many differing demands. We recognize that it is important to listen carefully to our clients. The new consultation process announced today is a demonstration of our commitment to do so."

The Backgrounder mentioned could not be immediately found on the site.

The announcement should be welcome news for all LAC users: genealogists, historians, and researchers of all kinds who use LAC facilities, whether physically in the National Capital Region, at regional outlets, through inter-institutional loan or online.

05 October 2007

CGC web site updated

The updated Canadian Genealogy Centre web site is now online. Here are the old and new pages together. At last the old Mission/Vision/Policy content, so beloved of policy wonks, is off the front page in favour of content useful to genealogists. That's something I've advocated for months -- I'll have to find something else to "suggest." The motivation must be the imminent CBC TV series, Who Do You Think You Are? that features prominently in the left hand column. Whatever the reason, its an improvement to have lost all that verbiage, and to have it replaced with links.

You will notice a few changes in the blue banner at the top, designed to make the content more apparent to the average citizen. For the most part the content beyond the link will be familiar to previous users.

The title "Databases" is gone, replaced by "Search for Ancestors." The link leads to a federated (meaning combined) search of 18 LAC databases. The search only works on names. If you want a more nuanced search scroll down the page where the familiar individual databases are arrayed.

More Canadian newspaper digitization please

In the US, UK and New Zealand, governments are making progress in digitizing their national newspaper archives.

The latest example is from the National Library of New Zealand where Papers Past consists of "1,119,407 newspaper pages, comprising 207,668 issues: 49,983 newspaper issues with searchable text (comprising 367,720 pages and 3,860,541 articles); 157,685 newspaper issues without searchable text (comprising 751,687 pages)." They are all freely available.

With a population barely one-eighth that of Canada the New Zealand stats are impressive. Finding a hit for a Canadian, one of the Ottawa Company of Sharpshooters who served during the 1885 North West Rebellion, brought it home to me. I'd known William Henry Pardey went to New Zealand for the Massey company, and it was confirmed in this ad.

I mentioned another example back in March. 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, part of an initiative sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress.

I learned this week that Sandra Burrows, the newspaper specialist at Library and Archives Canada, has retired. She was very knowledgeable and will be missed. I wish Sandy well. Apparently the position is vacant. I hope that's very temporary.

Happy Thanksgiving.

04 October 2007

And yet more media coverage of LAC cuts

CBC Radio coverage. The page has a link to an item that ran on the local Ottawa CBC radio mornng show.

01 October 2007

LAC funding decreases underlie service cuts

An open letter from Craig Heron, President of the Canadian Historical Association to Ian Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, was posted as a comment on this site last week. Folks remain upset about Library and Archives Canada's reduction in service hours imposed at the beginning of September. The issue made Saturday's Globe and Mail.

The article points out further budget cuts LAC is anticipating. "Meanwhile LAC's total spending on managing Canada's documentary heritage, currently estimated at $119-million (2007-08), is projected to drop by $20-million to $99-million by 2010, according to Treasury Board estimates."

Government funding is declining, but those figures are misleading. Check them out for yourself in Table 1 here. There's a one time spending blip in 2007-08. When I asked about it a couple of weeks ago I was informed the extra money is earmarked for the National Portrait Gallery.

Reports are that the Gallery, in the former US Embassy across from Parliament, may never happen. Another hit on our history. Instead the building is being eyed as an elite diplomatic reception hall, Stephen Harper's "Great Hall of the People."

Ignoring the 2007-08 blip, LAC's expenditures for "Making the documentary heritage known and accessible for use" were $29-million in 2006-07 and are forecast to decline to $28-million in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Inflation continues to erode the spending power of the declining allocation. It's no wonder service is declining.

One last thing, since the cut in hours LAC security staff have been facing irate clients, especially from out of town, finding the facilities closed. Frustration at the change is understandable, but that shouldn't be taken out on the security or other client service staff, many of whom are as unhappy with the reduced service as the clients.