30 November 2007

LAC Service Advisory Board Meeting - 30 November 2007

The first meeting of the Board was held at 395 Wellington Street from 9am to 3:30pm, LAC Assistant Deputy Minister Doug Rimmer was in chair. All but two of the members were present or represented.

All the background documents from the meeting will be posted on the LAC web site, including a list of members along with minutes from the meeting. It was decided that the agenda and documents for future meetings will be posted in advance to facilitate Board members consulting with their constituencies.

The morning agenda comprised introductions, confirming the board mandate, background briefings on LAC and the rationale behind the reduction in opening hours introduced by LAC in September and subsequent reversal of some of the reductions.

The Board's deliberated on the opening hours in the afternoon. Members recommended that earlier opening and later closing be implemented as soon as possible, but were concerned that restoring hours by itself was not sufficient. LAC management undertook to review the policy on use of digital cameras, to make it more flexible, and improved management of the workflow around the "fishbowl" where documents are ordered, received and copies arranged.

There was a commitment to hold an open consultation meeting at 395 Wellington in January.

The next Board meeting will be in late February of early March.

29 November 2007

The Ancestry.ca Survey

Canada Newswire carried a press release on Wednesday Do you know your grandmother's maiden name? One in four Canadians have no idea, according to Ancestry.ca survey.

Amongst the interesting findings in the release:

1. 73 per cent of Canadians are interested in learning more about their family history,with women slightly more interested than men;
2. The provincial breakdown is New Brunswickers (85%), followed by Albertans (82%) and British Columbians. 74% of Ontarians show interest and 67% of Quebecers. People from Saskatchewan (61%) show least interest.
3. 39 per cent of Canadians cannot trace their roots back more than 100 years;
4. 20 per cent don't know where their families came from before moving to Canada.

Some of the other findings of the survey were:

5. Four per cent of Canadians claim to be able to trace their family history back more than 500 years;
6. Almost half of all Canadians (48 per cent) would consider having their DNA tested to discover more about their ancestry.

My only disappointment was that the press release included quotes from Megan Smolenyak, identified as chief family historian for Ancestry.ca. Megan is someone I admire. I heard her speak on DNA and learned a lot. I recommend her book with Ann Turner, Trace Your Roots with DNA, for those wanting to learn about genetic genealogy. I have no argument with what she is quoted as saying.
But she's no Canadian. It's not as if there's any lack of top rate people in genealogy in Canada, and getting a Canadian to comment would have helped further promote family history in Canada. Ancestry should be more sensitive in the future.

28 November 2007

Sources for Research in Welsh Genealogy

A knowledge of English genealogical sources can get you a long way in researching Welsh family history, especially for the period after the introduction of civil registration and the nominal census. Research in the Principality does have its own peculiarities, so this online guide to sources, compiled from The Local History and Genealogy Reading Room of the US Library of Congress, is welcome.

The sources are given under the headings: Handbooks; Pedigrees and Family Histories; Bibliographies; Parish Registers; Local History; Biographical Information; Records; Maps, Atlases, Gazetteers; Geographical Names; Personal Names; Periodicals; Religions; and Welsh in the United States.

Aside from the sources listed the guide recommends two web sites, the National Library of Wales and GENUKI for Wales.

Some of the sources are quite old and unlikely to be found in your local library, but being well out of copyright may have become available online. One such, found through Google Books, is the 1852 publication "A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Welshmen" by Robert Williams.

For those who find the idea of a whole book on "eminent Welshmen" rather unlikely, is it any more oxymoronic than one on "sober Scotsmen" or "modest Englishmen" or "sensitive Americans" or "intellectual hockey fans"?

Impact of LAC's reduced opening hours

The papers to support LAC's Services Advisory Board deliberations on Friday arrived on Tuesday. The most interesting examines the impacts recent changes to service hours have had on visit patterns at 395 Wellington according to the "log books" used to record the arrival and departure of clients.

Overall it appears the number of daily visits declined by about 7% in September as a result of the reduction in hours. A large part is the result of fewer visits between 8am and 10am on weekdays, with a slight increase in the next hour. There are also substantially fewer people in the building in the late afternoon.

Could it be a coincidence that it is just the hours where LAC Service Staff are no longer available that have seen the biggest decreases? By contrast, the reinstatement of weekday late evening and weekend morning unstaffed hours caters to only a small number of visitors.

My hypothesis is that it is lack of access to support services, especially the ability to order and receive materials, that is responsible for the reductions in number of clients in the shoulder hours, and not so much the lack of professional consultation services.

Do you agree? All observations welcome.

27 November 2007

Hats off to Ottawa Branch of OGS

The Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society have announced a donation to the Ottawa City Archives. The Canon model reader-printer, a similar model to those at LAC, will be a tremendous addition to the legacy machines, many of which are well passed their best before date. The machine is delivered and awaiting installation. A training session for volunteers and staff is planned.

The donation was made possible by a healthy surplus generated when the Branch hosted the annual OGS Seminar last June, thanks in large part to the volunteer efforts of many of their members. Thank you Ottawa Branch.

26 November 2007

25 November 2007

Thank you Andrew

Thanksgiving may be over in Canada and the US, but its not too late to give thanks for the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie who was born on this day, November 25th 1835, in Dunfirmline, Scotland.

The first library I every used, in Gorleston, Norfolk, was a Carnegie library. Ottawa's main library was originally supported by Carnegie with a $100,000 donation. That was only after city Council had voted down a motion to build a library as . . . the city just didn’t have any money to spare for “luxuries.” Some on the present Ottawa city council must be close genetic descendants of their predecessors.

24 November 2007

1930s now online at Ancestors Onboard

Recently added from the folks at Find My Past are British outbound passenger lists from 1930-1939. The series is now complete from 1890 when this record series started to WW2. The period of record now online is said to include 18.4 million names within 125,000 passenger lists. Find more detail here.

23 November 2007

LAC restores most opening hours

Good News!

As of Monday, November 26, 2007, the Consultation Rooms and the Canadian Genealogy Centre on the third floor, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, will be open for the following hours:

  • Monday - Friday: 8 a.m. - 11 p.m.
    * With LAC Service Staff available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday - Sunday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
  • Statutory Holidays: Closed
More details are posted on the LAC web site here.

This removes a considerable irritant, largely the result a wide range of clients making their views known, and doing so clearly. Congratulations and thanks to them.

The reduced hours with LAC staff available remains a concern, and will undoubtedly be raised when the LAC Service Advisory Board meets on November 30th.

English surname suffixes

The Daily Telegraph has an article based on a new volume in the English Surnames Survey series, The North Through its Names: A Phenomenology of Medieval and Early-Modern Northern England by Dave Postles

It's fairly well known that Mc, Mac, Fitz, O' and ap are British surname prefixes, and "son" and "s " suffixes meaning "of" in the sense "son of" or "daughter of" or "family of." I was not aware that the suffix "son" generally has northern English roots, while similar surnames with "s" on the end indicate southern English ancestry.

I checked this out using Stephen Archer's British 19th Century Surname Atlas, which is based on the 1881 census. Adamson, on the top left, and Adams, bottom left, show the pattern, as do Johnson and Johns on the right. You can easily try this yourself with the online surname distribution facility on the new National Trust Names site. Try Roberts and Robertson.

Postles' book is 208p, published by Oxbow Books in 2007) ISBN-13: 978-1-84217-176-9 ISBN-10: 1-84217-176-3.

There's an excellent Modern British Surname web site worth reviewing. Those not intimidated by statistics will especially appreciate it.

22 November 2007

NWMP Service Files Online

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) with their iconic red tunic, their legendary courage and perseverance, have been an integral part of Canadian popular culture for well over a century.

LAC have just put online the full surviving service file on each of the more than 4,000 men who served with the North West Mounted Police (NWMP), the RCMP's forerunner, between 1873 and 1904. Included you will find official forms, letters of recommendation for enlistment, personal correspondence, clippings and other information about the individual, sometimes long after he took his discharge from the Mounted Police. If one of these men was a relative you've found a gem to include in your family history, one any genealogist would treasure, a remarkable window on his life.

These are part of a major new LAC online exhibition, not yet publicized, Without Fear, Favour or Affection: The Men of the North West Mounted Police. To get a more rounded picture of life in the force have a look at the sections Signing Up," "On the Job," "Serving the Nation"

21 November 2007

The Trouble With WDYTYA

While in England I watched four taped episodes of WDYTYA, and had two in the Canadian series waiting on my return. I was reminded of smoked salmon.

I love smoked salmon. It's a delight when the sandwiches turn up on the deli platter, rather than pervasive mystery meat. I usually buy a package when it goes on special. If the sale lasts long enough I buy a second lot, but at the end of that will tire of it.

There's an element missing with WDYTYA, and I think I know what it is. Learning the origins of people is interesting. The story moves from a relative, who has documents at hand and is ready with the key information, to an archives where the original source documents are set out, to an ancestral location where a locally knowledgeable historian or distant relative appears to reveal more of the story.

What isn't being captured is the excitement of the chase. When every stop yields further progress you lose the thrill that follows the frustration of a long search rewarded at an unexpected point. We've all experienced the moment at an archives or family history centre -- inhibitions drop and you let out a cry of delight, causing those around to smile as they recognize the emotion. It's the powerful motivation provided by random reward. Just like smoked salmon, the satisfaction grows dull when the reward is too predictable. Maybe hours of fruitless searching don't make for good television, but it's an element of the genealogical hunt that doesn't come through in WDYTYA and that keeps genealogists motivated, year after year, battering at their brick walls.

20 November 2007

John Green: Whose father was he?

For those in the Ottawa area, a reminder that the OGS Ottawa Branch's monthly meeting presentation this evening, 20 November, is by Alison Hare. This is an update of her award-winning presentation given to BIFHSGO earlier in the year and well worth hearing again.

In 1836 John Green petitioned for land in the Ottawa Valley near an unnamed son he said had come to Canada at the time of the Peter Robinson settlers. Research eventually determined that none of the Peter Robinson settlers were viable candidates. When all the possibilities have been ruled out, what is a researcher to do? This case study reveals the surprising answer to the mystery, and demonstrates how the Genealogical Proof Standard can help solve difficult problems.

19 November 2007

Update on genealogy databases

Great Ormond Street children’s hospital patients: 1852 - 1914

London’s Great Ormond Street children’s hospital has launched a web site containing more than 50 years’ worth of patient records. The new site covers over 84,000 child patients who were treated between 1852 and 1914. You can search it at http://www.smallandspecial.org/ .

From the front page you can search by first name, surname, and approximate year of birth. (There is a far more extensive search available at http://www.smallandspecial.org/search but you’ll have to register to use it.)

The results are in a table that shows date of admission, sex, name, diseases, and registration district. There are no hyperlinks on the table but you can choose a name and click on it for more details. Additional information includes admitting doctor, ward, and length of stay. If you register on the site (registration is free) you’ll get even more information including case notes, residence of the patient, and outcome of the disease. (Not all data is available for all records.)

This information found through ResearchBuzz

Ancestry - British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920

The WO363 records, known as the Burnt Documents, are now a database containing the surviving service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who served in WWI and did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II. The documents included are: Attestation forms, Medical history forms, Casualty forms, Disability statements, Regimental conduct sheets, Awards, Proceedings on Discharge, Cover for Discharge Documents, Index Cards. The type of information to be found is: name of solider, age, birthplace, occupation, marital status, and regiment number.

Only information for some soldiers with surnames beginning A - C is available at present.

Ancestry - Australian Electoral Rolls, 1901-1936
Looking for strays? This database contains selected Australian electoral rolls, with the exception of South Australia. Electoral rolls were compiled by each state during election years to determine the number and names of individuals eligible to vote. Only those of voting age who were British subjects and not aboriginals were allowed to vote in the years included. Information listed in electoral rolls usually includes: name of voter, gender, address, and occupation.

This database currently includes electoral rolls for the following states and years:

  • Australian Capital Territory: 1928, 1935

  • New South Wales: 1930, 1936

  • Northern Territory: 1922, 1929, 1934

  • Queensland: 1903, 1905, 1913, 1919, 1925, 1930, 1936

  • Tasmania: 1914, 1919, 1928, 1936

  • Victoria: 1856, 1903, 1909, 1914, 1919, 1924, 1931, 1936

  • Western Australia: 1901, 1906, 1916, 1925, 1936

17 November 2007

23andMe article in Wired

Wired Magazine online has a good article 23andMe Will Decode Your DNA for $1,000 which nicely complements my recent posting The Killer in Me (below).

The article is mainly about the company and what their DNA analysis might be able to tell you, and not tell you, about your genetic susceptibility to a variety of diseases. It also tells a celebrity genealogy anecdote:

"Jimmy Buffett dropped by to get an early peek at his results. A few month's earlier, the singer had let 23andMe peruse his genotype and compare his genealogy to Warren Buffett's. The two men had long wondered if they were somehow related (they aren't, it turns out). Now Jimmy wanted to check out the whole experience. He sat down in front of a laptop in Wojcicki's office, and she looked over his shoulder, guiding him through the site. First he clicked through his ancestral genome, noting that his maternal lineage showed a strong connection to the British Isles. "So the women came over with the Saxon invasion; pretty cool," he said. Another click and he perused his similarity to other ethnic groups, spotting a strong link to the Basque region of Spain. "No wonder I like Basque food so much," he noted."

This gives the impression that at the moment you won't get any more out of 23andMe's analysis for genealogy than from the less costly services that have been available for several years from companies like Family Tree DNA. But those companies must be closely watching technology developments, especially the ability to analyse thousands of SNPs from across the whole genome for a few hundred dollars. A recent press release from Family Tree DNA shows the company continuing to concentrate on Y and mitrochrondrial DNA, with more emphasis on full sequence mitochrondrial analysis.

16 November 2007

The Killer in Me

This isn't a confession of homicidal tendencies, but the title of a TV program that aired on ITV in England on 8 November. Four celebrities took DNA tests to identify their vulnerability to genetics-based disease. DNA tests are a better approach to assessing genetic susceptibility more often addressed when the family doctor asks about family history of certain diseases.

The program turned out to be a bit of an advertorial for the UK company Genetic Health. Some time was spent on "why take a test." Because for many diseases genetics is only one risk factor knowing about "bad genes" can spur you on to lifestyle changes. In some instances these can entirely compensate for an adverse genetic risk. They argue that if you have a regular medical checkup then a DNA test is a logical extension of the precaution.

The argument fails where a DNA test can identify a genetic risk for which nothing can be done, and the program showed one celebrity struggling with whether to take a test for vulnerability to Alzheimer's for which there was a recent family history and no treatment. She ended up declining the test.

By contrast one of the subjects had been concerned about a family history of heart disease, and was delighted to learn that his risk was low. The program quoted the statistic that 90% of people offered a test choose to take it. In presenting test results showing elevated risk the doctor was careful to quickly follow on with suggestions for compensatory lifestyle changes.

There were a few areas where the program could have been better. In making the decision about whether to take a test there was no discussion of the possible impact on ability to get life or health insurance, nor the possible impact on others. As someone with a science background I would have liked to have seen some discussion of the error bands on the assigned genetic risk.

15 November 2007

Well done Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Remembrance Day saw me visiting the grave of my great uncle in Chichester, West Sussex. He migrated to Canada a couple of years before WW1, enlisted in the CEF at the start of the war, lost sight in both eyes in battle, returned to Canada to try farming in Saskatchewan, but eventually returned to live in England. I never met him, and only relatively recently did I discover he had any connection with Canada.
On leaving the cemetery I spotted several Commonwealth War Graves Commission graves for Canadians who died serving in WW1. Before it started raining I noted 234690, Lance Cpl Gilbert Desjarlais, 1036122 Private A Cossette, and 404521 Private J A Allen, each well tended grave with a memorial cross and poppy placed for Remembrance Day.

14 November 2007

West Surrey FHS Show

On Saturday 3 November I had the chance to stop by this regional event organized in Woking, Surrey, by the local family history society. It consisted of a marketplace, roughly the size of that at the last OGS Seminar, with stalls from several similar societies from surrounding counties and smaller companies. The larger companies; Ancestry, Find My Past, Family Tree and Your Family Tree were missing. The Society of Genealogists was the present. Most stalls were continually busy.

A second room featured help desks on a variety of topics and 10 minute mini-lectures. I spent time at the stand of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy. Chris Pomery, author of "DNA and Family History", and a new book "Family History in the Genes" was present. The new book is a smaller format than his first and aimed more at a beginner level. I got the impression that there was less interest in DNA in the UK than North America, but there is the likelihood of a linkage with the Guild of One Name Studies, which would be a natural.

Free admission meant there were lots of people there. The organizing society made income from renting tables to exhibitors, but I can't imagine that covered the full cost. They may well have had a grant or similar support.

06 November 2007

WDYTYA (UK) - Carol Vorderman

I had the chance to watch a tape of this programme and compare it with
the Canadian version. The look and feel are much the same, especially
for this episode composed of independant investigations on her
maternal and paternal sides.
For those surprised at the way these episodes develop, a short item in
the December issue of Ancestors magazine is instructive. Producers
were accused by some of the local experts of asking them to lie for
the camera. The BBC is quoted as claiming it is 'absolutely not a case
of misrepresentation." They explained that because it was not a
documentary but a 'formatted factual entertainment series', they were
allowed to use 'different approaches.'

02 November 2007

Family time

Expect posts to be limited for the first half of November while I deal with family matters.