30 January 2009

OGS 2009 Conference

The program for the 2009 OGS conference is now posted - with a mixture of familiar and new faces. It's a pleasant diversion to contemplate warm days in Oakville at the end of May after after having shovelled another heaping helping of snow from my walkway.


Several speakers, and some of their talks, are familiar including Ottawa residents Alison Hare and Patti McGregor, and recent speakers at Ottawa events Marion Press, Dave Obee, Gary Schroder, Richard Doherty, Louise St Denis, Brian Gilchrist and Janice Nickerson.

On the list of familiar favourites, people who return to OGS year after year, a recommendation in itself, are Fawne Stratford-Devai, Kathie Orr, Sharon Murphy, Ruth Burkholder, and Jane MacNamara.

Others on the speaker list I don't know are: Marg Aldridge, Sherilyn Bell, Ruth Blair, Elizabeth Briggs, Bob Fizzell, Shirley Hodges, Kory L. Meyerink, Tammy Tipler-Priolo.

Kory L Meyerink, well known in the US and a popular speaker, will give the Friday evening J. Richard Houston Memorial Lecture. The topic isn't given, but it seems likely it will form part of the celebration to mark the 300th Anniversary of Palatines which is another theme for the conference.

Basic early bird registration, applicable before 31 March for OGS members, is $110 which gives you talks in eight one-hour time-slots, mostly with a choice of five talks in a time-slot. That's $13.75 per time-slot. You pay not just the cost for the talk you attend but also to get the choice from amongst five talks, giving a reasonable assurance of at least one that interests you.

Find more information here.

29 January 2009

The Canadian Necrology database

The University of Toronto Libraries are in the forefront when it comes to full-text digitization initiatives. Many are unlikely to be of interest, but the Canadian Necrology database is pertinent for Canadian genealogy.

It describes itself as "a unique source of obituary and death information for both prominent and lesser-known Canadians, covering a time span from the late 18th century to 1977. It contains over 20,000 records; the majority come from newspapers such as the Globe and Mail, Toronto Daily Star, Gazette, and Mail and Empire; an additional 4,000 records were compiled by William Henry Pearson (1831-1920), a Toronto resident with a lifetime passion for necrology."

The entries provide sources for further research, like this:

Stupart, Sir Frederic

Sex M
Age at Death 82
Date of Death 1940
Citation(s) Canadian Obituaries, volume 2, page 110.
Source(s) Globe and Mail, September 28, 1940.
Record Group Canadian Obituaries. With Source.
Record ID 18692

28 January 2009

Probability in genealogy

According to studies cited in Wikipedia a total of about 100 billion people have lived on Earth. If you were compiling a genealogy and picked one of them at random to fill a specific position on the family tree that would make for pretty long odds of selecting the right one, a probability of 0.00000000001.

To improve the odds you start adding additional information As you add a timeframe, region and surname you rule out billions of people and increase the probability that a random selection from those remaining is correct.

If you know for sure your ancestor was named Smith and had a birth registered in 1900 in England and Wales you could check with FreeBMD and find 13427 matches. Select one of them at random and the probability of being correct is 0.0000745.

Add the information that the first name is John, 520 of them, and the probability that one selected at random is the correct one increases to 0.00182.

If you knew they were from London you would find 44 of them, giving a probability that one selected at random is the correct one at 0.0227.

Adding the additional information that the birth was registered in Stepney would eliminate all but one candidate in that year (probability 1.0). Going year by year, Stepney saw one John Smith registered in each of 1900, 1901, 1902, 1907, two registered in 1903, 1906 and 1908 and 1909, none in 1904 or 1905. Looking at a longer time period you can find quarters (not years) where three John Smith's had a birth registered in Stepney in which case the probability would be 0.333.

It's evident that with a common name you need to add a tremendous amount of detail to pinpoint the right John Smith. You'll find yourself scouring the records, sending and paying for much additional information, in order to distinguish which one is the right one.

With a less common name your task can be less demanding, although you still need to beware of situations such as families with a less common name with a favoured first name in the family and cousins living in the same area.

No matter how hard you try, and even if the documentary evidence all points to one person you'll never be 100% certain, probability 1.0, that you have the right person. You can never be sure the documentation tells the truth. People do lie on records, and to other family members who become informants for later records.

Lying about the person who is the genetic father is one such case. Non-paternity rates of 0.01 to 0.33 have been reported.

Take the case of identifying someone with 0.99 probability based on documentary records. If you take into account a 0.01 possible non-paternity rate the real probability is 0.99* (1-0.01) = 0.9801. Is it worth going the extra mile to 0.999 based on documentary records if non-paternity at 0.01 will reduce the probability back to 0.989?

27 January 2009

Second World War merchant shipping records

Did one of your ancestors serve in the merchant navy during the Second World War? If so, and you know the name of the ship or ships concerned, then images of ship movement cards now available at TNA's DocumentsOnline site may be of interest.

According to TNA's information "the movement cards record the journeys of both British registered and Allied vessels engaged in the war effort from 1939. .... The series of cards within BT 389 record the name of the ship, any former name it had, its size (tonnage), to whom it was registered, the ship's destination, date of arrival and occasionally ports of call. They also record any cargo carried on board. Importantly for historians, the cards show if the ship was torpedoed, mined, damaged or sunk during the war. " The cost is £3.50.

If the information you require is not so detailed you might like to try searching the free Arnold Hague Ports Database site. I was interested to try the service on a ship my father served on. Here's the result:

RANGITANE (Br) 16,712 tons, built 1929

Departure Convoy Arrival
Napier, Sep 10, 1939 Independent Auckland, Sep 17, 1939
Auckland, Sep 23, 1939 Independent Balboa, Oct 14, 1939
Cristobal, Oct 16, 1939 Independent Halifax, Oct 24, 1939
Halifax, Oct 31, 1939 HXF.7 (Halifax - Liverpool) Downs, Nov 14, 1939
Southend, Dec 14, 1939 OA.53 (Southend - Dispersed)
Independent Capetown, Jan 5, 1940
Capetown, Jan 8, 1940 Independent Auckland, Jan 29, 1940
Auckland, Feb 25, 1940 Independent Balboa, Mar 15, 1940
Cristobal, Mar 16, 1940 Independent Halifax, Mar 25, 1940
Halifax, Mar 29, 1940 HX.31 (Halifax - Liverpool) Southend, Apr 13, 1940
Downs, May 5, 1940 OA.142 (Southend - Dispersed)
Independent Cristobal, May 19, 1940
Balboa, May 20, 1940 Independent Wellington, Jun 10, 1940
Wellington, Jun 25, 1940 Independent Auckland, Jun 30, 1940
Auckland, Jul 12, 1940 Independent Balboa, Aug 1, 1940
Cristobal, Aug 3, 1940 Independent Bermuda, Aug 8, 1940
Bermuda, Aug 11, 1940 BHX.65 (Bermuda - Jd HX 65)
HX.65 (Halifax - Liverpool) Liverpool, Aug 26, 1940
Liverpool, Sep 25, 1940 OB.219 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Independent Cristobal, Oct 12, 1940
Balboa, Oct 14, 1940 Independent Wellington, Nov 2, 1940
Wellington, Nov 7, 1940 Independent Auckland, Nov 12, 1940
Auckland, Nov 24, 1940 Independent

Rangitane was lost in the Pacific on Nov 27, 1940 whilst sailing independently.
Cause of loss: ORION & KOMET.

For tombstone type data try the Miramar Ship Index, "an historical database listing both merchant powered ships of about 100 gross register tons and above and naval ships of even smaller tonnage displacement; and also composite, iron & steel sailing ships." The entry for thr Rangitane is:

Single Ship Report for "1149565"

IDNo: 1149565 Year: 1929
Name: RANGITANE Launch Date: 27.5.29
Type: Passenger/cargo (rf) Date of completion: 12.11.29
Flag: GBR Keel:

1919, standard 1920> - for SS surface dp">Tons: 1919, standard 1920> - for SS surface dp">16733 Link: 1569
Yard No: 522
Length overall:
Ship Design:
LPP: 161.8 Country of build: GBR
Beam: 21.4 Builder: John Brown
Material of build:
Location of yard: Clydebank
Number of

Owner as Completed:
Naval or paramilitary marking :
A: *

Subsequent History:

Disposal Data:

gunfire & torpedo 36.43S/175.27W 27.11.40 (13*)

26 January 2009

A curious LAC addition

Last week this banner appeared on the LAC front page. Normally these indicate a new event, resource, or some change in service.

This is different, and curious. It leads to a simple help file. It informs that social tagging (also known as "folksonomic tagging" or "social bookmarking") is a Web-based collaborative tool that enables visitors to:

  • save favourite websites in a centralized and personalized online space;
  • use their own terminology to catalogue and classify websites;
  • discover and share relevant Web content with fellow social taggers.
However, despite the wording in the title there's nothing about specific use at LAC! What is it about this non-LAC facility at this time that makes it worthy of the front page? Perhaps some new intiative in the works? Please enlighten us LAC?

Lesley Anderson at OGS Toronto Branch

26 Jan. 2009
North York
Central Library
7:30 p.m.

Getting the Most Out of Ancestry.ca
Lesley Anderson
, Partnership Development and Content Specialist, Ancestry.ca
Tips and tricks on how to use the database search engine of Ancestry.ca to improve your chances of success.

Mini-presentation: Guy Lafontaine on "Web Page Not in Your Language? You Will Need Help for Your Research to Continue.

25 January 2009

Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes 1845-1958

You can now find the FamilySearch transcription of Irish BMD indexes online. The coverage is for Protestant marriages from 1845, and all BMDs from 1864 to 1958 (the Republic of Ireland from 1922 to 1958.) Scroll down on the same page for more coverage detail.

Note the clickable more>> in the bottom left of the search box which extends the search options, and the ability to specify an exact, exact and close, or exact close and partial matches.

If your knowledge of Irish geography is as poor as mine you might like to consult the Connors Genealogy map of registration districts.

I don't at present see a way to find the potential partner to a marriage knowing the volume and page for the registration of one of the pair, as is possible with FreeBMD.

24 January 2009

Auld Lang Syne

This blog can hardly let this day go by without noting the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scottish poet Robbie Burns.

A Y-DNA Reid genetic cousin, my closest found in the FTDNA database, has his earliest known ancestor in Ayr. That's very close to Burns birthplace in Alloway, and less than 100 miles from my earliest known Reid ancestor.

I wish it were otherwise but apparently the gene for appreciation of Burns poetry, and also haggis, is not found on my Y-chromosome.

Read about Burns country in this Globe and Mail article.

Titus Family Genealogy

Bill Arthurs, one of BIFHSGO's leading members, has been pursuing a one-name study of his maternal Titus family for many years. Now he has put much of the information on a nicely designed web site -- worth a look.

23 January 2009

Ancestry.ca news: Form 30 and 30A, and more

In response to a query from a reader, Ancestry.ca informs me that Border Entries Form 30 is expected to appear on their web site in the spring, and the Ocean Arrivals Form 30A should appear sometime in the summer.

As with all forecasts ...

Alas, no forecast for correcting the omission of the Jewish cemetery names in the Ancestry version of the JewishGen database.

Ancestry has also issued a press release regarding the Canadian Civil Service lists. Regular readers may recall that I posted last October that the volumes for 1872, and 1883-1890 had been added and made searchable through Ancestry.ca. This announcement extends the time period for these "fully indexed Canadian Civil Servants Lists of Canada, 1872-1900, which features more than 78,000 records of those employed in departments of the Canadian Government."

The full press release follows:

78,000 records of Canadian government employment from 1872-1900 highlight ‘then and now’ salaries

(Toronto, ON – January 22, 2009) Ancestry.ca, Canada’s leading online family history website, today launched online the fully indexed Canadian Civil Servants Lists of Canada, 1872-1900, which features more than 78,000 records of those employed in departments of the Canadian Government during the country’s early days of Confederation.

Before online databases existed, there were physical record books kept of employment at government offices. Like the Victorian equivalent of today’s corporate intranet or internet site, these record books would have been used to find out who did what, when and where.

The records give family history researchers a unique opportunity to find out how an ancestor’s career might have progressed and how much they earned, as well as offer personal individual information such as birth date, age, date of first appointment, years at post, promotion to present rank, creed or religion and nationality of origin.

The records are available fully indexed and fully searchable online for the first time and help paint a more vivid picture of the working life of Canadians just before the turn of the 20th Century. They also provide a fascinating comparison of how the salaries and job titles differed from today.

For example, a Deputy Minister in the federal government in 1872 was earning a salary of $2,600. That same position today pays an average of 75 times that amount at $197,500. The Auditor General today earns approximately 110 times more than their counterpart in 1872, $300,000 compared to $2,750. But the biggest winner is the Minister of Public Works. Today’s salary of $230,000 is 230 times the $1,000 salary back when Sir John A. Macdonald was still Prime Minister.

The collection includes people employed in departments of the Canadian government, including:

· Department of Agriculture

· Department of Customs

· Department of Finance

· Department of the House of Commons

· Department of Indian Affairs

· Department of Inland Revenue

· Department of the Interior

· Department of Justice

· Department of Marine and Fisheries

· Department of Militia and Defense

· Department of Public Printing and Stationary

· Department of Public Works

· Department of Railways and Canals

· Department of the Secretary of State

· Governor General’s Secretary’s Office

· Mounted Police Force

· Office of the Auditor General

· Office of the High Commissioner for Canada

· Post Office Department

· Privy Council Office

· Senate of Canada

Karen Peterson, Marketing Director, Ancestry.ca, comments: “Access to detailed records is essential for anyone researching their family history as the more information they have, the clearer the story of their family’s past will become. Collections such as the Canadian Civil Servants, which includes information on occupation, salary and career development, are vital as they enable family history enthusiasts to better understand how their ancestors lived by providing historical, factual context to their lives.”

In addition to finding one’s own ancestors in the collection, family history enthusiasts will find records of many prominent political figures that helped shape the future of our country, including:

o Sir John A MacDonald – Canada’s first Prime Minister. The listing of his appointment to PM is included. He was in office for a record of six terms, which spanned 19 years from 1867-1873 and 1878-1891.

o Charles Constantine – an inspector for the Northwest Mounted Police in 1886 who was responsible for enforcing the law during the Klondike gold rush and whose work helped to create an international reputation for the Mounties. By 1900 he was promoted to Superintendent, earning $1400 a year.

o Sir Samuel Benfield Steele – a distinguished soldier and a famous member of the Northwest Mounted Police who in 1870 participated in the Red River Expedition to fight the Red River Rebellion of Louis Riel. In 1877 he was assigned to meet with Sitting Bull after defeating General Custer at Little Bighorn, who had moved his people to Canada to escape the American vengeance.

The Canadian Civil Servants Lists, 1872-1900 is available to Canada and World Deluxe members and through a free 14-day trial at www.ancestry.ca.


22 January 2009

Salute the marathon genealogist

I set foot inside LAC on Tuesday after a long absence, and even had to renew my user card which had expired more than a month ago. While on the third floor ordering some files I spied Don McKenzie, one of a special breed of genealogist who tackles records transcriptions. There's his 10 volume, 4258 page, Notices From Methodist Newspapers 1830-1890. Last time I spoke to him, which I didn't get to do the other day, he was working on transcribing Scottish immigrants on ships passenger lists.

Another person tacking a marathon transcription came to my attention as she registered as a follower on this blog. Old Census Scribe writes a new blog Toronto 1861, which she describes as "A progress history of transcribing a big Canadian city census from 1861, including my method and organization, and the social and geographical details of the area at that time."

Old Census Scribe describes herself as a retired bookkeeper, born and brought up in Toronto, who moved to England, raised a family, and now lives in Buckinghamshire. It's interesting to see an expat Canadian contributing to Canadian genealogy, and proving that these days you don't have to live in the area to make a contribution to its genealogical resources.

21 January 2009

My presentations portfolio

Are you looking for a speaker for a genealogy event? Perhaps one or more of the presentations in my portfolio will be of interest. For further information contact me at: john dot d dot reid at gmail dot com.

Researching Early 20th Century British Immigrants to Canada
Many Canadians have only a vague idea of where their ancestors came from, perhaps just "they were English." Now easily accessible records are often sufficient to allow us to trace our origins back to an ancestral village. Using case studies, and focusing on 20th century immigrants, pre-WW1, the period of greatest English emigration, this presentation shows how to use Canadian and British records together to track down your ancestral families and discover long-forgotten aspects of their lives.

Finding London Burials

Nearly one in five of the population of England and Wales live in London. A much larger fraction of people with British origin have ancestors who at some time lived, and perhaps died, in London. Finding a burial record for Londoners is a challenge, one that is gradually becoming easier as more records become digitized and indexed. Find out how.

Researching Second World War British Child Evacuees to Canada

With bombing of British cities a long anticipated threat, and later reality, 1,532 children were evacuated to Canada in 1940 under a program operated by the government Children's Overseas Reception Board. At least twice as many were evacuated under private schemes. They found temporary homes across Canada. Learn about there experiences, and the records available to research them and those who hosted them.

Family Secrets Revealed by DNA Analysis

How can genetic information help the genealogist? Our DNA is a natural family history record. Encoded in the chromosomes we all carry, and which we inherit from our parents, is genetic information which provides insight into our origins well before written records, and that may help resolve uncertainties in our recorded history.

DNA Testing for Genealogy: not Just for Men 
In ten years since commercial DNA testing for genealogy became available it got the reputation of being just for men. The bulk of tests performed were on the Y-chromosome which is only carried by men. A new generation of tests using the autosomal DNA is now established with the promise of identifying cousins from all branches of you family tree. The presentation explains how the tests offered by 23andMe and Family Tree DNA can assist your genealogical research.

Find Your British Family History in Newspapers
Chances are there is information about your family history recorded in a newspaper that, when discovered, will be news to even the most diligent researcher. That information is usually carefully preserved on microfilm and difficult to access. It may be necessary to visit a British library in person, which can itself be an adventure, or seek assistance from someone local. We explore sources to determine what’s available, and where to find it. However, digital and optical character recognition technology, still imperfect, are now making millions of frames of newspaper microfilm searchable online. Learn how to make best use of digitized newspapers to help your family history search.

The above talk is also available with a Canada-focus

Some Lesser-known Websites for British family history
In five years of writing my blog, Anglo-Celtic Connections, and even longer working on my British family history, I’ve seen an explosion of British family history websites. While many are commercial, accessed by subscription or pay per view, with relatively familiar offerings from the census and civil registration indexes, others are hidden gems. Are you missing out?

20 January 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know

One of the occasional roles of this blog is to speak truth to power.

Today the subject, relax LAC managers, is TGN and the Ancestry family of websites.

The Ancestry Insider blog has an informative posting following on a talk by TGN President and CEO Tim Sullivan at a dinner, in advance of the 2009 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, a little over a week ago.

Reportedly Sullivan had three messages:

1. "Ancestry.com employees are real people who care about their work, want Ancestry.com to work well and use it themselves."

So what does "real people" mean? That they make mistakes? That they care about their jobs more than in any other comparable company? Robot technology hasn't advanced to the stage where I'd expect employees to be anything but flesh and blood.

2. "We're having a blast doing what we do"

So ... what does that mean for clients?

3. "We'll continue to make mistakes, but our hearts and our passions are in the right place."

There's plenty of evidence for the mistakes. What is that right place for the hearts and passions, and what does that mean for us clients?

This all reads more like something to boost morale amongst employees, but is free of any subject content - it would be just as applicable to virtually any other company. These aren't the lines I'd look to be coming from the CEO of what should be a client-centred organization when speaking to clients.

Sullivan reportedly spoke about Ancestry's three pillars for investment in 2009: content, technology and marketing.

A comment on the posting added some additional pillars that should have appeared, and that speak to what clients want including "excellence in customer service" and "easier navigation of the website's holdings."

These are areas where the pain of old problems may linger -- I still recall an experience several years ago leaving voicemail and email message after message and never getting a response. That still colours my perception of the company customer service.

Navigation remains a problem and is one where a more open approach would help.

It would also help if the company was more up-front about the content. When I read that a database of Ontario, Canada Voters Lists 1867-1900 has been added I don't expect that the only list I find for Ottawa is one ward for one year!

That's as bad as someone writing a blog posting with an overly inclusive title!

Another suggested pillar is "commitment to better quality control and fixing previous errors." I wonder why, several months after JewishGen data was incorporated into Ancestry, and having informed Ancestry, the listing for the burial of my g-g-grandfather includes the location of the plot within the cemetery, but fails to mention which cemetery!

I value my Ancestry subscription and expect to renew at the next opportunity, but look with scepticism at the management-speak reported from the dinner.