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Article Published November 30, 2000, Vol. IV No. 17
POST-1901 CENSUS NEWS (Canada)
By: Gordon A. Watts, firstname.lastname@example.org
Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament
Decisions - Decisions
As I write this, I am listening to the results of Canada's Federal election. While there are some final tallies yet to come in, it is obvious that the Liberals have been returned to form a majority government.
Right up to the moment I made my mark I was still uncertain as to who to vote for - I was not happy with any of my possible choices. Did I vote for the Liberal incumbent from whom I sought for more a year to finally get a definitive commitment that he would vote in favour of a Bill to allow public access to Historic Census Records? I was able to speak with him only after I told one of his campaign workers that it was unlikely he would get my vote because of his refusal to answer my question. He informed me he had not heard the question before even though I had received several non-committal responses to my letters and email to him.
Did I vote for Reform (now Canadian Alliance) as I did in the last election - not because I wanted them to form the government, but for other reasons, wanting them to form the "loyal opposition"?
Did I vote for the NDP, who I voted for most of my voting life but who stand little or no chance of forming the government at this time? Did I vote for the Conservative Party whose leader has the distinction (I believe) of serving the shortest period as Prime Minister in Canada's history? Or did I vote for one of the fringe parties who also have no hope of forming a government but run with the hope of bringing attention to whatever their cause happens to be?
Like many who will read this column after the fact, I did not know who I would vote for until I read the names on the ballot. But rest assured I did cast my vote, and I hoped that my vote would make a difference, even though it was unlikely because I live on the West Coast and, as in past elections, the governmental die would be cast long before my vote is counted. As it turned out the candidate for whom I voted did not get elected.
For the next while I will be kept very busy making changes to the MP's Scoreboard, removing the names of those who either did not run, or who did not get elected, and adding the names of those who did. It is my hope to have this work completed within a week.
With the new Members of Parliament comes more work for us. We must now contact the new MPs to ask them, as we have those before them how they will vote on a Bill to allow public access to Post 1901 Census records. Keep your letters and email going to the MPs. I look forward to seeing the answers you receive from them.
Report of Expert Panel
Once again, I had hoped that by this time I would be able to tell you that the Report of the Expert Panel on Access to Historic Census Records had been released. I am unfortunately unable to do so. I have had contact with an agent of the Information Commissioner who was investigating my complaints regarding the refusal of Industry Canada and Statistics Canada to follow through on my requests for a copy of the Report. My original complaint regarding Industry Canada included the fact that they should simply have forwarded my request for the Report to Statistics Canada.
In regards to this the investigator said it was a matter of "poor communications" between the two departments. Where have we heard that one before?
The Access to Information Act provides that the information requested must be provided within 90 days of receipt of the request. The 90 day period from the date of receipt of my ATI request to Industry Canada has come and gone so obviously they are not considering this request to determine when the Report will be released. That leaves 90 days from receipt of my second ATI request to Statistics Canada. The Report must therefore be released no later than 16 December 2000. I suppose that we can wait another two weeks to see the Report. It would be nice, however, to be informed why it will not been released until the last moment required by law, if then.
1901 Census of England
In contrast to the fears of our bureaucrats and politicians that someone might find out something of their own heritage through the use of Census records, the British Public Records Office is in the process of fully digitising their 1901 Census and will make it available on-line. (Public access to Census records in England is allowed 100 years following collection.)
When finished and on-line there will be fees for various levels of access, however there is expected to be a free basic index which will allow users to search by names and place. Further elements beyond name and place may be searchable and/or shown in the information returned from a search. This part of the index may be searched as many time as desired free of charge.
The following partial extract has been taken from a website of the Public Records Office.
1901 Census ProjectIntroduction
The 1901 Census for England and Wales was taken on 31 March 1901. The population at the time was over 32 million. The 1901 Census returns will be made available for public consultation on the first working day of January 2002. The Public Record Office (PRO) has awarded a contract to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) to digitise the returns and make them available electronically via the Internet from that date.
Why are we doing it?
The PRO's vision is to make our services and records available electronically on-site and remotely via the Internet. This will mean that our services will be more widely available to users and potential users in the UK and world-wide. Many users find it expensive to travel to the south-east and many are simply unable to get to our reading rooms because of domestic or work commitments. Digitising the census returns - one of our most popular sources for family history research - is a significant step towards achieving our vision.
Education is a key national priority and the census is an excellent source for school children and other educational users. By digitising the 1901 Census and making it available over the Internet we can reach schools up and down the country. It would not be practical to accommodate large groups of schoolchildren at the Family Records Centre (FRC).
Service at the FRC
Visitor numbers at the FRC continue to rise. In the first 18 months after opening (March 1997) there was a 69% increase in visits to the PRO's reading rooms alone. On current trends of use we will be at saturation point by 2003 - and this is without the impact of the release of the 1901 Census returns! Increased visits will mean high pressure on facilities and services, and queues at peak times. Digitising the 1901 Census returns will help us start to reduce the pressure on these services.
What does digitising mean?
Digitising the 1901 Census returns comprises three elements:
· Electronic images of the pages of the 1901 Census. The images will be scanned from the archival microfilm copy of the returns which will result in a high quality image.
· An index that allows the user to access and navigate the data more flexibly and readily than by traditional means. Further elements beyond name and place may be searchable and/or shown in the information returned from a search. The index will link directly to the images of the returns.
· The images and index will be available over the Internet and also online at institutions including the FRC.
How will we do it?
With 32 million names on about 1.5 million pages digitising the 1901 Census is a huge task, one beyond the resources of the PRO. This is why we have entered into a commercial partnership with DERA who have a great deal of experience in information technology. The contract was awarded in October 1999 for a ten year term and work on the scanning and transcription is under way.
The transcription will be undertaken by Enterprise Supply Services (ESS) as a sub-contractor for DERA. ESS is an agency of the Prison Service, which runs a number of commercial businesses including data processing. These businesses are run and managed to fully professional commercial standards and they are fully ISO9000 quality approved. Some census street indexes have in the past been successfully produced by a forerunner of ESS for the PRO and county record offices. We are well aware that the transcription is the key element of the 1901 Project and we have put in place a series of quality measures and checks to ensure a very high standard to the finished product.
Only fully trained operators who have demonstrated consistent accuracy will be used. No transcript can be 100% accurate but ESS will aim to get as close to that as possible. All entries will be double keyed - i.e. literally typed in twice, by different operators, and one operator will not know who the other operator is; software will be used to check any inconsistencies between the two versions and trained personnel will seek to resolve the inconsistencies. The transcript will then be checked by ESS. The work by ESS will be checked again by DERA using a team led by a professional quality engineer. It will then be checked by the PRO's own Quality Assessment team led by expert staff.
Another key element of the project is a pilot using the 1891 returns for Norfolk. Our aim is to have the pilot service available over the Internet in the Spring of 2001. This will give users an opportunity to help us test various parts of the service as part of the pilot.
The above is only a partial extract. Those wishing to see the full information on this project can access the website of the PRO here. There are also two updates available here and here.
Even in China, you say?
It would appear that even the Chinese government is co-operating in the release of information to assist in researching family trees. I am unaware of what the situation in China is regarding their census records, or access thereof, but for those interested in Chinese ancestry they might want to check out the information located at Chineseroots.com . I have just skimmed a couple of pages of this website but it looks like it has potential as a valuable source of information.
The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2000 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author.
According to a press release, the new Chineseroots.com website lets people build a family tree by tapping into a database with records of births and marriages in China over the last millennium. The data dates to the Sung dynasty, when family names and records were first formalized and kept in ancestry booklets called "jiabu."
Chineseroots.com has alliances with the government-run Shanghai Library and the Xiang Xi Genealogy Centre to gain access to the records. In exchange, Chineseroots.com is digitizing and cataloguing the ancient data. The company estimates that 96 percent of the world's Chinese people are covered by 110,000 "jiabu" titles at the company's disposal.
Chineseroots.com also lists more than 1,300 surnames and their origin. Although there are 6,000 family names in existence, almost 90 percent of the people in China and Taiwan share just 100 of them.
I have a casual interest in Chinese genealogy, having spent a year in China in the early 1980s. While there I found that many Chinese are interested in their ancestry. I decided to take a look at ChineseRoots.com to see what it offers.
I found that ChineseRoots.com holds a lot of promise but not a great deal of data. There seems to be a lot of information about "how to research your family tree" and similar subjects. The "Chineseroots 101" section appeared to be quite good. The site also has a date conversion tool that is useful for converting solar dates or lunar dates as found in many old Chinese documents.
However, the "jiabu" titles apparently have not yet been digitized. I did find a database of "the origin of your family name," much like the things sold in shopping mall pushcarts. These are generally considered to be lacking in genealogical value, with no references at all. The listings basically tell how popular the name is and where the name is most popular. For instance, here is the listing for Huang, the eighth-most common Chinese name: Huang
Ranking: Huang is ranked 8th among the 100 most common surnames in China, with a higher concentration in the south.
Origin: Huang originated from the surname Ying. The Huangs were descendants of Emperor Shaohao. Gaotao, a descendant of Shao Hao, was in charge of Dali during the times of Yushun. His son Boyi was conferred the surname of Ying by Shun when he helped managed the floods. Boyi's son Dalian was transferred to Huang and founded the Huang Kingdom. His descendants stayed there for generations and adopted Huang as their surname.
Evolution: The Huang Kingdom was destroyed by the Chu Kingdom in 648 BC. The people of Huang fled to regions like Henan and Hubei. Around 300 years later, a descendant of a royal member of the Huang Kingdom, Huangxie, became Premier of the Chu Kingdom. He was given the land of Jiangsu Suzhou where his descendants resided for many years During the Han generation, the Huangs spread to the northern regions such as Henan and southern regions such as Jiangxi, Sichuan and Hunan. Towards the Pu generation, the Huangs spread to Fujian and, during the transition from Ming to Qing, made their appearance in Taiwan. The Huangs are mainly located in Jiangxia, Huaiyang, Linjiang, Huainan, Runan, Nanyang, Lingling, Baxi, Xinan, Jinhua, Gushi, Xinzhou, Anding, Fangling and Handong.
DNA and Genealogy
One of the reasons that people get involved in Genealogy is to seek information relating to possible genetic diseases. While information from Census does not, by itself, provide information relating to this, it can in some cases give clues as to which direction to seek further information. Today, another factor that may come in to play, particularly in the tracing of genetic disease, is the use of DNA. While it is unlikely that the use of DNA will become widespread for tracing of family trees, in some cases it could become a factor.
The following article is also from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2000 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author.
When I started writing this newsletter almost five years ago, I never expected it to turn into a medical journal. Yet, at times it seems to be headed in that direction. Last week I wrote, "I believe the science of genetics is going to make dramatic changes to the methods of genealogy research in the next decade or two." That prediction seems to be coming true quickly. Every week I keep reading more and more about genetics and its relationship to genealogy studies.
This week I read about two individuals who proved family connections via mitochondrial DNA testing. Audrae Mathes partnered with her fourth cousin on an interesting genealogy DNA experiment. The two share a common ancestor of Pamela Nims, born 1794 in Shelburne, Massachusetts.
To be sure, the DNA testing proves that these two individuals are related via a straight female line; however, it doesn't prove who is the common ancestor. In theory, these two modern genealogists might be related via some other undocumented ancestor. However, if the two genealogists can locate more individuals with properly documented descent from Pamela Nims and matching mitochondrial DNA testing, the "preponderance of evidence" would certainly indicate that Pamela Nims is a common ancestor of each. Mitochondrial DNA testing can strengthen a hypothesis, not prove it. DNA analysis can, however, accurately disprove connections. Mitochondrial DNA is much better at proving a negative than a positive, but it's not so much fun to have your theories fall apart!
In theory, future databases could contain DNA information about millions of living individuals as well as properly researched genealogy information. Such a database would help prove descent from identified individuals. It probably could also disprove a few of our "documented" genealogies of today. Such a database also could be put to good use in predicting inherited medical conditions, thereby saving or extending lives.
There is a dark side to this as well. For instance, the same database potentially could be used by insurance companies to raise the rates of individuals who have a high probability of dying early or who will have high medical expenses because of inherited medical problems.
A mailing list has been created for people who are interested in discussing DNA and its relevance for genealogy research. You can sign up at
or send an e-mail to
GENEALOGY-DNA-Lemail@example.com The two modern-day genealogists mentioned earlier now are looking for descendants in a straight female line from Lydia Winter, the woman they believe to be Pamela's mother.
Petitions, petitions, petitions
With the election over and done with, just a small reminder that we have a clean slate insofar as petitions to the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada are concerned. Those that signed petitions sent to the previous administration are free once more to sign petitions to the new administration. There are petitions to both the House of Commons and the Senate. Because they are directed to different places, both petitions may be signed by the same people. There is also a Non-Resident petition of support for those living outside of Canada to sign. Petitions were made using Adobe Acrobat v4.0 and require the free Acrobat reader to view and print them.
Click this link to access the Post-1901 Census Project website and download the petitions.
Do you have a website on which you would like to include the petitions? If so, let me know - I will be happy to send you the files.
Change of e-mail address.
Some time ago, due to changes at my Internet supplier, my email address changed from firstname.lastname@example.org to email@example.com. While up to this point email sent to either address has reached me, I am advised that the sympatico address will shortly cease to work. Please update your mail programs with my new address.
Canada Census Campaign Mail List
The Canada-Census-Campaign-L mail list was set up to provide a forum for those interested in obtaining release of Historic Census Records in Canada. It is not for look-ups or individual queries. Your comments and questions relating to release of Post 1901 Census records are welcome. Subscribe to the list by sending an e-mail to
With only the word subscribe in the subject line and the body of the message. Do not include any other text or signature files in the body of the message. To subscribe in Digest mode, change the ‘L’ in the address to a ‘D’.
Post 1901 Census Project website
Every effort is being made to keep you up to date on Historic Census issues and information but to do so your help is required. Please forward any replies you might get from your MP regarding their position on allowing public access to Historic Census. I am interested also in receiving copies of any newspaper articles and letters to editors that relate to our efforts. Help me to help you.
More Information On The Census Project