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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 07 September 2005
By: Gordon A. Watts Biography & Archived Articles
As I started to write this column I realized that it would mark an anniversary of sorts - it is the seventy-fifth issue since Rick Roberts of Global Genealogy first approached me to write an online column regarding the Post 1901 Census Campaign.
At that time I was not certain that I wanted to take on such a project. While I felt I could write a reasonable letter, I certainly did not consider myself to be an authour or columnist. After some consideration, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to give it a try. After all, the worst that could happen is that I would fall flat on my face and Rick would pull the column. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
The first issue of this column was posted on 21 May 1999 and contained only a handful of paragraphs - reporting that four Members of Parliament had responded positively to questions of support for access to Historic Census records, while two had responded negatively. Many things have happened since that time.
Because of a letter from Lyn Winters posted on the GANS website in January or February of 1998, I first became aware that records of Historic Census after 1901 would not be released to public access. Having become interested in genealogy about 1990 I was well aware of the value of Census records as a source of information for genealogists and historians. In 1998 I was subscribed to genealogy mail lists for Nova Scotia, Lunenburg, and Ontario - these being my main areas of interest. I started posting occasional messages to these lists urging others to contact their MPs to protest the withholding of these important records, and to seek a change in what I viewed as an unreasonable, and indeed unlawful, policy initiated by Statistics Canada.
Little did I know at that time that I would become one of the leaders of an international campaign to regain the public access to Historic Census records of Canada that existing legislation stated we were already entitled to. The campaign extended for seven long years and was 95% successful when Bill S-18 was passed by Parliament on 28 June 2005.
A change in direction
Until now, the main focus of my columns has been on the battle to regain the public access to Historic Census records that we believed we were legally entitled to. Having won that battle (well, most of it anyway), two questions occurred to me. Did I wish to continue writing an e-column? And did our sponsor wish me to continue doing so? The answer to the first question was 'yes'. The answer to the second question was answered affirmatively before I asked it, when I received an email from Rick Roberts.
If I am to continue writing a column it is obvious that a change in direction is called for. In keeping with that change in direction you may have noted that the name of the column is no longer Post-1901 Census News. From this issue on, my column will be named Gordon Watts Reports. The new name does not restrict the focus of the column to any one topic, as did the old one. I will continue to report items of interest regarding the Census. The focus of the column however, will be expanded to include items of general or specific genealogical or historical interest.
In writing about Post-1901 Census issues, many of the items I included were the result of information provided me by other researchers who had come upon something of interest that they subsequently passed on to me. In some cases they provided specific information. In others they simply suggested something that I should look at in case I had missed it myself. It is my hope that in taking this column in new directions my readers will continue to point me in the direction of genealogical or historical items they feel worthy of passing on to others. I welcome your input and suggestions. Together, I hope that we can make this column something that you will look forward to reading.
Message from Librarian and Archivist of Canada
The following message from Ian E. Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, was extracted from the July-August edition of an e-newsletter sent out by Library and Archives Canada every two months.
By making these records available, through a unique partnership with Statistics Canada, we are allowing Canadians to explore their own past, and in so doing, to explore the history of our country. We are a nation that values historical research and inquiry, and these records are fundamental to a society trying to understand its own history. By preserving these records, we acknowledge their profound importance as a testament to our past; by making them accessible online, we underscore our commitment to making Canada's heritage available to the vast majority of Canadians.
Canada has a longstanding history of making historical census and other records available to the public. Over the past decade alone, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has placed a considerable number of databases and digitized documents online, offering researchers of all kinds the chance to document an individual, a family, or a whole community. These include the national census records for 1901; the census of the Prairie Provinces, 1906; Home Children, 1869-1930; South African War service records, 1899-1902; and the Canadian Expeditionary Force attestation papers from 1914-1918. At LAC, researchers can also find information online about books and newspapers, historical resources that, when combined with census records, provide a much broader picture of how an individual may have lived--indeed, how a whole community may have lived.
Census returns are of primary interest to family historians and genealogists because they are fundamental to the kind of research they undertake, and they can be supplemented by further research into a wide variety of resources held by LAC, as well as provincial, municipal, and other libraries and archives. Academic and professional historians, social scientists and students also benefit from the availability of these records. Census information is also extremely important for any serious biographical work.
The census records were made available on July 21, and can be viewed online at www.collectionscanada.ca/archivianet/1911/index-e.html. I would like to thank my colleagues at Statistics Canada for helping us provide this unique opportunity to view our past. It is truly a historic moment.
Reporting errors to LAC
A number of people have posted messages to the mail lists to report finding errors in the information provided by Library and Archives Canada for, in particular, the 1911 Census records. Many have asked to whom they might report these errors.
The person in LAC to report such errors to is Victoria Gebert. She may be contacted at Victoria.Gebert@LAC-BAC.gc.ca
PLEASE NOTE: There is a difference between 'archival records' (i.e. the scanned images of Census schedules) and 'database entries' (i.e. the HTML coded web pages developed by LAC).
Library and Archives Canada are unable to make corrections or changes of any kind to the scanned images of Census schedules (archival records). They should NOT be notified about what you believe to be errors in those scanned images. An example of what NOT to inform LAC about would be something like the following fictitious report (based on an actual message):
In some cases, importing the images into a photographic program that will allow adjustments to brightness and contrast readers might be able to enhance the images. I am advised that some people have had good results by transforming the image into a 'negative', whereby the background is dark, and the written information is white.
LAC should NOT be notified about errors in transcription or indexing. LAC does not transcribe or index the Census information other than by location through the lists of Census Districts and sub-districts. Errors in transcription or indexing should be reported to the group or organization that has done the transcription or indexing in question.
Ms. Gebert is NOT someone to ask how to locate your ancestors in the Census schedules, or how to navigate through the various Districts, sub-districts, townships, sections and meridians. In most cases, any questions regarding this will likely be answered by taking the time to read the 'Introduction and Contextual Help' provided on the Census pages at:
LAC SHOULD be notified about obvious errors on the web pages, such as non-functioning links, or links that go somewhere other than where they are supposed to. They should also be notified about incorrect spelling of place names etc., on the HTML programmed web pages (database entries) that could lead to failures when doing a search using the proper spelling.
As an example of this, I have seen a posting on the mail lists regarding a location in British Columbia. According to this posting, a place name was referred to on the LAC pages as ELKS, BC. In actual fact the name of the place is ELKO. Consequently, a search of the Census web pages for the correct place-name of ELKO would draw a blank. A more recent posting refers to the spelling of WetaskIwin, Alberta. Apparently the LAC website has it spelled WetaskEwin and a search with the correct spelling would likewise draw a blank.
Ms. Gebert has an assistant responding to messages suggesting possible corrections to the LAC web pages. The response will be a standard message thanking the researcher for the suggestion and informing them that their requested change will be verified and if necessary, changes to the database will occur. It should be noted that the LAC databases are loaded every three to four months so suggested changes will not instantly be reflected in the online public version.
In contacting LAC, please ensure that you are asking for corrections or making suggestions for change on the 'databases' (HTML web pages) and NOT for the 'archival records' (scanned images of Census schedules).
Census extraction forms
Since the 1911 Census of Canada has become accessible online, interest in finding ready-made forms for extracting information from Census has increased. While the major suppliers of such forms do not yet seem to have developed any for the 1911 Census of Canada, I suspect that it will not take long before they do. Some individuals have submitted 1911 extraction forms they have made in MS Word or Excel format and some of these have been made available online.
An online search for "Census forms" came up with a number of websites from which various free Census Extraction forms might be downloaded. URLs for some of those websites are listed below.
On the various mail lists the past while there has been considerable discussion regarding indexing and/or transcribing of Census records - in particular at this time those of the 1911 Census of Canada. It would seem that some researchers feel that there is only one correct way to transcribe or index these valuable records, and that their way, or the way of their particular group or organization, is the only way it should be done. As genealogical researchers, the last thing we want to see develop is an antagonistic confrontation over this. In my view there is no one single correct way to do it. There are as many correct ways as there are opinions out there.
For any given subject, there are many different ways of doing things and, from the point of view of every individual each of those different ways has benefits and detractions. Do a web-search of any subject. Can you name any subject that will result in only a single response to that search? I think it unlikely! The same would apply to a search for Census or Census Indexing or Transcription.
In my view the various groups and organizations that have done, and are currently doing, indexing and/or transcriptions of Census records are not in competition with each other. The work of one group will frequently complement the work of another. What others may view as a duplication of effort I view as a means of ensuring the greatest possibility of a researcher finding the ancestors they are seeking in Census. The more sources there are on the Internet for this information, the greater the chance of that happening. There is room for everyone out there.
Many researchers have confused the terms "transcribing" and "transcriptions" with "indexing" and "indexes". The impression I have is that many believe they are one and the same. Such is not the case.
By definition, a "transcription" is a verbatim copy of all information contained in an original document. An "index", on the other hand, is an extract of partial information from an original document, presented in such a way as to identify and point the way to where the original document might be found. Each has their specific purpose. I believe that in doing our research there is need, and room, for both.
Many different groups have volunteers indexing or transcribing Census records for their own particular area of interest. Some are doing their own town, city, area or municipality. Others are doing it for an entire Province. For example, the Alberta Family Histories Society and Alberta Genealogical Society are currently working on records for Alberta, and the Ontario Genealogy Society has called for volunteers to index Ontario records. To my knowledge, Automated Genealogy is the only place that indexing is likely to take place for the entire Census of Canada. In volunteering to do transcribing or indexing, regardless of which group or organization you work with, you can be assured your work will be both appreciated and worthwhile.
Announcements from LAC
In keeping with the new direction of this column, we will occasionally make announcements regarding new and/or updated virtual exhibitions available online through Library and Archives Canada. While most of these announcements should normally be relevant to genealogical and historical research, at times I will include some announcements of general interest. Two such announcements follow here:
This virtual exhibit highlights strange occurrences of UFOs and other phenomena reported across Canada during the past few decades. Visitors can browse through actual RCMP reports and other government documents which investigate these sightings. A time-line explains how and when five government departments became involved with investigating UFOs.
The records from these five government departments have been digitized and are available to the public through a searchable database in this website. Information within these files ranges from investigations into new technologies, scientific investigations, and possible security risks to our country. Canada's UFOs: The Search for the Unknown can be found at:
Library and Archives Canada, in partnership with the Society for International Hockey Research, is pleased to announce the launch of Phase 2 of Backcheck: A Hockey Retrospective and Backcheck: Hockey for Kids. These sites, funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage through its Canadian Culture Online initiative, continue to explore the history and development of hockey with several new themes and new additions to our searchable newspaper database of "Great Hockey Stories". Much of the material is being made easily available to the public for the first time. You are invited to visit the sites at:
For more information on this item, please contact Library and Archives Canada Project Manager Sarah Hatton at (613) 995-6808, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gordon A. Watts, email@example.com
Canadian Genealogy & History Resources from Global Genealogy: