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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 26 October 2005
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Greetings Readers

Gordon A. Watts Alberta Homestead Records index

In the year 2005 Alberta and Saskatchewan celebrated the Centennial of their becoming Provinces of Canada. 1 September 2005 was the official date of Alberta's Centennial celebrations. In preparation for their Centennial, Alberta's 100th Anniversary Committee requested projects to celebrate this important event. In response to this request the Alberta Genealogical Society proposed to create an all-name index to the homestead files on 685 reels of microfilm at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA).

Finding a particular homestead file on these reels is a tedious, error-prone, multi-step process, and PAA staff spent considerable time guiding researchers through the steps. A new name index would lead the researcher directly to the reel and file number.

The databases of the Canadian Genealogy Centre, part of Library and Archives Canada includes an Index of Western Land Grants (1870 to 1930). This speciality database relates exclusively to Letters Patent (titles) issued by the Lands Patent Branch of the Department of the Interior. These records refer to grants issued in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the railway belt of British Columbia. They contain only the name of the grantee, the description of the land and the date granted. They do not contain other personal information.

The records at Library and Archives Canada include information only on those who obtained final Letters Patent (title). Homestead applications and files, held at provincial archives, are more detailed and include the names of those who, for any reason, did not complete the homesteading process. An all-name index as proposed by the AGS would include all these persons, as well as many others who had some 'interest' in the land.

On November 10, 2001 the Alberta Genealogical Society endorsed a proposal to produce a comprehensive, integrated, all-name index to Alberta's homestead records and, with PAA cooperation, the project was on its way. Over the course of the next four years dedicated members and friends of the Alberta Genealogical Society volunteered thousands of hours to create this birthday gift for the Province of Alberta.

As of 1 September 2005 the progress of the AGS indexing project was as follows:

Names Extracted    684 reels (99.9%)
Data Entry    676 reels (98.7%)
Proof-reading    562 reels (82.0%)
Final Corrections    532 reels (77.7%)
Available to search on the Web    532 reels (77.7%) - 214,442 records

Further information regarding this project is available at:

Saskatchewan Vital Stats go online

Saskatchewan has joined British Columbia and Manitoba on the growing list of those provinces that have placed their Vital Statistics indexes online. While to date indexes for only Birth registrations more than 100 years ago are available, plans are in place to add Death and Marriage indexes. The following is the Press Release from Saskatchewan Health.
    September 21, 2005

    Health - 833


    People around the world now have access to their early Saskatchewan family history from their home computers with Saskatchewan Health's new online Genealogy Index.

    "We are proud of our history and the people who made Saskatchewan what it is," Health Minister John Nilson said. "Providing easy access to that history with the new genealogy website furthers our remembrance and appreciation of the ancestors who helped shape our province into the wonderful place we know today."

    "This centennial year is about recognizing and celebrating our province's past, which makes this genealogy project particularly significant," Saskatchewan Centennial 2005 Chair and Moose Jaw North MLA Glenn Hagel said.

    The Vital Statistics Genealogy Indexes are available online at The birth index allows access to information on live births that occurred more than 100 years ago and contains details such as: given name(s); surname; sex; date and place of birth; given names(s) and surname of the birth mother; given name(s) and surname of the birth father; and the live birth registration number.

    The index of deaths that occurred more than 70 years ago and the index of marriages that occurred more than 75 years ago will be available in the next year.
Further information is available at:

US Military records opened

While not really a new announcement, those having ancestors who served in the United States Military may be interested in learning, if they have not already heard, that this past June the US National Archives (NARA) and the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis made available to public access the personnel files for nearly 1.2 million former US Navy and Marine Corp enlisted personnel. Files released so far are for those who served between 1885 and 1939.

The following information was extracted from the website of the (US) National Coalition for History.
    NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 11, #26; 9 June 2005)
    by Bruce Craig (editor)
    Website at


    On 11 June 2005, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) National Personnel Records Center in Overland, Missouri will unseal the first release of what is expected to be a "a mother load" collection of interest to military historians, biographers, and genealogists. The center houses the military records of some 56 million individuals, beginning in the 19th century and extending into the 20th.

    A total of three batches of individual records are slotted to be released: Navy enlisted men from 1885 until 8 September 1939; Marine Corps enlisted men from 1906 until 1939; and the first 150 of about 3,000 Americans identified as "persons of exceptional prominence." Included in the last category are the military records of generals George S. Patton Jr. and Omar Bradley; African American sports hero Lt. Jackie Robinson; President John F. Kennedy; author Herman Wouk; actors Clark Gable, Audie Murphy, and Steve McQueen; and, yes, entertainer Pfc. Elvis Presley.

    Until recently, NARA was merely the physical custodian of these records that were open only to the veteran, the next of kin, or the ndividual's service branch. In 1999, however, the Pentagon and NARA reached an agreement that would begin the process of systematically opening these records. According to Bill Seibert, chief of the archival operations branch of the records center, the records now "cease to belong to the military and instead belong to the American people...They're public documents."

    After lengthy discussion with Pentagon officials over several years, NARA was able to negotiate an agreement that provided for all such military records to remain sealed 62 years past the date an individual left active service. That means that most World War II records, for example, will remain closed for several more years. In addition, because of a fire at the records center back in 1973, some files of Army and Air Force veterans will be withheld even longer - until 2023. Coast Guard records will probably not be available until 2026, and because some individual files contain fragile or crumbling paper, such files will probably be kept on hold for some time.

    Persons interested in accessing the collection should contact the National Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Avenue, Overland, Mo. 63132; phone: 314-801-0850.

Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts,

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Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
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The Merivale Cemeteries
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