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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 22 March 2006
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts Canadian Census 2006

The next National Census of Canada is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, 16 May 2006. For the first time in the 340 years Censuses have been conducted in the territory that was destined to become Canada, respondents will be asked to provide consent for the release of information they provide, 92 years after collection. Until now, no such consent was required. The question that will appear on the Census schedule is as follows:
    The following question is for all persons who usually live here including those less than 15 years old.

    If you are answering on behalf of other people, please consult each person.

    53. The Statistics Act guarantees the confidentiality of your census information. Only if you mark "YES" to this question will your personal information be made public, 92 years after the 2006 Census. If you mark "NO" or leave the answer blank, your personal information will never be made publicly available.

    Does this person agree to make his/her 2006 Census information available for public release in 2098 (92 years after the census)?

     Yes          No
Inclusion of this 'informed consent' provision in Censuses to be conducted from 2006 was a compromise forced upon genealogists and historians seeking to regain public access to Historic Census records to which existing legislation already stated we were entitled. We had been advised that unless this compromise was accepted the government would not present the Bill (S-18) to end our seven-year campaign to regain public access Historic Census records in accordance with provisions of the Access to Information and Privacy Acts.

During Senate Committee hearings leading up to the passage of Bill S-18, Chief Statistician of Canada, Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi, made certain commitments on behalf of Statistics Canada. He committed to participate in a publicity campaign to encourage those completing Census returns to respond positively to the newly added 'informed consent' question. In regards to that commitment, I recently sent the following letter (e-mail) to Dr. Fellegi.
    6 March 2006

    Dr. Ivan P. Fellegi
    Chief Statistician of Canada
    Ottawa, Ontario

    Dear Dr. Fellegi:

    During Senate Committee hearings leading to the passage of Bill S-18 - An Act to amend the Statistics Act, you committed Statistics Canada, in cooperation with Library and Archives Canada, to a publicity campaign to encourage respondents to Census to respond positively to the newly added 'informed consent' question. A positive response to that question would permit information provided to be made available to the public, 92 years after collection.

    A Census of Canada has been scheduled for 16 May 2006 and wording of the Census form has been set. Wording on these forms advises what will happen if the respondent answers YES or NO to the 'informed consent' question, or leaves the answer blank. The wording however, can hardly be construed as encouraging respondents to answer YES to this question.

    Would you kindly advise specifically what form the publicity campaign you have committed to will take, and how you intend to encourage respondents to Census to answer YES to the 'informed consent' question? When will this campaign begin?

    Please advise also in what manner the genealogical and historical communities of Canada might participate in, or assist in the campaign to encourage a positive response to the 'informed consent' question on Census.

    A response to my questions, at your earliest possible convenience, would be appreciated.

    Thank you.

    Gordon A. Watts
    Co-chair, Canada Census Committee
The response from Dr. Fellegi, received by email 13 March 2006, was as follows:
    Dear Mr. Watts,

    Thank you for your e-mail of March 6, 2006, requesting information about Statistics Canada's publicity campaign to promote the 92-year consent question on the 2006 Census questionnaire.

    Statistics Canada and Library and Archives Canada are working closely together on this important project to ensure that all Canadians are aware of the importance of this question when they receive their 2006 Census questionnaires.

    I have attached a list of activities planned or already underway, designed to increasing awareness and knowledge amongst Canadians about the 92-year consent question and its importance to future generations.

    I would be pleased to provide you any additional information you might require. For further information on the Census Communications program, please contact, Dale Johnston at

    Again, thank you for your continuing interest in the census.

    Yours sincerely,
    Ivan P. Fellegi
The attachment referred to is as follows:
    CENSUS DAY IS MAY 16, 2006
    in support of

    Library and Archives Canada

      1. The Census 2006 image with statement on LAC's Web home page for April 1.

      2. Census statement on LAC "What's New" Web page for mid April.

      3. A media advisory by LAC for Web "Media Room"(date to be decided).

      4. A statement on Web site "Canadian Genealogy Centre" which is run by LAC and contains info and links to Canadian local history/genealogy groups (requested information to be put up asap).

      5. A Census message from Librarian and Archivist of Canada Mr. Ian Wilson in SPRING "E-Newsletter/Cyberbulletin" which reaches 2500 email addresses.

      6. Letter from Ian Wilson to "Friends of Library and Archives Canada" about Census.

      7. Census promotional material given to LAC Reference and Reading Rooms as well Canadian Genealogy Centre (which has a physical presence in the Reference Room)

      8. Letter from Ian Wilson to "Canadian Council of Archives" to include in their monthly newsletter

    Statistics Canada

      1. Printed materials (fact sheets, articles, newsletters, Qs and As, Census Facts) have been developed with statement. More are in preparation.

      2. Materials have been sent to businesses, associations, community groups, governments at all levels, police, cultural and immigrant groups.

      3. Materials will be available electronically on the website. Will be identified as "Genealogy Corner".

      4. Media interviews to date have included reference to the 92 year consent question.

      5. Material is available to answer respondent questions about the 92 year question in the CHL and on the website

      6. Three enrichment activities have been included in the Teacher's Guide

Spreading the word

In Dr. Fellegi's reply to my message one question that I asked was not answered. He did not advise in what manner the genealogical and historical communities of Canada might assist in the publicity campaign to encourage a positive response to the 'informed consent' question on Census. It would seem that we have been left to our own devices in determining how we go about doing this.

Our goal is a 100 percent YES response to the 'informed consent' clause on the upcoming Census. Realistically speaking it is likely a goal that we cannot achieve. However, with some effort we can hopefully achieve something close to it. The question that arises is 'how'?

Start now by advising friends, relatives and neighbours to answer YES to the 'informed consent' question. Ask them to help pass the word along by likewise advising their friends, relatives and neighbours. Advise them that if this question is not answered YES, or is left unanswered, their descendants will be unable to find information on them in Census records in 2098 (92 years in the future). For all intents and purposes, so far as the Census is concerned, they will not have existed. If significant numbers of respondents answer negatively, or do not answer this question at all, it will destroy the completeness of the records, and thus their value to genealogical or historical researchers will be forever destroyed.

Genealogical and historical societies can publicize the need to respond YES in their various publications. They can advise their membership at their regular meetings. One might think that all genealogists are aware of the value of Census in developing their family trees. You might think that after a seven year campaign to regain public access to Historic Census records they would be aware that starting with the 2006 Census on 16 May, they must respond positively to an 'informed consent' question to earn their place in the history of the future. Sadly, from correspondence I receive, it is obvious that many of those who use Census today are not aware of this. It is therefore up to us to advise them.

Genealogists and historians can be expected to be more aware of the need to answer YES to the 'informed consent' question than are the general public. In fact, the general public's knowledge of the issue is probably non-existent. They must be made aware. This can be done by word-of-mouth, by writing letters to editors of newspapers and by calling radio talk shows. There are many ways to educate the public, and I mention here only a few. The important thing is that we all do our part to 'spread the word'.

On Census Day 16 May 2006, make sure you answer YES to allow your information to be made available to your descendants in 2098. Make sure everyone you know does as well.

Legal action of Information Commissioner

As reported in my column posted 16 February 2006, even though the legal action of the Information Commissioner on behalf of genealogists and historians was terminated when Bill S-18 received Royal Assent 29 June 2005, a parallel action on behalf of the Algonquin Nation Secretariat (ANS) seeking to establish aboriginal territorial rights continued.

Peter Di Gangi, Director of the AGS, sought access to Census records for specified districts in Quebec and Ontario for 1911, 1921, 1931 and 1941 in order to establish aboriginal territorial rights for the Wolf Lake, Barriere Lake and Timiskaming First Nations. Statistics Canada had refused that access.

I was recently advised by Mr. Di Gangi that a decision brought down by the Honourable Mr. Justice Kelen found in favour of the action brought forth by the Information Commissioner on behalf of Mr. Di Gangi. On 13 February 2006 the Court ordered that:
    [The] application is allowed, the decision of the Chief Statistician dated December 11, 2003 is set aside, and this access request is referred back to the Chief Statistician with direction to consider the access request under paragraph 17(2)(d) of the Statistics Act, R.S.C 1985, c. S-19 in accordance with the Reasons for this Order, and with a direction that the census records for 1921, 1931 and 1941 can be disclosed to Dr. James Morrisson on behalf of the Algonquin Bands upon his undertaking that he will keep confidential the personal information in the census records with respect to non-Aboriginal persons.
Mr. Di Gangi advised that Statistics Canada or Justice Canada had until 17 March 2006 in which to appeal the Order of Justice Mr. Kelen. At the time of this writing it was not known if Statistics Canada or Justice Canada had intentions of appealing the Order.

A decade of Cyndi's list

One of the first sources of information found when a 'newbie' genealogist starts searching the Internet is Cyndi's List. At least that was the case for myself, and for many others that I know of. I could tell you about Cyndi's List and her tenth anniversary, but I could not do as well as the Lady herself. The following was extracted from a post she made to the APG mail list on Rootsweb . We offer Cyndi our heartfelt congratulations on her decade of success.
    Hello all -

    Ten years ago, on March 4, 1996, I posted online my first attempt at a personal web site. Our personal site had our surnames, articles, and several other things that we planned to expand upon over time.

    One small portion of the site was a list of links to genealogy web sites. It was one web page with more than 1,000 links. I had no idea that I had just created a monster that would take on a life of its own. Since that time I have been the coyote, and Cyndi's List has been the roadrunner--taking me on a frantic chase to try and keep up with it, while also periodically dropping a virtual anvil on my head.

    The original announcement was posted on Roots-L Tue, 5 Mar 1996 with the subject line: "A New Web Site is Spun!" In that message I bragged: "The many resources include:...a categorized list with over 1,000 links to genealogy Internet sites." See the archived copy at:

      Rootsweb .com/cgi-bin/ifetch2?/ul/textindices/R/ROOTS+1996+983115229706+F" target="_blank"> http://listsearches. Rootsweb .com/cgi-bin/ifetch2?/ul/textindices/R/ROOTS+1996+983115229706+F
    I had no way of knowing how big this little list was going to become, or what impact it would have on my life.

    Since that day ten years ago life has not been dull. My son, Evan, was born (8 years old now). I've been through 5 computers and written three books. The site gained a corporate sponsor and then lost it three years later when Sierra sold the genealogy division. I have had the wonderful experience of traveling and speaking to hundreds of genealogy groups about this engrossing hobby of ours. Travel and trips have now been curtailed by family illnesses, but a break there means more time on the web site again. The ups and downs of running a site of this magnitude have worn me out often. But about the time I want to throw up my hands and run away I get a big lift from one of the thousands of visitors to my site: I receive a nice message telling me how helpful the site has been in their research. That is all it takes so that I'm off and running full steam ahead again.

    Cyndi's List began as a six-page written article for my local genealogical society. When I put it online on March 4, 1996 my intension was to continue growing the list of links so that they might be helpful to other interested genealogists online. That intension hasn't ever changed. However, the amount of time and effort certainly has!

    What is Cyndi's List? The same research tool now that it was ten years ago (only bigger):

    • A categorized & cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the Internet.
    • A list of links that point you to genealogical research sites online.
    • A free jumping-off point for you to use in your online research.
    • A "card catalog" to the genealogical collection in the immense library that is the Internet.
    • Your FREE genealogical research portal onto the Internet.

    For anyone interested in learning more about using Cyndi's List, see the syllabus material created for my lecture, "A Guided Tour of Cyndi's List"


    For anyone interested in the history of Cyndi's List this timeline will take you down memory lane:

    Cyndi's List Historical Timeline

    On March 4, 1996 Cyndi's List started out with 1 page, 1,025 links, a handful of categories, and just one caretaker. Today, 10 years after its creation Cyndi's List has:

    • 251,235 total links
    • 242,672 categorized links
    • 8,563 "What's New" links submitted by visitors
    • 684 individual web pages
    • Visits through the front page: more than 43 million
    • An average of 2 million page hits each month
    • 1 part-time employee, Michele
    • 1 periodic dabbler and caffeine-delivery person, Mark
    • 1 full-time caretaker, Cyndi

    To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the site I have given Cyndi's List an all-new layout with streamlined navigation. Now there is less white space with the content being moved up and to the left on each page. There is now a Google search box at the top of each page. Hopefully the rest of the navigation is more intuitive than in the previous version. The indexes, categories, sub-categories, and web page addresses are all the same. I have many more ideas and plans for things that I would like to do on the site. Michele and I have a big to-do list that we are whittling away at a little at a time. Come back and visit the site often to see how we progress.

    I want to thank the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Cyndi's List over the last decade. Without you, your feedback, and your constructive criticism, I wouldn't have continued this long. Your ongoing support and enthusiasm for genealogy and the Internet have been an inspiration to me. Thank you for your many friendships and kindnesses through the years!

    Cyndi Howells

Unlocking the Vault

The Granite Mountain Record Vault Recent news from the Church of the Latter Day Saints indicates that new advances in scanning software and procedures will greatly speed up the availability of digital images and indexes of millions of rolls of microfilm stored in their vast underground vaults. Rather than the previously estimated time frame of 120 years, the project is now estimated to be completed in less than thirty years. Within 10 years it is expected much of this vast store of genealogical information will be available online.

Because Internet URLs have a habit of changing or disappearing, I have extracted the text of the announcement below. However, can read also read the complete release online.

Unlocking the Vault: Conversion to Digital Records is Progressing
By Brittany Karford, Church Magazines

Members may not have to wonder what lies behind the 14-ton vault door at the Church's Granite Mountain Vault Records (GMRV) facility for much longer. In as little as 10 years, much of its genealogical collection may be at their fingertips.

The billions of names preserved on microfilmed records at the vault are being converted to digital images that can eventually be viewed online at and ultimately searched in and linked to an online index. The process of digitizing the microfilm is now faster than ever through a "bleeding edge" technology system called FamilySearch™ Scanning.

"I call it unlocking the vault," says Heath Nielson, the program's lead software engineer. "I cannot wait for the day when accessibility to these records becomes available to all." When that day comes, the records will be available to everyone, both Latter-day Saints and the public-"God's children everywhere"-according to the project team. And for those researching family history under either title, it will mean no more microfilm, and no more eyes strained from looking at film under dim light.

The vision, says Brent Thompson, director of records preservation, is that in the future members in Lima, Peru, who now wait up to six or eight weeks for microfilm, will be able to go to a family history center or anywhere with Internet access and look at records with the click of a button.

It is a giant first step toward putting most of the family history collection of the GMRV online. Online images and indexes of birth, marriage, and death records from all over the world may altogether change how family history work is done. Currently, only a minority of members pursue family history work, but the accessibility enabled through FamilySearch Scanning will make it simple for anyone with Internet access to get involved.

Brother Thompson believes they will, though at first he didn't dream digitizing the collection would be possible.

"I couldn't imagine it possible in my lifetime," he says. "I couldn't imagine it possible in my children's lifetime."

At the rate they were going prior to the FamilySearch Scanning technology, it was estimated that it would take 120 years to convert applicable films to digital. That same projection is now less than 30 years, perhaps sooner with planned expansions of additional scanners. The team that couldn't fathom living to see the end result will now be the team that will someday complete the digitizing process.

So how does it work? One vault worker loads rolls of film into a pod of scanners and presses "Go". The scanner then takes one comprehensive video picture and transfers that continuous file to another computer, where an application analyzes the contrast of the ribbon for quality and splits each frame into individual JPEGs (a digital file of an image). To finish, a good pair of eyes reviews the job and processes the newly created JPEGs. The digital images are then readied for use by the Church's online indexing program, where volunteers over time will help extract the birth, marriage, and death information from the images to create free searchable indexes online (like the 1880 U.S., 1880 Canada, and 1881 British Censuses currently found at This is a great improvement over the process used just a little more than a year ago, where one person had to be present throughout the entire process, manually scrutinizing each frame. Through three to four feet of film, one technician would adjust the light and contrast with the film density changes, watching every image come across the screen and cutting it out. "We thought, 'How can we apply computer technology to save these poor people's eyes?' " explains Derek Dobson, product manager. "And how can we more quickly convert these microfilms to digital images so people can access them more readily on the Internet?"

Enter Heath Nielson and a team of engineers. Not only does the computer system they developed speed the process up, but by taking the frames on a continuous file, it retains the contextual information of each slide as a piece of a whole.

"In the computer, it's not piecemeal. You can look at a single frame next to its neighbors, and it tells you something about it," Brother Nielson says. Also, with the manual process there was no way of knowing if they had missed an image, something that is not a factor with the continuous file.

Though the technology is not entirely novel, their ability to act and the Church's ability to execute and implement the technology for its intended purposes makes them pioneers in the field. Yet setting the program into motion has not been without its glitches.

"It's something I still feel fervently about," Brother Nielson says. "I knew that if this was something we needed to do, there would be a way provided." And there was. In the hard and frustrating times, he said they would find just what mechanism they needed and receive help from specific individuals just when they needed it-one step at a time.

On just four scanners, they have tripled output-yet they've still only completed four percent of the targeted films at the vault, and more films are coming in. This year alone, they expect to acquire an additional 28,000, says Wayne Crosby, general manager of GMVR. They have a lot of work to do.

The good news is they are two to three years away from completing the transition from microfilm cameras to digital cameras. When this transition is complete, only the existing microfilm collection will need to be converted to digital.

Film and microfiche will continue to be stored in the vault, even after their digital conversion. "The polyester film lasts 300 to 500 years and will continue to be used for long-term preservation," Brother Crosby explains, noting that the digitizing of the records is to make them more accessible to family history researchers, not to make preservation easier.

And so it's back into the long, chilly corridors deep within Granite Mountain for not only the polyester films, but the new digital records as well. There they will reside in one of six 190-foot long rooms. About 1 million rolls of film are held in each vault, maintained at a constant 55 degrees and 30 percent humidity, ideal for preservation.

From the doorway, the row after row of monstrous file cabinets creates the impression of having fallen into Alice and Wonderland and stepped into a strange office where filing cabinets stretch from floor to ceiling.

But the vault where the digital images are stored is for the most part empty (One DVD can hold up to 4 digitized microfilms). A few short cabinets hold what's been converted so far, and the expansiveness of the room whispers of a future when it will be filled. When that day comes, most members will be able to access the digital images of the films anywhere they have Internet access-from their homes or local Family History Center-through the Church's genealogical Web site,; and the staff at GMVR won't be bundling in their coats as often to retrieve fiche and film.

"Think how easy that will be," says Paul Nauta, public relations manager for the Family and Church History Department. "In the future individuals anywhere in the world through the Internet will be able to search the majority of the GMRV's film collection and the billions of names currently hidden in them-all from the convenience of their homes or family history center." "Won't it be nice if in between naps and playing with my children, I can jump on the Internet and do family history research," says Brother Nielson.

"This technology is the answer to our hopes, our dreams, and our prayers," Brother Thompson adds. He smiles, looking out one of the main office windows-or rather, a giant half-dome portal that opens the granite slab to the north-facing alpine slope across the canyon. About to step out of the paper-and-film world that has shaped his profession, he reflects on the mountainside.

"What a view," he says, "and what a great resource this is for the Church. What an inspiration it was to build this facility in a solid wall of granite."
Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts

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