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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 24 August 2006
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts Topics in this week's issue include:
  • New sources of information
  • U.S. newspapers
  • Buyer beware
  • Rebecca Snow may be looking for you!
  • British Columbia passes new Adoption Act

New sources of information

In these days of Post 9-11 we are all too often hearing about traditional sources of information vital to genealogists and historians being shut down. Various reasons are given for shutting down or restricting access to these sources - privacy concerns, fear of identity theft, National Security reasons, etc.

It is therefore refreshing when we hear about new sources coming on board, and it is even more refreshing when these new sources are available without charge. One of my readers, from St. Louis, Missouri, has just advised me about two such sources.

Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis has a website that is both informational and educational. It provides information about the 15 cemeteries that are operated by the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It provides maps, directions and historical information about many of these cemeteries, and many of the famous people interred therein.

What will be of greatest interest to many of my readers is that on this website you can do a search of the burial records of nearly 500,000 interments in these cemeteries. The search page indicates that the interment records are current as of today and states that the website is updated within minutes of the data changing at the cemetery.

My informant states - "I do not know of any other such site, providing soooo much burial info in one place. And just think of the money they save, by not having to answer the phone all day, with questions like "Where is Aunt Matilda buried, and who is buried with her?"

Visit the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis website.

The second source my informant advises about is, surprisingly, provided by a State government department. Even more surprising, is that it will also be provided without charge. The Secretary of State for Missouri, Robin Carnahan, has collected all death certificates in the State from 1910 to 1955. They have been indexed and that index has been placed online. The following extract was taken from the website of the Missouri Secretary of State:
    Death certificates contain valuable information for family historians and researchers. The Missouri Death Certificate Database, containing death records created after 1910 and over 50 years old, makes that information available online through a searchable index that links to a digitized image of the original death certificate.

    The index can be searched by first name and last name, county, and by year and month. Once a name is selected, a digitized image of the original certificate can be retrieved.
This is an ongoing project and additional records will be added as they are transcribed and imaged. Since the release of the database in early April, researchers have conducted over 1.8 million searches, requested over 21,600 death certificates and sent more than 700 e-mail queries regarding the database. You can access the index here.

My thanks to Jim in St. Louis, MO, who suggests that the State of Missouri might be saving money by putting this info out there where we can get it by ourselves, without waking a governmental employee from his nap. Perhaps more government departments should follow this example.

U.S. newspapers

Those who use newspapers for research will be interested in two projects being collaborated on by the US National Endowment for the Humanities, and the US Library of Congress. These projects are the U.S. Newspaper Program, and the National Digital Newspaper Program. For those who are unaware, the National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities.

The goal of the first project, the U.S. Newspaper Program (USNP), is to preserve on microfilm newspapers published in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present. The USNP supports projects in each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A project's staff (usually at the state's largest newspaper repository) inventories holdings in public libraries, county courthouses, newspaper offices, historical museums, college and university libraries, archives, and historical societies. Catalogue records are entered into a national database maintained by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) and are accessible through more than 53,500 dedicated computer terminals worldwide. Microfilm copies of newspapers are generally available to researchers anywhere in the country through inter-library loan. While perhaps new to myself and many of my readers, the U.S. Newspaper Project has been under way since 1982.

The second project, the National Digital Newspaper Project (NDNP), intends to carry the work of the U.S. Newspaper Program a step further by creating a national, digital resource of historically significant newspapers from all the states and U.S. territories published between 1836 and 1922.

The U.S. Library of Congress (LC) will maintain a permanent searchable database that will be freely accessible via the Internet. The website will include a national newspaper directory of bibliographic and holdings information that will direct users to newspaper titles available in all types of formats. A significant number of newspaper pages drawn from the Library of Congress collections will also be digitized and contributed to the NDNP database during the course of this partnership between NEH and the Library.

The NDNP project will be completed in phases. At the present time it is expected that it will take approximately twenty years to complete.

Buyer beware

eBay has been a tremendously successful venture for the past number of years. People wishing to sell, and others wishing to purchase, get together online and in most cases both parties to the transactions go away happy. Such is not always the case however, as I have been made aware, both through direct email and from reading occasional postings to various genealogical mail lists.

It would appear that some individuals having less than desired scruples, have copied the content of genealogical and other web sites, where the data is available for free, and are selling it on CD. It has been reported to me that photocopies of documents from the Canadiana Collection of the Toronto Public Library have also been up for sale on eBay.

I cannot give you specific instances of such offers for sale, and likely would not publish them if I could. My purpose in mentioning it here is simply to advise using caution in making purchases, of any kind, from unknown sources. You may not be getting the bargain or the information you think you are.

Rebecca Snow may be looking for you!

Rebecca Snow works for Yapfilms and is currently working on a series of television shows for History Television. The three-part series is to explore historic Canadian conflicts through a genealogical perspective. The films will focus on the search for living descendants of participants of these conflicts, to be guided by internationally recognized historians and genealogists.

Rebecca is in the final stages of research regarding the Riel Rebellions and will shortly begin research for a program on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, to be broadcast on History Television in early 2007. She is seeking to hear from any descendants of participants in this historic battle fought on 13 September 1759. She is looking for people of French, British, Scottish, Native or Canadian origin who had ancestors that fought in that conflict.

It is not necessary that descendants have extensive knowledge of their ancestor or the history, just that there is proof of ancestry and that a kernel of curiosity is there regarding their role in the event. Undoubtedly it helps if there is a wealth of family legend about the individual, but professional genealogists and historians will be employed to uncover the missing links in story and family as they relate to the ancestor.

If you think you qualify, contact Rebecca by email at with a Cc: to

British Columbia passes new Adoption Act

The following information was extracted from a web page of
    Early this summer, British Columbia's legislature passed a new Adoption Act which, if proclaimed as expected, will soon replace adoption legislation that dates back to 1957. "This [new] legislation," said Social Services Minister Joy MacPhail in a June 21st news release, "responds to long-standing public demands to replace a 38-year-old act [which] no longer reflects society's view of the complex relationships among children, birth mothers and fathers, adoptive parents, and extended families. The members of this wider adoption circle require better protection, more options, and greater access to information."

    Passed by a vote of 50 to 6, Bill 51 attempts to protect, inform, and help members of the adoption circle in a variety of ways. First and foremost, the act seeks to give "paramount consideration in every respect to the child's best interests". The act identifies several components of best interest determinations, and many provisions list the child's best interest, and even a child's consent, as a determining factor in key aspects of the adoption process. In addition, the law attempts to better serve birth parents and adoptive parents by requiring pre-placement counselling, outlawing placements made through unlicensed or for-profit entities, and allowing open adoption agreements.

    According to the Toronto-based Adoption Helper newsletter, many members of British Columbia's adoption community believe Bill 51 positively addresses important issues that adoption triad members encounter throughout their lives. Other Canadian and U.S. advocates are looking at the legislation as a possible model for progressive change elsewhere. Below is a summary of key provisions that supporters say will substantially improve British Columbia's existing adoption law.
To see more information regarding provisions of this new Adoption Act visit this web page.

Please Note: The article partially extracted from the website refers to "Early this summer…….". Because the article is not dated it is unclear as to whether it refers to "early summer 2006" or some time previous to 2006. The article does however, contain information that may be useful to some readers.

Those wishing current information regarding the British Columbia Adoption Act should refer to the Revised Statutes of British Columbia (1996), Chapter 5 at this web site.

Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts

Your comments regarding this newsletter, and suggestions for future articles are welcome. Click here to send me a message with a subject line of "Gordon Watts Reports".

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Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
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The Merivale Cemeteries
(Protestant - Ottawa area)