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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 01 February 2007
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts
Topics in this week's issue include:
  • Back in the Sadddle
  • 1911 Census of England and Wales
  • New Provincial Archives for Ontario
  • GENCLASS update
  • 2006 Census statistics re: 'informed consent'

Back in the Sadddle

This column, being my first one of the year 2007, is being written somewhat later than I had intended. A number of factors have played a part in my late start on this column. Having spent the period of 27 December to 7 January driving to Calgary with my son, spending time with him and two of my granddaughters there, then driving back home, accounts for some of the time since my last column. I had thought to start writing this column while in Calgary but with spending time with friends and relatives, that did not happen.

The drive to or from Calgary, when I do it in one jump, normally takes me about 10-1/2 hours, allowing time for a couple of pit stops. This time, because of weather and road conditions, the trip to Calgary took 13 hours. The return trip, during which I drove through 300 - 400 Km of falling snow, took 12 hours.

Since my return, much of my time has been taken up in getting acquainted with the lovebird that I received from my daughter and my other grandchildren for Christmas. My granddaughter has had a lovebird for the past year or so, and a passing comment some months ago that I might consider getting one for myself was the impetus for this gift. During this period of getting acquainted I have managed to coax the bird onto my finger without much protest, but he/she has not yet reached the point, as has my granddaughter's lovebird, where he/she seeks to come out of the cage to visit with me. I expect that with time and patience this will change. The bird, who I have tentatively named 'Mickey' is now about 11 weeks old, which puts his/her birthday about the same time as my own - at the end of October. It is too early yet to determine the sex, hence my designation of 'he/she'.

The weather lately may also have played a part in my not writing this column earlier. Weather in the Vancouver lower mainland area has been 'screwball' for most of the past year. It seems this past year we have broken most records for temperatures - both high and low, for the least precipitation and most continuous hours/days of sunshine, followed by the most precipitation and fewest hours/days of sunshine, and more recently the coldest weather and most snow that we have seen for many years around here. In the past month or so we have been hit with several of the strongest windstorms seen here since Hurricane Freda came through in 1962. It would seem that winter weather patterns across Canada have reversed themselves, with mid and eastern Canada - at least up to near to the time of this writing, having the mildest winter months known for many years.

Whatever the reason for not writing this column earlier, it is time that I stopped procrastinating and got back in the groove. So here we go.

1911 Census of England and Wales

For several years a genealogy researcher in England, Denis McCready, has led a fight with the government that in many ways has paralleled our own fight to see Historic Census records released to the public. He has occasionally contacted me to advise as to the status of his battle with the government in England.

Census records for England and Wales have typically been made available to the public after 100 years have passed since collection of the data. Under this restriction Census records for 1911 would not normally be made available until 2012. It has been the opinion of Denis McCready however, that existing legislation did not prevent a release of 1911 Census records earlier than 100 years after collection, and that in fact there has been precedents set for such earlier release. It would seem that this opinion had some support in the British parliament, but as with our own Census battle here, the wheels of progress grind slowly.

As was done in our own campaign, some 30 members of the public sought access through their National Archives for the disclosure of an extract from the 1911 Census for an address in England or Wales. These applications being refused, one Guy Etchells of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, in December 2005 made application to the Information Commissioner for a determination as to whether or not the National Archive had acted properly in rejecting his request for access.

In December 2006 Guy received an early Christmas present when the Information Commissioner ruled in favor of his request and required the National Archives to disclose the requested information. The summary of the Information Commissioner's findings was as follows:
    Case Ref: FS50101391
    Date: 11/12/2006
    Public Authority: National Archives
    The complainant requested information from the National Archives relating to the 1911 census schedule. The National Archives withheld the requested information, relying on the exemption under section 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act'). In this case, the Commissioner's decision is that the National Archives wrongly claimed section 41 in relation to the requested information and he therefore upholds the complaint. The Commissioner requires the National Archives to disclose the requested information to the complainant. The Commissioner stresses that this Decision must be confined to the circumstances relating to the information requested in this case. This is not - and cannot be - a decision that the entirety of the 1911 census must now be disclosed. Nor does it create any precedent in the sense that all other requests for specific information within the 1911 or other census schedules must succeed. This Decision concludes with more general guidance about situations where section 41 of the Act may apply in this context. Each request for 1911 census information will need to be treated separately on its merits.

    Section of Act/EIR & Finding: FOI 41 - Complaint Upheld
While the Information Commisioner makes it clear that this decision is not a carte blanche opening of the 1911 Census of England and Wales to the public, it is a step in the right direction.

Click on the link to access a PDF file of the Full transcript of decision notice FS50101391

In reading this decision it seems that the Information Commissioner of England and Wales has the power of compulsion regarding his decisions and those failing to abide by them face the prospect of being found in contempt of court. The Information Commisioner of Canada on the other hand, does not have the power of compulsion and can only make recommendations that cannot be enforced without a lengthy court procedure.

Subsequent to the decision of the UK Information Commissioner, on 17 January 2007, the National Archives of England and Wales launched a Freedom of Information Request Service to provide partial access to entries from the 1911 Census. The 1911 Census has not been nominally indexed and therefore those requesting information must provide the following exact information in order to have their request considered:
  • House name or number
  • Street name
  • Town
  • County
Applicants may also request an extract of the 1911 Census in writing, or by sending an email to the National Archives at In either case however, the request must include the information listed above.

The Freedom of Information Request Service is an interim system pending hopes of the National Archives to provide online name and address search access to the 1911 Census, through an approved partner, as early as 2009. Even then, information available will be limited. Data considered to be 'personally sensitive' will remain closed until unrestricted access is made available in 2012. Fortunately, what the Information Commissioner of England and Wales considers to be 'personally sensitive' is considerably different, and less restrictive, than that considered by our own Chief Statistician.

Many will welcome the early access to partial information from this Census. I expect however, that the rush to request this information will be slowed somewhat by the price tag of 45 pounds for each request. Today that equates to slightly more than 104 Canadian dollars.

New Provincial Archives for Ontario

Kathie Orr has been in the forefront of a small group of genealogists that for some time have publicly deplored the deterioration of existing facilities of the Ontario Provincial Archives. They have promoted upgrading of the existing facilities or a move to more suitable quarters capable of enhanced environmental control. Environmental controls would permit the Archives to store and preserve valuable documents that were in danger of being lost because of flooding and storage areas having no such control. It would seem that the efforts of Kathy and her group have paid off.

On 18 December 2006 Ontario Minister of Government Services, Gerry Phillips, announced that the Ontario government will partner with York University to create a new home for the Archives of Ontario. Over the next two years a new archival facility will be built on the main York University campus, at 4700 Keele Street, in Toronto.

The new facility, about 98,000 square feet will more than double the size of the current public reference area, and will meet international archive standards. The new facilities will make it easier to showcase some of the Archives' most valuable collections. The new facility will make it easier to serve a broader clientele, including school groups and delegations.

The new archive will be the largest provincial archive in Canada, with a collection valued at more than $400 million. It will be responsible for preserving the documentary history of the province and will be an important source of research for the police, courts, historians and genealogists. The new Archives facility is expected to open in 2009.

My last column included an article about GenClass Online Genealogy Courses. In that article I commented that their website was not particularly user friendly, particularly when seeking information regarding their instructors.

I am pleased to advise that GenClass took note of my comments. Changes have been made to their website that include links on their home page directing users to information regarding the instructors, class schedules, and an explanation of their procedures. Registered students may also log on from a link on the home page. Overall, a vast improvement on what was there before.

2006 Census statistics re: 'informed consent'

Some time ago I requested of my contact in Statistics Canada information relating to how respondents of the 2006 Census of Canada answered the 'informed consent' question relating to release of information they provided, 92 years in the future. In addition to information regarding how the question was answered, I sought information regarding those residents of 'collective dwellings' (prisons, hospitals, etc.) where Census information was gathered from administrative records rather than directly from the residents. Where Census information is gathered in this manner, the 'informed consent' question is left blank, and is subsequently considered to be a negative response.

In December I received a response indicating that processing, certifying and editing of the Census forms was progressing. I was advised that the initial release of the information I sought from the 2006 Census will take place on 13 March 2007. This release will include the numbers for population and dwellings including collectives. Dwelling and collective information will be totals only since details on the number of people per dwelling will not be available until later in the release schedule. Detailed collective counts will be available in September 2007.

This link will take you to a Statistics Canada web page showing the intended release dates of various data collected by the Census.

I have a number of concerns regarding what I expect will be forthcoming when the statistics I seek are released. I will not elaborate about those concerns at this time however, but will wait until I see the numbers.

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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