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

Gordon A. Watts
Topics in this week's issue include:
  • Electronic petitions to government - yes or no?
  • West Coast genealogy
  • Family Roots Radio
  • Canada Roots
  • UK Passenger Records online
  • Message from Ian E. Wilson, Librarian & Archivist Canada
  • New at Library and Archives Canada

Scroll down this page to read the complete articles...

Electronic petitions to government - yes or no?

During our lengthy campaign to get the Government of Canada to release 92-year old Census records in accordance with legislation that stated we were already entitled to them, the Canada Census Committee sent in excess of 75,000 signatures on petitions to the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada.

In accordance with Canada's parliamentary rules our petitions to the government were to be on paper of a prescribed size, were to follow a specific form, and permitted only original signatures. Attachments were not permitted and the wording of the petition could not be altered in any way. Photocopies, faxes or emails were not considered valid for the purposes of petitions even though in many other aspects of government they were permitted, and in many cases were considered to be legal documents. Electronic petitions would not be considered at all.

In Canada, petitions are submitted to the House of Commons or the Senate where it is read and noted in Hansard. In most cases that is the last we hear of it. The response to Parliament, when it comes, is not read out, nor is it noted in Hansard. All that happens is that the House is informed that responses to petitions have been tabled, without detailing which petitions or what the responses have been. I have found no place on the government of Canada websites where one can read these responses. Submitters of the petitions are given no feedback as to their disposition.

It was with considerable interest therefore, that I recently learned that the Government of England accepts electronic petitions. Not only do they accept electronic petitions, but they have, in conjunction with a non-partisan charitable project - mySociety - set up space on a Downing Street website to allow citizens, charities and campaign groups to address and deliver a petition, signed by anyone with Internet access, directly to the Prime Minister. This website was set up in November 2006 and currently is in a public 'beta test'.

To sign any petition you must be a British citizen or resident. Serious petitions having 100 or more signatures before a prescribed deadline are forwarded to the Office of the Prime Minister, or to the appropriate government department or agency. In order to prevent duplicate or false signatures being added to petitions, the website is set up to accept only a single signature per email address for each petition. This could be a potential problem for those households where more than one person would like to sign a petition. While there are certainly ways to get around this, if one should choose to do so, it seems a reasonable caution to me.

What I found of particular interest is the fact that not only does the originator receive a response to a submitted petition, every person that signs it receives an e-mail detailing the response.

As I write this, there are currently two petitions on this site that deal with release of Historic Census records in England. The first petitions the Prime Minister to reduce the classified period for census data from 100 years to 70 years. It currently has 22,287 signatures attached, and has a deadline for signing of 8 March 2007. This petition is currently listed as one of the five most popular of those presented. The second petition asks the Prime Minister to retain a period of closure of 100 years for Census records. This petition currently has 105 signatures and a deadline for signing of 10 March 2007.

At first glance I thought the petition to reduce the classified period for census data from 100 years to 70 years was a good idea. It is commonly believed that England has a mandated period of closure of 100 years. Not so, according to Denis McCready - the driving force in England for release of Historic Census records. Denis states:
    "Closure periods for all public records were scrapped by the FOI Act. Instead, we have a general right to see ALL public records unless they are subject to a series of Exemptions to disclosure.

    Our Information Commissioner is there to ensure that the Exemptions are not abused. For example, the National Statistician is currently refusing to disclose extracts from the 1921 and 1961 censuses on the grounds that Exemption 22 applies. Exemption 22 allows an authority to refuse to disclose a document if it is intended for future publication!!!!!"
The concern of Denis regarding this petition, which he does not advocate signing, is that it could result in a 70-year period of closure of Census records being imposed where, according to him, no period of closure exists today.

Not having delved into the British legislation to any degree, I am not in any position to state whether or not the interpretation of Denis is correct. I have not read the exemption that Denis mentions above, but it seems unreasonable to me that such an exemption would prevent disclosure on the basis that the information was intended for publication years in the future.

Our own Access to Information Act contains provisions to withhold disclosure on the basis that it is intended for publication within 90 days from the time of the request. If the information requested is not published within 90 days it must be released to the requester.

In any case, it was not the intention of this article to debate our respective legislations. Rather it was to consider the merits of the use of electronic petitions by government. Detractors of such a system will be quick to point out the negative aspects, one of which is posting of frivolous petitions that have no serious intent. One such frivolous petition posted on the Downing Street website petitions Tony Blair, Prime Minister of England, to stand on his head while eating ice cream.

Be that as it may, the use of electronic petitions by government is an idea whose time has come. It is my considered opinion that the government of Canada would do well to follow the lead of the British government, and not only allow the use of electronic petitions, but encourage them.

The home page for the Downing Street petitions can be found at

West Coast genealogy

Those living in, or visiting the Lower Mainland area of British Columbia have a number of genealogical opportunities coming up in April. The Abbotsford Genealogical Society is holding their Roots Around the World 2007 Seminar and Genealogy Marketplace on Saturday, 28 April 2007, at Rick Hansen Senior Secondary School, 31150 Blueridge Drive, Abbotsford, BC. They will present a number of workshops covering a broad spectrum of topics. Featured speakers will include Candy-Lea Chickite, Dr. Penny Christensen, Bernice Davidson, Chris Longley, Lorene Lyle, Halvor Moorshead, Dave Obee, Ugo Perego, and Brenda Smith. A speaker from FedEx Kinko's will speak about printing opportunities when presenting your family histories.

Of particular interest to some will be the opportunity to submit your DNA sample (without charge) to the global database of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy foundation in Salt Lake City, Utah. All you need is to bring a copy of your PEDIGREE chart with four or more generations - all lines - of family information. The chart can be submitted on paper or on disk as a GEDCOM file. The DNA testing is open to anyone over the age of 7, including the general public not attending the seminar (no charge).

For more information visit the website at

The Cloverdale branch of the Surrey Public Library will be holding a 'lock-in' fundraiser for the Canadian Genealogy Collection on Sunday 29 April 2007, 10:00 - 3:00 pm. Cost is $35.00. Participants will enjoy exclusive access to the Cloverdale collection, free use of readers, and one-on-one tutorials with the genealogy staff, seminars and tours of the genealogy collection. Door prizes and light refreshments will be provided. Revenues generated will be used to buy new materials for Surrey Public Library's Genealogy collection.

Registration is limited. Those interested are requested to pre-register by calling 604-576-1384 (local 303 or 304) or by email to

The British Columbia Genealogical Society is expecting to hold some sessions for DNA testing on Friday 27 April 2007. It is known that these sessions will be held at the BCGS Resource Center, located at Unit 211, 12837 - 76th Avenue, Surrey, BC. What is not known at the time of this writing are the times of the sessions, and whether or not pre-registration will be required. As for the DNA testing at the Abbotsford Genealogical Society, you will be asked for a four or more generation PEDIGREE chart - either paper, or a GEDCOM file on disk. Further details will be given in a subsequent issue of this newsletter.

Family Roots Radio

On Thursday 8 February 2007, Natalie Cottrill, CEO of ProGenealogists, Inc. announced the first airing of "Family Roots Radio", a new weekly hour-long radio show hosted by Kory L. Meyerink. The show is the result of a partnership between ProGenealogists, Inc., and Internet genealogy publisher,

Ms. Cottrill states that the show, to be broadcast each Thursday at 1:00 PM Pacific time (4:00 PM Eastern) will feature a wide range of "how-to" elements designed to assist all people interested in family history, from the novice to the professional. In addition to answering general questions from listeners, spotlighting of important family history news and providing research tips from professionals, the show will include guests from among the most prominent genealogists today.

The show will explore effective ways to use software and the Internet in the pursuit of family history, including spotlighting data-rich websites. An "interactive" feature will walk listeners through the use of important sites, while they are listening to the broadcast.

"Family Roots Radio" will be broadcast on the VoiceAmerica Channel, accessible by anyone having an Internet connection with audio capabilities. An interactive website and downloadable archives of past shows will provide a variety of listener options. To listen to the show live, log on to the VoiceAmerica Channel at Kory will take calls toll free at 1-866-472-5788. For more details, and instructions for how to listen (NO special software required) with your Internet browser, visit "Family Roots Radio"

If you miss the show live, it will be available in the archives. You can listen to it online, or download an MP3 file for listening at a later time. The quality of the audio online is excellent.

Producers of this show welcome your feedback, ideas for consideration, or interest in participating in the program. Email them directly at

Canada Roots

This past week links to a new (at least to me) genealogy website have been posted on a number of mail lists to which I subscribe. This new site is named Canada Roots. The home page contains links to pages for all of Canada's provinces and territories. Each subsequent page contains several links to sources of information that pertain to the province or territory of choice.

It would seem that the organizers of this website put in a considerable amount of time and effort in collecting the links and grouping them appropriately. If you are looking for original content however, you may be disappointed. In my surfing I found little or no original content. Of the links that I followed in the time I had, by far the majority of them led to sections of or, both of which are accessed by paid subscription. That is not to say that all links lead to sources that require payment for access. Many of the links lead to various archives and museums - city, municipal, provincial and some churches. There are links also to various genealogical societies and to the Canadian Genealogy Center of Library and Archives Canada. Many users will find the links found on these pages useful.

The first time I accessed Canada Roots I found a number of apparent links that did not work, leading me to believe that the page was a work in progress. On returning a day or two later however, all links I tried were working.

Something I found lacking was any indication about who put the site together, or any method of contacting them to report any problems on the pages. For all intents and purposes, these pages are anonymous. I always find it interesting to know who is responsible for pages that I access, be it an individual, or a company. In my view this website would be improved if they included 'About Canada Roots' and 'Contact Us' links on the home page.

UK Passenger Records online

In January, the National Archives of England announced that passenger lists for ships departing UK ports between 1890 and 1960 would be placed online for viewing, downloading and printing. Original passenger lists are being scanned and will be accessible online through a partnership with At the time of this announcement, scanning of these records was a work in progress, and those records available at the time were for those from 1890 to 1999. Since then more records have been added and as of the time of this writing records up to 1909 are currently available. More records are being added as they are scanned.

The passenger lists have been nominally indexed and you can search by inputting a first and/or last name, and by specifying a time frame in which you expect to find the individual searched for.

First time visitors to are requested to register. This takes only a moment or two, and there is no charge for registering. After registering you are free to initiate your search. Your search parameters are not restricted to the passenger lists, but include searching Births, Marriages and Deaths; Military Records; Census records; Migration Records; Occupations and Directories; and living relatives.

Having input your parameters and hitting the 'Search' button will result in a page showing the number of results in each of the categories stated above. Each of these categories is expandable, and may take a few steps to reach the actual listing of names found from your search. If your search parameters are sufficiently broad you may find several pages listed with a 'View' button at the end of the line.

Unless you have paid for 'units' in advance, this is as far as you can go. Hitting the 'View" link will result in a page stating "You have insufficient units to view further images." A link is provided to take you where you can purchase units at the following rates:
  • 5 pounds for 50 units @ 10 pence - valid 90 days
  • 25 pound for 313 units @ 8 pence - valid for 1 year
  • 60 pounds for 810 units @ 7.5 pence - valid for 1 year
  • 120 pounds for 2400 units @ 5 pence - valid for 1 year
  • 240 pounds for 4800 units @ 5 pence - valid for 1 year
To assist in determining what package of units to purchase the following information is provided:
  • England & Wales BMD entry/index page - 1 unit per view
  • Overseas BMDs - 1 unit per view
  • Army lists/roll calls - 1 unit per view
  • Death duty registers 1796 - 1903 - 1 unit per view
  • Professional records - 1 unit per view
  • Census image - 3 units per view
  • Census household transcription - 3 units per view
  • BMDs at Sea 1854 - 1890 - 3 units per view
  • Divorce & matrimonial causes 1858 - 1903 - 3 units per view
  • Passenger list transcript - 5 units per view
  • Passenger list image - 30 units per view
  • Passport applications - 3 units per view
  • National Roll of the Great War - 5 units per view
  • Living Relatives - 10 units per search
  • Soldiers Died in the Great War entry - 10 units per search
  • Army Roll of Honour - 10 units per view
  • Soldiers Died/Army Roll of Honour scroll - 50 units to purchase
At today's rate of exchange cost per unit ranges from an approximate high of $0.23 to an approximate low of $0.115 CAD. I leave it to the reader to do the math and determine whether or not this is good value for them.

Message from Ian E. Wilson, Librarian and Archivist Canada

Celebrating Black History Month in Canada

"Library and Archives Canada, in co-operation with the Black community in Canada, has much to do to ensure that the record we pass on is truly representative of the Canadian experience, the full, diverse Canadian experience in all of its guises--the good, the difficult, the inherently honest. The process is by turns celebratory, commemorative, mournful, but the objective is to understand, to learn from our history and to carry forth these lessons as we meet the challenges of the 21st century. Together, we strive to ensure that the archival, library and museum legacy we leave to the future is reflective of the diversity and complexity of Canada."

I presented the above remarks during the 2005 Multiple Lenses: Voices from the Diaspora conference organized by Professor David Divine, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University. This historic, national conference brought together more than 400 delegates in Halifax to explore the question of what it means to be Black and Canadian.

Continuing in the spirit of these words, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) looks forward to celebrating Black History Month in February and is planning for other community initiatives in April. This year marks some especially meaningful milestones, such as the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire, the 60th anniversary of Canadian Citizenship, and the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In addition to co-hosting the launch of this annual event with the recently incorporated Black History Ottawa, LAC will be a programming partner for other activities and provide a venue for community events.

In April, LAC is pleased to support the organizers of the Black Diasporic Experiences of Societal Engagement: The Politics of Inclusion conference by serving as the venue. This international conference will continue many of the discussions that began in Halifax in 2005, and will feature speakers from France, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.

Under a Northern Star, one of LAC's new Web projects set for release this Spring, will highlight the social, civil and human struggles and achievements of Black Canadians. This rich site will provide access to material on such topics as Ontario's Elgin settlement, the private collection of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, and the influential Voice of the Fugitive and The Provincial Freeman newspapers.

The site will be launched at Montréal's Place des Arts on April 15 during the world premiere of Anthony Sherwood's new film 100 Years of Faith, marking the 100th anniversary of Montréal's Union United Church--a centrepiece of the Black community in that city. LAC is pleased to work with Mr. Sherwood and is planning an Ottawa premiere of the film on April 29 during the local Quebec Scene programming.

For LAC, the preservation and celebration of Canada's Black heritage is not limited to Black History Month. The institution is working hard to establish more durable ties with communities and partners that have an impact year-round and that help foster LAC collections, services and programs to better reflect Canadian society.

New at Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada has announced the completion of the database regarding the Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers collection (LI-RA-MA). This database contains documents created between 1898 and 1922 by the consular offices of the Tsarist Russian Empire in Canada. The series on passports and identity papers is comprised of about 11,400 files on Jewish, Ukrainian and Finnish immigrants who came to Canada from the Russian Empire. The series includes passport applications and questionnaires containing general information. First released at the end of October 2006, the remaining 35 000 digitized images were recently added, bringing up the total of images to 55,000.

You are invited to visit the site at: The contributions of many LAC staff were instrumental in the success of this project, and their efforts are much appreciated.

Also new at Library and Archives Canada is Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914-1918 and Faces of War. These new virtual exhibitions bring Canada's military history to life through the voices and faces of the men and women who served their country during wartime.

Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914-1918 offers insight into the horrors of the Great War through the first-hand accounts of Canadian soldiers and airmen. Digitized audio recordings capture the sentiments of Canadian veterans who experienced war in the trenches at the great battles of Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele as well as in the air. Transcripts of these moving stories and a selection of remarkable photographs are also provided online.

Created in partnership with Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Oral Histories is based on the CBC's radio broadcast In Flanders Fields, a series of one-on-one interviews with veterans, which aired during the 1960s.

Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914 - 1918

Faces of War features photographs of men and women who served in the Canadian Forces in the Second World War. The photographs, taken from the Department of National Defence (DND) collection at Library and Archives Canada, depict every aspect of military life during this conflict.

Visitors to the site can search a database of almost 2,500 images from the DND collection, or view the photo galleries that represent each branch of the Canadian Forces: Army, Navy and Air Force.

Through Faces of War, Library and Archives Canada introduces an exciting new feature to its online exhibitions. In addition to viewing the comments of others, visitors can share memories online by adding their comments to any of the photographs in the Faces of War database.

Faces of War

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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