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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 09 June 2007
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts
Topics in this month's column include:
  • British Columbia Historical Federation presents award
  • Alberta Genealogical Society Homestead indexes
  • Personal access to at Family History Centers
  • Nova Scotia coal miners tribute
  • Abbotsford Genealogy Society probate indexes
  • Paper of Record
  • Wells Fargo Bank into genealogy?

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

British Columbia Historical Federation presents award

On Saturday 12 May 2007 I had the honour of attending a banquet hosted in Victoria, B.C. by the British Columbia Historical Federation. A couple of weeks earlier I had received an email from the BCHF inviting myself and a guest to attend the banquet, which was the culmination of their Annual Conference. I was advised that the purpose of the invitation was to present me with a Certificate of Merit for the part that I had played in regaining public access to historic Census records, 92 years after collection. The BCHF makes only two such awards each year.

It had been many years since I had visited Victoria, and I was looking forward to the trip. I was up bright and early Saturday morning, in time to pick up my daughter Kelly in Cloverdale and make the 9:00 am ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. The ferry ride took about an hour and forty minutes. Once back on dry land it took about 30 minutes to arrive at the Harbour Towers Hotel, just off the harbour in Victoria.

Having arrived too early to get our reserved room we parked in the hotel parking area and went for a walk. We walked past the Provincial Parliament Buildings and to the Royal BC Museum where there was an exhibit of artefacts that had been taken from the Titanic where it lies two miles down on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Before entering the exhibits we viewed an Imax movie that showed how many of the artefacts had been retrieved. Having viewed the movie before entering the exhibit gave us a better appreciation of what we were viewing. On entering the exhibit we were issued with 'boarding passes' that had the name and statistics of one of the passengers on board the Titanic, and before exiting visitors had the opportunity to check some lists to see if the passenger you represented had survived the sinking or not. In our case, the passenger represented by my daughter had survived, while mine had not.

The Imax movie took about an hour, and to do justice to the exhibits would take a minimum of two hours. It was well worth the time and admission to visit. As the Titanic display is a travelling exhibit, I would urge anyone to attend when it comes to your area.

(As a possible point of interest, my grandmother and aunt came from England to join my grandfather in 1912, from the same port the Titanic embarked from. There was a strike of coal miners happening at the time, and many people scheduled to travel on other ships were moved to the Titanic because of a lack of coal for those other ships. Fortunately, this did not happen for my grandmother and aunt, and my father was born in British Columbia in 1915. Had they been transferred to the Titanic, it is possible that I might not be here today.)

After exiting the museum, we had lunch at a Spaghetti Factory that was in walking distance, and returned to the hotel, where we found our room was ready for us. There we just relaxed for a while before getting ready for the banquet. Happy hour was scheduled for 6:00 pm and dinner was set for 7:00 pm. On entering the banquet rooms we were met by some members of the British Columbia Genealogy Society who, by prior arrangement, we were invited to sit with. It was nice that there was someone there that at least I knew, and that my daughter could meet and get acquainted with.

Members of British Columbia Genealogy Society.
L-R Alice Marwood, Maureen Hyde, Diane Rogers, Lorraine Irving,
Gordon Watts, Brenda Smith, Jacqueline Gresko

Shortly before 7:00 pm attendees were requested to take their seats, and following a couple of brief speeches, a number of Certificates of Appreciation, and two Certificates of Merit (including my own) were presented. The Certificate awarded to me stated:

British Columbia Historical Federation

Certificate of Merit

presented to

Gordon A. Watts

for his seven years of lobbying the
Government of Canada to approve Bill S-18
ensuring that census files are available
to the public after 92 years

It was signed by Dr. Paticia Roy, President, and dated May 12, 2007.

Roy Hyde of BCHF presents Gordon Watts with Certificate of Merit

Even though the Certificate was presented to myself, I accepted it on behalf of myself, Muriel Davidson - my Co-chair on the Canada Census Committee, and the many thousands of others who helped us regain the access to Historic Census records to which we were rightfully entitled to from the start.

Alberta Genealogical Society Homestead indexes

By Georgina Binnie-Clark, London: E. Arnold, 1910

The following information on Alberta Homesteads was posted to a genealogical message board by Gordon Berdahl. Those having ancestral roots in Alberta may find it interesting.
    As many of you know, in 2005 the Alberta Genealogical Society produced a searchable online "all-name" index that includes the names of every person who is listed as having some interest in Alberta homestead lands that had been "proved up" and patented by 1930. In 1930 the Canadian government turned the homesteading process over to the individual provinces. The Edmonton Branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society has now produced a new searchable online "all-name" index that covers Alberta homesteads patented after 1930. This new index, as well as the earlier 1870-1930 index, can be found at .

    It should be noted that although the new post-1930 index (which includes records for homesteading activities as early as 1900) already contains almost 45,000 names, there are many tens of thousands of more names to come as data continues to be transcribed and entered. So if you have someone who you think may have homesteaded in Alberta, and you have not yet found a homestead record for that person, you should check the new post-1930 index regularly.

    In the late 1800's and early 1900's people from all over the world came to western Canada to take advantage of cheap, newly available farmland, commonly known as homesteads. For several years Library and Archives Canada (formerly National Archives of Canada) has published a searchable online index containing the names of the persons who were successful in "proving up" their western Canadian homesteads and obtaining final patent (ownership) for these lands. This index can be found at

    However, for every person who ultimately obtained patent on homestead land there were many others who applied for homesteads but for various reasons, did not receive patent. And there were many more who had some other interest in the same homestead lands, even though they themselves may not have even applied for the homestead. The two AGS indexes allow you to search for the names of these hundreds of thousands of other early Albertans.

    The "Advanced Search" option will allow you to search not only by the "Exact Match" spelling of the name, but also by the very useful "Starts With", "Ends With", "Contains" and "Wild Card Search" search methods. Furthermore, you can search not only by the person's name but also by the legal land location or, in some cases, place name. The indexes include name listings for ranches, churches, schools, cemeteries, municipalities, societies, companies and other organizations that had an interest in homestead lands.

    Copies of the microfilmed Alberta homestead files are held at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. For those who are able to search these files in person, the online homestead indexes will identify the microfilm reel and homestead file number where the name appears, thus saving considerable time and effort when trying to find the file. Or, if you wish, the Alberta Genealogical Society will obtain photocopies of homestead files for you and you can find out how to arrange for this at

    These two homestead indexes will provide genealogists and family historians with much valuable information regarding their early Alberta ancestors and relatives.

    Gordon Berdahl
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Personal access to at Family History Centers

In my column of 26 March 2007 I reported that had discontinued free access to their databases from LDS Family History Centers. Following that announcement mailing lists started getting complaints that paid subscribers were unable to access their own accounts when using computers in a Family History Center. With the following message posted to the Association of Professional Genealogists mail list, it would appear that this problem has been resolved.
    Sent: Friday, May 11, 2007 6:01 AM
    Subject: [APG] Personal Access to Now Available at the Family History Library

    Dear Colleagues,

    We are happy to announce that has found a solution to enable patrons at the Family History Library and Family History Centers to login to Ancestry using their personal accounts. We have been coordinating this deployment closely with representatives from the Family and Church History Department, the Family History Library, and administrative representatives of the Family History Centers.

    What we have done...

    We have created a new domain called for the Family History Library and the Family History Centers to use to get access to the collections available to them by contract.

    With this new domain name, patrons at the FHL and local FHCs can login to their own personal accounts using just like they would from home.

    Thank you,

    Suzanne Russo Adams, AG
    Professional Services Desk Manager, part of The Generations Network

Nova Scotia coal miners tribute

Miner's Monument, Springhill, Nova Scotia

Miner's Monument
Springhill, Nova Scotia

Anyone having roots in Nova Scotia, or who has done any kind of research there will be aware that there is a great tradition of coal mining there. Thanks to a posting by Peter Tibbett to the Nova Scotia mail list I recently became aware of the Nova Scotia Coal Miners Tribute Pages

Visitors to this website will see a wealth of information on the coal mines of Nova Scotia, the miners, and the history of various mines and the industry in general. The opening statement on the home page states THIS WEBSITE IS DEDICATED AS A LIVING MEMORIAL, TO PRESERVE THE MEMORY OF ALL COAL MINERS WHO GAVE THEIR ALL.

The links included on this website are too numerous to list here, but they include lists of those miners killed during the course of their work. Pictures on the site show some of the miners, many of whom appear to be little more than children. The site also includes a Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame. When first accessing the website, viewers are treated to Rita McNeil singing her hit song 'Working Man'. Included on these pages in a Coal Miners Honour Roll to which readers might submit names of relatives who have lost their lives in the mines.

Whether or not you might have relatives lost in the coal mines of Nova Scotia, this is a website worth spending some time at.

Abbotsford Genealogy Society probate indexes

The Abbotsford Genealogical Society is in the process of indexing the surnames from 62 volumes of official wills probated in British Columbia, Canada. The original Will Books were donated to the AGS library after they were copied to microfilm.

The B.C. Wills index is arranged alphabetically by surname and currently has 12,600+ entries. Indexing of the stray wills is complete and they are listed separately.

The indexing is an ongoing project and surnames will be added as further volumes are completed, so be sure to check back for future additions at

The AGS is pleased to offer a service providing copies of wills taken from these volumes that date from the 1860's to about 1940. There is a nominal charge for photocopying and mailing wills - including postage.

For an estimate please write to:

Paper of Record

When I first heard of Paper of Record some time ago, I thought that content was limited, and that there was a charge to access the information provided. Recently however, I have had occasion to revisit this website and found that while it was necessary to register and to provide some minimal information to access the site, there is no charge to search the papers available, and no charge to access the scanned pages that result from that search. Content has been increased and papers from several different countries are now available - including the US and Canada.

While numbers of papers from some areas are still somewhat limited, the site is a work in progress and new papers are being added as they can be accessed and scanned. With 21 million images in it's collection so far, is looking to a multi-billion-newspaper page universe to create a resource that will be used by scholars, students and individuals of all walks of life, for generations to come.

Newspapers from the 1800s are available and are key-word searchable. Newspaper image documents are presented in their original published form. Search key-words are highlighted in yellow to make them easier to locate on the scanned page. Most pages that I looked at were relatively good quality, but in some instances there was bleed-through from the other side of the page that made reading the copy difficult. I have found this to be a problem myself when trying to scan newspaper images.

Paper of Record is accessible at

Wells Fargo Bank into genealogy?

Do you have a spare $100 million lying around? According to a series of posts on the APG mail list there is a page-one article on Saturday's (19 May 2007) Wall Street Journal about Wells Fargo Bank using family history as a tool to attract rich clients to its private banking services. The bank has apparently discovered that some wealthy families are hungry for details of their ancestors' lives. It would seem that some of them want to impress on the younger generations what sacrifices were made to accumulate the family wealth.

Wells Fargo Bank has apparently hired a historian to research family histories and provide copies of original documents to selected families in an effort to build Wells Fargo's share in the private banking field. The service is not offered to everyone - typical family wealth is $100 million or more. Clients are nominated by bank officers.

The historian does a preliminary review and then meets with the family, offering to do more at no fee. If the family agrees, he does a more thorough study, typically proving around 100 documents, including birth and death records, prison records, passenger lists, correspondence from the Library of Congress, photos, and oral histories from family members. When he turns up sensitive material, such as the three families who had members kidnapped in the 20th century, he offers to exclude it from the final report, but so far no families have wanted him to do that. He, together with a newly hired second Ph.D. historian, plan to do about 25 fullscale histories over the next year.

An interesting report, but one for which I suspect very few of my readers would be able to take advantage.

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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