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Article posted: December 26, 1997
Saskatchewan Residents Index
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
Imagine an index that lists everyone who ever lived in a particular place. One glance and you could tell if your family member was there.
The Saskatchewan Genealogical Society has set out to do this for its province. The Saskatchewan Residents Index (SRI) gathers references to individuals from various kinds of historical resources and lists them alphabetically. This database, which is available at the SGS offices in Regina, will quickly narrow down the possibilities for researchers who have lost someone in Saskatchewan.
Aside from homesteaders who spent a lifetime in the west, many Canadians spent brief periods of time in the prairie provinces during the early days. Men who were looking for work could take special trains west at harvest time to help bring in the grain. Many of these men might have stayed for only a few short months or may have stayed many years. Others tried the prairie life and found it too difficult so they returned to Ontario.
The SRI was first suggested as a way of celebrating the SGS's 25th anniversary in 1994. Although everyone knew "this was going to be a monster", they began indexing in 1990 using only family names.
As the index grew, they realized that family names were not enough . "What can you do with a thousand Smiths?" points out Marge Thomas, Executive Director of SGS.
So they scrapped what they had and started again, this time indexing persons. As well as their names, the index located them in a specific place and time, giving the source of the information and where you can access the material for further research. At a time when most indexes tend to be too brief, this one seems to have considered everything you will need to know.
Thomas says that the SGS is concentrating on local histories, "Saskatchewan has lots of these", she points out. Thomas estimates that newer local histories run from 400 to a thousand pages each and most of these contain lots of specific family histories.
In addition to local histories, the index includes archival files of various kinds, government documents, maps and newspaper indexes. By "government documents", they mean such things as enumerators' lists. Currently, the SGS is adding its collection of cemetery inscriptions to the SRI
The SGS has a network of volunteers to keep the SRI growing. Every entry is verified and then re-checked to ensure accuracy. The initial data entry is generally done by people at home with some working directly to disk, but some laboriously transcribe by hand and then the data entry is done by someone else. The toughest job is actually extracting the material. Thomas says that some volunteers reckon that it takes five hundred hours to index one of these huge local histories.
Currently the index contains more that 1,100,000 names. To consult the index in person costs $1 per name for members, $2 for non-members. If you are not going to be in Regina, you can have the SGS do it for you at a cost of $3 for three pages of printout (members) or $6 (non-members). Considering the labour involved and the excellent information it contains, this is remarkably inexpensive.
The SGS is a going concern, with offices and a library at 1870 Lorne Street, Room 201, in Regina, Saskatchewan and some twenty five branches spread around the province. Although many of them are very small, they represent contacts which might help you find your Saskatchewan connections. For a list of their addresses, look at the December 1996 issue of the SGS Bulletin, if available at your local Public Library.
To enquire about using the SRI in person or by mail, you can write to the SGS at Box 1894, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada S4P 3E1. Telephone is (306) 780 9207 or fax them at (306) 781 6021. More information about their activities including the SRI, can be found at their website
More: The SGS website includes access to their library catalogue so you can find out what they have from the comfort of your own computer and a separate area for the personal home pages of SGS members. One of them may live in your family's home town.
The huge local histories which March Thomas mentions are now common in Manitoba and Alberta as well as Saskatchewan. Libraries which own large collections of these include the National Library of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario at and the Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.A.. You can check their catalogues from home on the Internet and then consider a visit to look at the volumes which interest you.
Books By Ryan Taylor
Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.
Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997
More Family History Research Resources