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Article posted: July 27, 1999
Don't Underestimate Census Records
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
Most of my working life is spent in an office behind the scenes, but every once in a while I find myself in the front lines, at a library reference desk.
Genealogy has had a high profile lately, what with the new Latter-day Saints website and the cover story in Time magazine. As a result, our library has plenty of people coming in who have never done family history before. They ask us how to begin, and we tell them.
Almost always, after we discuss getting information from family members, we refer people to the census. The federal government takes the census every ten years, so if you get two or three of them with family information, you find yourself with an outline of your family's development over the years.
I have said all this before in this column. A recent stint on the reference desk of our library reminded me that many people simply do not want to look at the census. All that talk about computers and indexes has led people to think that there is an easier way.
There is no easy way. Finding genealogical information is a long slog, with a bit here and a bit there. But there is a brighter side. Looking at the census leads not only to hard-core information. It also provides entertainment and insights into our relatives and the people who lived near them.
I recently had another look at the 1901 census for Bowmanville, checking some distant cousins. There was a great-aunt of mine and her husband, newlyweds, living near his family. I noticed that their two children had been named after relations of his. Their daughter was born a few weeks later; imagine my surprise when I discovered that they weren't married for another ten years, when their son was on his way!
The census reveals that people were younger (or older) than they thought. There were people living in households who were cousins or servants or no relation. I recently informed some friends that in 1881 their family had a Black servant, one of the few of her race in Oshawa at that time. They said it couldn't be true, but the information was right there.
Any experienced genealogist will have their own census stories. If you are beginning family history, don't turn your back on this interesting source.
Two hot publishers: There are a great many small publishers in Ontario whose works will help genealogists. Two whose recent publications are especially noticeable are Winfield Publishing and Linda Corupe.
Winfield is owned by the husband and wife team of Jeff Stewart and Sherilyn Bell. Their early books were mostly about Grey and the north of Wellington, particularly Mount Forest. This includes two volumes of indexes of the Mount Forest Confederate newspaper, 1870-1878. They have now expanded to include marriage books from Halton, Bruce and Perth counties, and Wesleyan Methodist baptisms from Halton. Contact Global Genealogy at 1-800-3615168 for a complete list or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your request.
Linda Corupe's publications cover many counties in central Ontario and the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Recently she had a new idea.
She has transcribed some marriage records for Hastings county (1869-1875) and with the publication she has researched the couples being married using cemetery transcriptions, death records and published sources. To the marriages, she has added a great deal of other information which will be a goldmine for researchers.
She has done the same extra work on some census transcriptions for parts of Lennox and Addington County, calling them 'supercensus.' People working in counties with Corupe publications will be very grateful. For a complete list, write to her at 210 Allan Drive, Bolton, Ontario, Canada
Ryan's Heritage Notebook...
Joseph H. Hilts was a carpenter in the mid-nineteenth century in Grimsby; after he felt a call to the ministry, he became a prominent Methodist Episcopal preacher and circuit rider throughout Lincoln and Halton counties and the Huron Tract. His memoirs Experiences of a Backwoods Preacher (1887) provide a fascinating look at the religious life of Ontario during that time. They have been republished by the Bruce County Historical Society (Box 1900, Port Elgin ON N0H 2C0) with a new introduction and biographical sketches of more than fifty clergymen mentioned in the text.
The Vernon and District (British Columbia) F.H.S. newsletter (v. 14, no. 4) contains an interesting assessment by Louise Everest of the curiously named software Swift Family Ancestry Family Tree Maker. The makers perhaps hoped to link up with a number of more famous products. Louise had a number of problems with the very inexpensive ($15) package, including the fact that it linked her brother-in-law with everyone except his wife! She heads her notice "A Case of Buyer Beware."
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