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Article posted: July 7, 2000
New Canadian Digital Collections
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
Two new government of Canada websites offer exciting vistas of information to family historians.
The National Archives of Canada's site (www.archives.ca) has offered special help to genealogists from the beginning. The most notable part of the site has been the Ontario Genealogical Society's index to the 1871 census of Ontario.
Its usefulness was brought home forcefully to me the other day. A new genealogist asked for my help. The day before she had found family members in the 1880 census of Minnesota. Their birthplace was given as Ontario, but this was the first she had heard of it. We had a sprinkling of names but no place, so I suggested that we try the 1871 census index.
She was fortunate to be searching an unusual name, Broome. Within minutes we had found three possibilities in the index. She looked them up in the census microfilm, and the first of the three was her family. Having located them in Elgin County, she could then begin looking in more specialized books.
A new part of the National Archives website, called Archivianet, brings archival documents to people at home. The 1871 census can be found here too, along with sections on Home Children, World War I veterans, prime ministerial papers, and of course government records of many kinds. Most of the sections on Archivianet are in an early stage, and several can only be used in their prototype form at the archives itself.
However, with rapid developments in digitizing and presentation of documents on the net, we can be sure that more databases will become available soon. I suggest that anyone with historical interests bookmark this site and check it every few weeks for new possibilities.
The other government initiative is called Canada's Digital Collections. This very exciting idea was originally a website for the use of teachers and students looking for information on Canada.
Essentially this site is a clearinghouse for links to digital collections covering a wide spectrum. You can search alphabetically by the name of the collection, or by subject. I found the site easy to use and very attractive to look at.
As soon as I called up the alphabetical list I saw an 1841 census index for Prince Edward Island, starred as 'New'. This index offers the chance to search by name of head of household, or by lot number. Once you reach the entry for an individual, you find a wealth of information. There is a description of the family giving numbers and ages (no names), and then extensive information about the farm, how many pigs and cows, how many bushels of pease produced the year before. A economic picture of the family emerges quickly.
A great many of the sites listed on Canada's Digital Collections have historical themes. The Canadian National Railways' picture collection is there, divided by types of rolling stock or people and places. With two clicks I found an outstanding photograph of the station in St. Williams, Ontario.
There are also collections of modern photographs which could be used in school projects, in making greeting cards, or simply to enjoy. Photographs displayed in this way can often be downloaded to a disk for use at home, or simply printed right away.
The government is to be commended for creating this site which can be used by all Canadians. It opens a new door on our country by making a very difficult technology easy to use.
Canada's Digital Collections can be found at http://collections.ic.gc.ca. Bookmark this one, too, as the links will probably change often.
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