OGS 2013

Family History in Western Canada

Some particularly good websites for researching family histories in Western Canada include:
www.voicimafamille.info/Metamoteur/explications_en.html (which includes B.C. and Saskatchewan databases)

Censuses in the West

  • To 1870 - Manitoba (all of which are digitized)
  • 1881 - Manitoba, B.C., Territories
  • 1891 - Manitoba, B.C., Territories
  • 1901 - Manitoba, B.C., Territories
  • 1906 - Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta
  • 1911 - All 4 western provinces
  • 1916 - Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta
  • 1921 - All 4 western provinces

-a note about Census records: just because you find someone in the Census does not mean they were actually where they are said to be geographically. The Census recorded where people were supposed to be, not where they actually were. People in the Census are sometimes even dead, if they were away, hadn't been heard from in awhile, but not heard to be dead either.

Other Useful Resources
-Nanaimo Family History Society has a Passenger List Indexing Project

-Legion Magazine has a Last Post database, which is a database of soldier deaths based on their last posting.

-Local histories: Search for websites and books of local histories for the province/city/town you are looking into. Alberta has the best local histories because the government funded local history publications in the 1980s.

-Hudson's Bay Company Archives

-Peel's Prairie Provinces: a project of the University of Alberta, which is digitizing everything that was published (excluding newspapers and magazines) in the prairies to 1953

-Library and Archives Canada Western Land Grants (1870-1930): Land grants were given to successful farmers. You can search the names of those who applied for land grants in Western Canada.

-For information on how to read western land records, check Dave Obee's website.

British Columbia Useful Resources
-The B.C. Archives digitizes records, and there is an index for all death registrations up to 21 years ago online.

-The British Colonist, a leading B.C. newspaper, currently has funding for digitizing 1858-1910.

-The 1901 Census has been indexed online by the B.C. Genealogical Society.

-For those with ancestors on Vancouver Island, there is a website put together by a University of Victoria professor with searchable records.

-British Columbia Cemetery Finding Aids

-The Vancouver Public Library has a program to digitize all city directories in B.C.

Alberta Useful Resources
-the Provincial Archives of Alberta has a wealth of information, however they are very restrictive about what you can look at and make copies of, which can be very frustrating.

-Our Future, Our Past: A University of Calgary initiative where users can search local histories. Newspapers are also available, however they have not all been OCR'd. Also included is an air photo collection, which shows a birds-eye view of areas in Alberta.

-Alberta Genealogical Society Homestead Index is online and searchable.

Saskatchewan Useful Resources
-The Saskatchewan Genealogical Society gets records that the provincial and municipal governments don't want, and they have a lending library.

-Alberta and Saskatchewan have share the process of indexing Censuses because of the fluctuating boundaries in the prairie region.

-The Saskatchewan Archives Board has Cummings maps available on their website which includes the names of people who had farms.

Manitoba Useful Resources
-Manitoba GenWeb Project: has many links specific to Manitoba records, and has an FAQ section.

-The Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency registers vital events (birth, death, marriage, stillbirth, and change of name) and includes information for people from 1882 to present. Privacy policies protect who can view these documents, however it is possible to obtain copies of certain records for genealogical purposes.

-The Manitoba Probate Records (available on Family Search) cover people who no longer live in Manitoba.

-A list of Manitoba directories is available on Dave Obee's website.

Building Family Histories Using Maps

-DND Maps (Department of National Defense) Maps

  • Topographical maps: the closer the lines are together, the steeper the elevation.
  • UK Ordinant Survey Maps (OS Maps), especially the Land Ranger series, are popular because they include quite a large swath of land.
  • ancestors who are farmers needed to go into town to get certain things. On a map, look for a valley that leads to the nearest marketplace.
  • dotted lines on the map indicate historic pathways, which helps to reveal how our ancestors accomplished things.

-on topographical maps there are black marks that represent buildings (including homes). These markings can show where farmhouses were.

-the location of roads haven't changed all that much over time, so old topographical maps can still be useful to get around.

-on OS maps, pink squares represent buildings, and often they are named. Sometimes the farm name is on a birth certificate or parish register, and using this information one can compare it with the names on the map. The farm names don't change a lot. One can also find name of farms in the yellow pages of the phone book under FARMS. It is possible to contact these people who own places where ancestors lived, and who often have a copy of the deed to the land, which records the name of all previous landowners.

-Tremaine's Maps are municipal maps based on the tax register. If your ancestor's didn't pay taxes, they will not be on the map. However those that do will be on the map.

-Belden Atlases (Beers Atlases may also be made by this company) will be useful for those who had ancestors in a town (as opposed to in a rural area). People are sometimes listed on these maps, but if not lot numbers were marked. This information is required when looking up information at land registry offices.

-The government does not keep old versions of topographical maps. Local army barracks and collectors often have them, as well as many academic libraries.

-Tourist maps also label historical sites on them, and old tourist maps can reveal sites that no longer exist. Sometimes they will have the lots and concessions marked on them.

-used bookstores will sometimes have old maps in them.

-history books are sometimes focused on maps and contain visuals.

-The National Air Photo Library (created by Natural Resources Canada) has a collection of birds-eye-view photos. One would need the grid references to use this resource, but with them one can search the database and see aerial photos of locations and make prints.

Searching Ontario Cemeteries

Basics of Cemeteries
-cemeteries can be a family one with no stones, a denominational one, a municipal one or a private one.
-municipalities are obliged to take over church cemeteries when the churches no longer operate it. Records are transferred accordingly.
-Death care options include:

  • cremation: ashes are in an urn, may or may not have a marker. People often scatter ashes.
  • entombment: in a mausoleum, which may be marked.
  • burial: may or may not be marked.

-the trend is towards cremation, with Quebec showing the largest change: Currently cremations are about 87%, while in 1998 they were only 33%. This has to do with changes in the Catholic church.

Locate the Cemetery
-some pointers

  • information in the obituary/death notice
  • a government notice
  • wills and estate files
  • family knowledge

-it is possible to search the cemetery on the OGS Ontario Cemetery Locator, which will offer alternative names to cemeteries that have been renamed.

-the OGS also has a Cemetery Project that has been ongoing for 30 years. Over 6000 cemeteries have been located and 5700 have been transcribed. To access this information, consult an OGS branch library, or go to the main collection at the North York branch. It is possible to buy the transcription from the branch, though it could be pricey.

-the OGS TONI database (The Ontario Name Index) is searchable and shows all sorts of events, but also burial records. Points to documents, but does not provide the actual document itself.

-the Ontario Cemetery finding aid is a pointer database consisting of the surnames, cemetery name and location of over 3 Million interments from several thousand cemeteries, cairns, memorials, and cenotaphs in Ontario Canada. It is no longer being updated.

Finding Your Ancestors in the Cemetery
-the first step is to stop by the cemetery office. They have maps of the cemetery and its sections, and burial records are available in the office.
-it is possible that other family members may be buried near one of your ancestors.
-always check the burial records because the information on the monument does not always reflect who is actually buried there.

Wikis: Taking Advantage of What Other People Know

-a wiki is a website that allows multiple users to edit the content of a website. It is intended to be a community project, so it is not appropriate for those who do not want their work edited or added to.

-Wikipedia has many entries on genealogical subjects (newspapers, churches, parishes, even ancestors).

-it is not possible to edit wikis anonymously. You must set up an account first.

-One can build a page for an ancestor on Wikipedia if others may be interested in learning about a particular person. However Wikipedia has "gardeners" who take down pages for people who are not notable enough.

-Wikimedia has over 17 million freely usable photos. One can upload photos as well, and Wikimedia pulls in many copyright free photos from Flickr.

Genealogy-Specific Wikis
-FamilySearch Research Wiki

  • you can search by place or topic, but not by ancestor.
  • links to reel information available and digitized record collections.
  • Canadian entries are very basic. FamilySearch Canada is actively searching for help through volunteers.
  • https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Main_Page

-Parish Roots

-Our Archives (U.S. National Archives)

-Families in British India Society (FIBIS)

-Vancouver Public Library

Family Tree Wikis
-are communal ways of building a family tree.
-typically every family member is automatically given their own page in the wiki and information about that relative is added to their page.

-We Relate

  • Maintained by the Ellen County Public Library
  • Claims to be the world's largest genealogy wiki
  • does not have a "trusted editor" layer, but the history of edits is maintained and it is possible to restore a page to an earlier version.
  • http://www.werelate.org/wiki/Main_Page



  • small, more a collection of family stories than family tree information.


  • has started a Family Tree
  • not entirely a wiki, but it is possible for a person to submit members of their family tree, which is kind of wiki-like.
  • when you input your family members, it compares it to ancestors that are already in the tree.
  • places a heavy emphasis on proper sourcing
  • it is possible to follow changes within the family tree
  • pulls information from the International Genealogical Index (IGI)
  • one can create a printable fan chart of their ancestors.

A Wiki for Your Organization?
-a useful way to share and edit documents, and it is possible for wikis to be private.
-there are many free pieces of software and hosting sites, such as FamilySearch.org and PBWorks

The Downsides of Wikis
-a community willing to participate is needed. This is not always available.
-lack of participating is a big problem for wikis. Without people adding content, the wiki is useless. This is why many personal family wikis die off quickly, however the advent of the FamilySearch wiki may change this.

Photo Preservation in 8 Steps

-the golden rule is not to do anything to photos that cannot be undone.

Step 1: Retain the Original Order
-document an retain the original order of the photographs, unless totally unworkable.
-track ownership (provenance)
-the number 1 mistake is taking a family photo album apart. Don't do this: the photo album tells a story. The only exception to this rule pertains to "toxic albums" that are magnetic (popular in the 1970s). To remove photos from these, use a micro-spatula (an archival device) to remove the photos, or use Glade unwaxed floss. When you are done removing the photos, re-create the original order in a new album.

Step 2: Survey the Damage
-there is a cycle of damage that your photos can take: temperature/humidity-poor storage-acid and lignin-sunlight-miscellaneous chemicals
-look at your photos and see what kind of damage they have.

Step 3: Environmental Controls
-identify if temperature and humidity is stabilized in your house (21 degrees C at 50% humidity is ideal). You can use humidity cards to measure the amount of moisture in the air.
-Create the ideal environment using nesting boxes, which absorb the moisture in the air. Nesting boxes are boxes within boxes within boxes. The best storage places for your nesting boxes are windowless, interior closets or under beds.

Step 4: Basic Organization
-Separate anything that is mouldy or damaged since mould can migrate and re-activate itself.
-Use a simple system that preserves provenance and original order.

Step 5: Identify Photos
-it is important to identify people in photos so that your family knows they are important to you. Tell your family (or put in your will) about what you want done with your collection when you die.
-try to include as much information about the photo as possible when identifying (photographer, place, people, dates, etc.)

Step 6: Label
-use acid-free cardstock when labeling photos. Avoid writing on the photo itself.
-labeling tools: photo marking pen (not a sharpie or ballpoint)
-the perfect label includes names, dates, location, occasion, who labeled it and when

Step 7: Storage
-Carr McLean is a Canadian supplier of archival products. Can purchase storage solutions from them.
-do not store slides in metal boxes
-use non-PVC plastics and acid/lignin-free boxes and folders

Step 8: Digital Organization
-you can use photo organizing software to help you with your digital organization. Picasa is one such software type.
-when scanning images, scan a TIFF file at 600 dpi
-keep your file names simple for easy identification and retrieval

-for more information check the Canadian Association for Conservation website and Maureen's website at www.askmaureentaylor.com
-it is possible to take photos of negatives with a smartphone to make a positive: put the negative on white paper, go to the camera and look at effects, exposure, mode, negative. Snap photo of the negative, and it will create a positive image.

How Academic Institutions are Helping Genealogists

-the digital humanities field in universities is growing. Databases are created that are useful to genealogists, but which are not created for this specific purpose.

Canadian Projects
-Canadian projects do not receive the same kind of funding opportunities as those in the UK, and therefore there are fewer large-scale projects. Smaller projects are often funded by individuals, universities and libraries.
-Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
-U of T Libraries have a digitized collection of pamphlets and broadsides. Broadsides sometimes have name lists. Also included in the collection are mortgage sale posters (which include family names) and family histories are digitized too as a part of the project.
-Necrology is run by a U of T professor, and lists obituary and death information which is searchable and free to use. It is an early project, but it is growing.
-University of Alberta has the Peel's Provinces collection which is "is a resource dedicated to assisting scholars, students, and researchers of all types in their exploration of western Canadian history and the culture of the Canadian prairies."

U.S. Projects
-There is much more private funding to projects in the U.S. and many universities provide their own funding for projects. Visit an academic library of a particular university to see their digitization projects.
-Of note are the Immigrant Ancestors Project and the Michigan State University Civil War Collections

-the UK has major funding initiatives for digital humanities projects. Most funding provided by JISC, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the British Academy for Humanities and Social Sciences.
-The Census Schedules and Listings 1801-1831 is the most complete listing of Censuses prior to 1841. The full documents are not digitized, but the project lists the whereabouts of the materials.
-British History Online is reproducing all major local histories up to the 1900s. Contents are searchable in Google because the documents are text based.
-Connected Histories is a portal site related to early modern and nineteenth century Britain that connects to other sites. It allows for a single federated search with sophisticated searching of names, places and dates, as well as the ability to save, connect and share resources within a personal workspace.
-[dedicated to providing data and analysis of the records of the hearth tax which was introduced in England and Wales by the government of Charles II in 1662. Hearth Tax Online: Householders in Late 17th Century England] is dedicated to providing data and analysis of the records of the hearth tax which was introduced in England and Wales by the government of Charles II in 1662. It is currently indexing, but will eventually scan hearth tax documents.
-Legacies of British Slave Ownership. When slavery was abolished, the government had to pay off slave owners. This database contains names of slave owners who were paid off, and contains some biographical information as well.
-Statistical Accounts of Scotland Online contains parish information and the ministers of each parish have put together the information about the county in which they are located.
-Records of London's Livery Companies Online contains an index of London's guilds' records. It is an ongoing project, and not all guilds have been indexed yet.

-Many university libraries that contributed to the Google book projects are cataloguing the digitized books they contributed into their own catalogues.

  • The HATHI Trust has a searchable digital book collection, but not all are free to view. It is possible to limit to free books, and the books have been OCR'd.
  • JSTOR digitized early versions of journals and it is possible to see some online for free. It contains historical journals and reproduced lists. It is possible to access the resource fully at university libraries.

-When looking for hidden genealogical information in the form of digital projects, Google the name of a university along with "digitization" or "digital initiative".

Learning Genealogy Online

-Most genealogy major players have a "learning center" on their websites, and often host ads from 3rd parties related to genealogical education.
-FamilySearch has a collection of videos and wikis to learn genealogy

Webcasts, podcasts, webinars
-the OGS has webinars, some of which are free and some are for a cost.
-Genealogy Guys podcast: interviews of people at conferences which are then presented in the form of a podcast.
-FamilySearch does webinars
-Genea Webinar Calendar: a calendar of upcoming genealogical webinars
-YouTube is chock full of individuals offering online videos on genealogical topics.

-societies and individuals host blogs
-some are general in nature, others are more specific
-Genealogy Blog Finder: a directory and search engine of genealogy blogs on the web

-when looking to learn about genealogy, don't focus on just genealogy courses. Cultural and history courses help create the fabric behind a family history memoir.

National Institute for Genealogical Studies
-a formal education for those looking to become a professional genealogical researcher.
-leaders in genealogy education and the longest-running and most-comprehensive program.
-offers certificate programs including in Canadian Records.
-courses start the first Monday of every month.

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