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Doing Genealogy in Alberta part 4 – More interesting resources

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Harvesting

Threshing Scene, Western Canada 1915

Postcards from the Past, PC 740

This is the last in my genealogy in Alberta series of blog posts. I am going to try and cover some of the more obscure kinds of records you may want to look at to find your Alberta ancestors. We’ll start with land, since that was a big reason for much of the migration into this province. But I will look at some of the less likely sources you can try.

Land Records

I love land records. I don’t come from a farming background, my people were mostly workin’ folk, so I don’t use land records a lot in my family research but we do use land records in our local history work. Land records can provide a great deal of information, or very little, depending on circumstances. My great grandfather’s homestead records were about 5 pages long, as he abandoned the homestead after only a few years. But the record of one of my colleagues was a thick sheaf of papers containing a will, information about the improvements to the land and all kinds of detail that would be useful for family historians.

In Alberta there were a number of ways early settlers could obtain land. They could file for a homestead. In doing so they would have to fill out an application which may contain information useful for genealogy. If he stayed on the land and “proved up” there will also be documentation relating to any improvements he made including how much land was cleared, what buildings were erected, the livestock, etc. There may also be sworn statements from persons of note in the community (which is why it might be worthwhile to have a peek at the homestead index even if your ancestor didn’t homestead) The index for these records is available, courtesy of the Alberta Genealogical Society. If you find an ancestor in the index, you can request a copy of the file by clicking on the “Order a copy…” link and following the instructions. We have the Calgary district homestead registers on microfilm in the local history room.

If the homesteader made the required improvements to his land, he could apply for his letters patent. You can search the index of the letters patent and see the documents through the Canadian Genealogy Centre.

If your people don’t turn up in the homestead index, it is possible they bought their land from the CPR. As part of the deal for building the railroad, CPR was given 25 million acres of land on the prairies. It sold this land sometimes as a package deal to overseas immigrants. You can find the index to these land sales through the Glenbow Archives.

When researching land records it is useful to have an understanding of what the terms mean and how the land was divided. You can find an excellent guide on Dave Obee’s blog.

He has also written a book on finding land records on the Prairies: Back to the Land: a Genealogical Guide to Finding Farms on the Canadian Prairies.

Maps can also play an important part in family history research. Maps such the Cummins Rural Directory maps can show the location of land owners. The 1924 Cummins map for Alberta is available on microfilm in the Local History room.

We have also launched a collection of digitized maps through the CHFH Digital Library. These are mostly for the Calgary region, but stay tuned, we are hoping to have more maps in there soon.

If you have the land location, the Provincial Archives of Alberta has a series of township maps for the province which show earlier homesteaders’ names. You have to use them in the Archives, as they have not been digitized.

Probate

A really good tip for researching anything, but in particular for genealogy is, follow the money. Generally, records relating to assets are some of the best records around. This is true for records relating to the estate of deceased persons. The Provincial Archives of Alberta has probate records from about 1884 to about 1975 (records less than 30 years old will still be in the custody of the Court). It is useful, when you are requesting probate records at the PAA to know where the person was living at the time of their death as the records are arranged by judicial district.

Local History Books

There have been a number of initiatives in Alberta to facilitate the creation of local histories. These are often overlooked by researchers but they should really be top of the list if you are looking for ancestors in smaller towns or in rural areas. They can contain a wealth of information about the area and the people who lived there. The Calgary Public Library has a large collection of histories from central and southern Alberta. You can find them in the catalogue by entering the name of the locale into the subject search.

There are also a number of digital repositories for local histories. The Alberta Heritage Digitization Project has a large collection of digitized histories, as does the Our Roots website. Peel’s Prairie Provinces also has a collection of digitized histories, along with other documents relating to the history of the Prairies.

Newspapers

If you read this blog a lot, you know what I am going to say about newspapers for historical research. They are the best source. Yes, you can find obituaries and wedding announcements, but there is often so much more. I often poke around the old newspapers for Calgary and find a plethora of details about life in the city, but also about what the denizens of Calgary were up to. Exam scores, participation in sporting events, parties, holidays, you name it, the paper would talk about it. So it is never a bad idea to wander through the newspapers from your ancestor’s home town. You never know what you’ll find. The Local History Room at the Central Library has a good collection of historic newspapers from small towns around southern Alberta. The Calgary newspapers are held on microfilm in the Magazines and Newspapers department as well. You can also check the Alberta Heritage Digitization Project. They have a great selection of Alberta newspapers. This collection is not indexed, however, so you can’t search it by name. Peel’s Prairie Provinces also has newspapers for Alberta. Google Newspapers has digitized some Alberta newspapers, such as the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. As mentioned in the earlier post, we do have sources to help you identify the name of the newspaper and where it is held and we can always request interlibrary loans of newspapers on microfilm if we don’t have the paper and it isn’t digitized.

So, I have come to the end of my introduction to Alberta genealogy. And what I have found out while doing this is that there are a lot more resources out there that I first thought. I have only covered the basics so if you have further questions, you can always contact us through our Ask a Question service or through Chat (or, if you’re really old schoolJ, by phone or in person). Also keep in mind that we offer a drop-in Family History Coaching session on the last Saturday of the month from 10:00 to noon in the Genealogy Section on the 4th floor of the Central Library. Our first session of the new season is September 29.

Happy Ancestor Hunting!

Doing Genealogy in Alberta Part 3 - Census Records and other stuff

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Census

Page from the Canadian Census


So, are you still with me? Undaunted by Alberta’s rather challenging resources? Great! This week I want to outline some other important resources for finding your Alberta ancestors. And in this category, we are luckier that other parts of Canada. Because the population of the Prairie Provinces was growing so fast, the federal government, in an attempt to gauge and record that growth, instituted an extra census for the three Prairie Provinces starting in 1906 and continuing every ten years until 1956. At that time the prairie census was incorporated into the regular Canada-wide census. But what this means for people researching in Alberta, is that we have two extra censuses to consult: one for 1906 and one for 1916.

Census records are available in a variety of formats. Calgary Public Library has the complete collection of Canadian census records on microfilm at the Central Library in the genealogy collection. This includes the 1906 and 1916 censuses for the Prairie Provinces. You may ask yourself, why on earth would I use microfilm when there are computers? The answer is that sometimes digital images are hard to read and even harder to print. Scanning a reel of microfilm can be much easier (really!) than scanning a set of digital images. We also have some print indexes to census records for Alberta in the genealogy collection at Central Library. We also have finding aids available that list the census records that are available.

Digitized images of some censuses are available through Library and Archives Canada. There is a list of census databases in this very good article. The 1906 and 1916 censuses are not searchable by name, but you can search by location and browse the images. Some censuses, such as the 1891 are searchable by name.

This brings up the question of indexing. When we search an index, we are looking at information that has been transcribed by a human from documents handwritten by a human with information provided by another human. This suggests to me that there are at least three places where errors can sneak in. And the likeliest spot for the biggest errors is with the last person handling the document, the transcriber. Just because a name doesn’t appear in an index, doesn’t mean they aren’t in the census. That is when browsing images, either digital or microfilm, becomes important.

Having said that, it always pays to check the index first. And there are a number of ways to do that. To see if there is an index, you can check with the Canadian Genealogy Centre at Library and Archives Canada. They have a list of online indexes including those at Family Search, Automated Genealogy and Ancestry as well as hints on how to find print indexes.

(Just a reminder, Calgary Public Library subscribes to Ancestry LE which means that all Calgary Public Library members can log in from a computer in a library and search this database.)

So, we have the advantage of extra censuses, but what about the years in between the census? There are a number of sources we use as census substitutes. Primary among these are the Henderson’s Directories. Henderson’s directories are business directories, usually of major centres, that were compiled with an eye to providing information about markets to business people. They often include information such as a person’s place of employment and a spouse’s name. Researchers often use these directories to fill in information about their ancestors for the years between the censuses, and to locate ancestors that don’t appear in census indexes. Again, people researching on the Prairies have an advantage. A librarian called Bruce Peel set about to collect all the sources he could find on life on the Prairies. It is an impressive collection. Originally issued in microfiche, it included the Henderson’s Directories for Prairie towns such as Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, etc. It is now in its third edition and is available online.

The Local History room at the Calgary Public Library has the Peel collection in microfiche and the Calgary Henderson’s directories (a complete run to 1991) in paper. To find what directories were published and, more importantly, which are available you can check these two sources:

Canadian Directories 1790-1987 by Mary Bond

Western Canadian Directories on Microfilm and Microfiche by Dave Obee

For rural landowners, there is a Cummin’s Map for 1923 on microfilm in the Local History room.

Voters’ lists are another source for information about people. At the Central Library we have a collection of municipal voters’ lists for Calgary (1912-1971) as well as the 1974 Federal Voters’ List for Calgary. These federal lists are available on microfilm from Library and Archives Canada. You can find the listings in a publication called Federal Voters’ Lists in Western Canada by Dave Obee and we can request the lists on interlibrary loan for you. You do need to know the location of your people, because, as far as I know there is no index to these lists.

So, enough for now. Keep on searching. Next week we’ll look at land records and some other bits and pieces.

Doing Genealogy in Alberta Part 2 – Other sources for BMD info

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Papers iStock

So, did the last entry on finding birth, death and marriage records make you feel discouraged? I hope not, because even though it may be a bit tougher to get vital events information in Alberta, you are researching the people who made this province, which, in my estimation, is the greatest province in Canada :)

And, as always, there are other records available that you can access to find out what you need to know. Here are a few alternative sources that may contain information about your ancestors “big events.”

Church Records:

Before we were required to register our births, marriages and deaths with the government, the churches were the places where such events were recorded. It helps to know what religion your ancestors practiced, as well as where they lived. Keep in mind, however, that especially in rural Alberta, people would baptize, marry and be buried by whichever church was nearby, if their particular denomination didn’t have a church in the vicinity. And if there wasn’t a church nearby, your ancestors may have had to register with either a travelling cleric or at a church well out of the way. This can lead to problems. For example, if there was no religious organization or travelling cleric available, the event might not have been registered. This is particularly true of baptisms, as births cannot be planned, as a rule, and if the event took place on a homestead miles from anywhere in the dead of winter, registering your child’s birth might not be uppermost on your mind.

A good source to check for approximate dates and for religious affiliations is the census. I will look at census records in more detail in an upcoming post.

The other difficulty with church records is where they are kept. Some religious organizations have established archives and keep their records there. Other religious groups keep their records at the church or at a district repository. In Alberta, the Provincial Archives holds some registers from the United Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Edmonton or Athabasca diocese of the Anglican Church. The records of the Calgary diocese of the Anglican Church are held at the University of Calgary. There is a finding aid to the records available at the Calgary Public Library. There are numerous resources and numerous repositories for parish and religious records. Staff on the fourth floor at the Central Library can help look for the location of the records of a particular denomination.

Newspapers

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I love reading old newspapers. They are a wonderful window on the world as it was, but aside from that, the announcements can be a goldmine for the genealogy researcher. There are a number of ways to access historic Alberta newspapers. The Community Heritage and Family History collection at the Calgary Public Library holds a number of early Alberta newspapers in microfilm format. There are also a number of projects that are digitizing early newspapers. Chief among these is the Alberta Heritage Digitization Project. This project consists of scanned images only so it is not searchable by name. There are projects that aim to index the announcements in some of these papers. One such project is The Recents which has indexes for a number of newspapers in Alberta and British Columbia.

Both the Alberta Family Histories Society and the Alberta Genealogical Society have online indexes to select years of some Alberta Newspapers.

Another source for digitized newspapers is Peel’s Prairie Provinces This project does allow for searching within an individual newspaper.

The Edmonton Journal and The Calgary Herald for select years are also available on Google Newspapers.

Paper indexes are also available for some newspapers. To find what we have in our collection, you can search the catalogue using the name of the place and "newspapers". We also have reference books that will help you determine what the newspaper was for a particular town, when it was published and where you can access copies. We can also help you arrange for an interlibrary loan of newspapers on microfilm.

Cemetery Transcriptions

One of the larger collections in the Community Heritage and Family History room is the cemetery transcription collection. We have numerous transcriptions from southern Alberta. There is also online access to a number of Alberta cemetery transcriptions through the Alberta Family Histories Society website and some through the Alberta Genealogical Society website. The City of Edmonton also has a database of information about burials in that city that happened more than 25 years ago.

Proof of Age Documents

These documents, which originated in the Pensions Branch, contain documents which were submitted by people applying for an old age pension or a Federal-Provincial disability pension and were not, for whatever reason, returned to the applicant. The index to these documents is available at the Calgary Public Library.

So, next post will be about census and substitutes. With census records, Alberta and the other prairie provinces have an edge as there are two extra federal censuses for us. So, until next week - Happy Hunting!

Doing genealogy in Alberta, Part 1 – Births, Deaths and Marriages

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

Now that Historic Calgary Week is over, it seemed an appropriate time to delve into some genealogical questions and post a few entries on the subject. The summer brings lots of visitors to the city and we see many people from out of the province coming in to the library to research family members who came to the Calgary region. What we have noticed over the years, is that there aren’t too many really good guides to doing genealogy in Alberta, so I decided I would write my own cheat sheet, so to speak, for my colleagues so, why not post it as a blog entry (or three)?

For anyone just getting started in Alberta genealogy it helps to have a few facts in hand. Until 1905, Alberta was a part of what was called the Northwest Territories. It was 1905 that saw the formation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. That is an important fact to keep in mind as you search the census records of Canada. There was a district called “Alberta” but it was not the entire province.

I am going to start with how one goes about finding vital events registrations in the province. I will cover other records and other sources for information in subsequent postings.

So, first thing to know about doing genealogy in Alberta is that there is no index to vital records after 1905. For events prior to that date, there are two indexes that can be consulted:

Index to registrations of births, marriages and deaths: Alberta, formerly the Northwest Territories, 1870-1905 by the Alberta Genealogical Society (929. 37123 IND v.1)

Alberta: formerly a part of the North-West Territories: an index to birth, marriage and death registrations prior to 1900 by the Documentary Heritage Society of Alberta and the Provincial Archives of Alberta. (929. 37123 ALB)

After 1905, there is no indexing available.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta does hold some vital statistics registers dating up to 1980 for some locations. After 1905, these are arranged by place so you need to know where the event took place in order to search this collection. Here is the link to the Provincial Archives page that outlines the major genealogical sources available at the PAA:

http://culture.alberta.ca/paa/archives/research/genealogy.aspx

Not all years or communities are included, so you may still need to contact Vital Statistics for some records.

Here is a link to the Service Alberta site for ordering genealogical records of vital events.

http://www.servicealberta.gov.ab.ca/1175.cfm

There is legislation in place governing the accessibility of vital events registrations. The guidelines are given at the site mentioned above.

Remember, as well, that we offer Family History Coaching on the last Saturday of the month from September to November and January to June. Drop in and enjoy a one-on-one consultation with a genealogy expert.