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Government Documents - A Treasure Trove for Genealogists

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Genealogy Records

One of my very first jobs at Calgary Public Library was as a summer student, sorting through the government documents collection on the third floor. It was a very interesting experience, albeit one I did not wish to repeat (although I did enjoy reading the pamphlet on mink ranching.) It wasn’t until I started doing serious genealogical and historical research that I came to see the value of these documents. I am often asked to talk about “obscure sources” and these are what come immediately to my mind. At Calgary Public Library, government documents are held in two locations, for the most part. Local History has a collection of documents relating to the history of Calgary, including planning documents, documents from the Geological Survey, reports relating to industry, governance, etc. The Government Documents collection holds the bulk of the material and it is located on the third floor.

Certainly, when we talk about resources in genealogy one of the first sources we talk about is actually a government document. The census was not taken for the benefit of future genealogists. It was actually taken by the government to get an idea of what the population of the country looked like at a given time. The genealogical value is just a bonus. The same holds true for the military records I have been using for the Lest We Forget program and other presentations I have been doing to mark the anniversary of the start of WWI. The Department of Defense took and kept the information, making this treasure trove a gov doc (as we call them in the biz).

I recently took a little tour of the third floor gov doc collection and found some other, less likely, resources that genealogists might find useful – or at least interesting. For example, I did not know that, in the 1950s at least, the annual report of the Calgary Police Department included information about notable cases that include the names of victims and perpetrators. There is also a list of cases that needed photographic evidence which includes the name of the accused. It also includes the names of people killed in fatal traffic accidents. So, if you have an ancestor who is a bit of a baddie, or someone who was a victim of a baddie, you may want to have a look in the police reports. The dates given could help lead to newspaper articles and other documentary evidence. (Call Number is CA4AL C PO AR date)

PC 968Calgary Police Dept. in front of City Hall, 1912

Another little gem I discovered were reports documenting the claims made following WWI by people who wanted reparations paid for various losses incurred during the war. I didn’t expect to find this is our collection, since there was no fighting in Canada, but there it was. I hadn’t thought about it, but Canadians were affected by enemy action. There were Canadians aboard the Lusitania when it was sunk. And the reaction to the sinking of the ship led to rioting and destruction of the homes and businesses of Canadians of German origin. There was also the explosion in Halifax harbor for which people sought reparations. Soldiers and their families sought payment for the loss of personal effects sent home by the military. There are also claims such as the one by a gentleman in Daysland who claimed that a certain person of German origin set fire to his grain elevator. The proceedings are indexed by name, so it is easy enough to check to see if one of your ancestors suffered a loss for which they later sought payment. (call number is CA 1 WC REP 1930) Again, who would have known, eh? Yet another hidden resource for genealogists, researchers and nosey folk like me.

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