I had the pleasure last night of giving a presentation to the Alberta Family Histories Society monthly meeting. I was asked to give a talk about some of the more obscure resources that we have for people researching their family history. I was given somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour to talk. How was I going to fill that time?
Well, I solicited input from my colleagues and cruised the shelves myself and came up with some really specialized kinds of resources. These are not the kinds of resources you would use to start your search. You would be led to many of them by research that you have already done. For example, you would not just pick up Alberta List, which is a listing of people in all levels of government, unless you had some reason to believe that your ancestor was in government in some capacity. Likewise you would not randomly start looking through school yearbooks unless some clue had led you to believe that your ancestor had attended a particular school.
Some of the resources I looked at were listings of passenger arrivals and departures from many, many different ports and collected from many, many resources. My favourite was suggested by my colleague who has Icelandic ancestors: Vesturfaraskra, 1870-1914: a record of immigrants from Iceland to America. I think I just liked the name but it came highly recommended as a great resource for Icelandic research. This is one case, too, where the paper versions of lists can be helpful. With Icelandic names, the transcription can be quite horrific if the transcriber is not familiar with the language. Online indexes are fabulous, don’t get me wrong, but they do rely on transcribers. With a book in front of you, you can scan down the index and see if the name, or some variant of it, is in there. It is much harder to do that with an online search. Vesturfaraskra is just one title. We have a lot of passenger list books for many different ports and from many different sources. Most of these are not available online so if you can’t find your ancestor in the regular resources (Ellis Island, Castle Garden or in Canada’s passenger lists) it may be because they came through another port.
If you are researching your “black sheep” side (which in my chart seems to be all sides, just kidding, ma) you may be interested in Original lists of emigrants in bondage from London to the American Colonies, 1719-1744. These lists were taken from the Treasury Money Books (because the Treasury had paid a contractor for the expense of feeding, clothing and transporting the felon). Some of us must certainly be descended from these folks
These are just a sprinkling of the various weird and wonderful sources I was able to dig up in the genealogy collection here at the Calgary Public Library. In preparing the presentation my eyes were opened to the genealogical possibilities of many unlikely sources. As always, it is a question of following the trail, even if it leads into unlikely areas.