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It's Archives Week in Alberta

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

File Cabinet

It is Archives Week in Alberta. It is not widely publicized and many people may shrug and say, “So what?” I know a lot of people think of archives as dreary, black and white kinds of places but they are, in fact, filled with exciting and valuable stuff. The theme this year, Archives in Living Colour, was chosen to draw attention to the fact that archives are more than just dusty repositories for old paper – they are living and vibrant and have relevance for all of us. We’ve all heard the adages about keeping touch with the past – well, archives fulfill that role. They are the, often overlooked, keepers of our history. Just check out their virtual exhibit . It includes images from 23 archives throughout the province including the City of Calgary, Glenbow, the Museum of the Highwood and the Whyte Museum. You will also be able to view virtual exhibits from past Archives Weeks.

In particular, family historians and genealogists should get to know their archives. In addition to keeping documents that are obviously of use to genealogical research, such as older vital event records, church records and census, local archives often collect the papers of people who lived in the area. They also collect information about the area that can include municipal records, including documents relating to land, taxes and businesses. Old newspapers can be found in archives as can employment records. Some archives collect family letters and photographs, and even genealogies and family trees. It pays to know about the archives in the area that your ancestors lived – they can be a treasure trove of valuable information. Here are a few titles to help you find and use archives in Canada:

Archives for genealogists (929.1072 BAR)

Researching Canadian Archival Centres (R929.1072 TAY)

and from our Government Documents collection on the Third Floor here at Central - Heritage institutions published by Statistics Canada (STATS CAN 87F0002)

13th Avenue Looking East

Postcards from the Past, PC 52

PC 52

Brace yourself!

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)


My mother always cautioned me about looking too closely into my family history. She was sure I would find one of them buried on Boot Hill. This was a long time ago, of course, as evidenced by the reference to Boot Hill, but her caution was well intentioned and, for the time, when everyone wanted to be like everyone else, it didn’t do to have family “buried on Boot Hill.” Well, I ignored my mother and plowed headlong into family history research and turned up some very interesting things, none of which were particularly shocking, since I have a great tolerance for peculiarity and pecadillos.

I also have been working as a genealogy assistant for a very long time and have encountered the family stories of hundreds of people, so, in comparison, my family is boring. This is perhaps a privilege of my occupation – that I get to hear the stories of so many different families but one thing I have noticed and want to pass on to anyone interested in starting their family history is brace yourself. You are going to find information that you may not want to know. You know the Ancestry ad, the one about the grandfather’s multiple marriage certificates, that is tame compared to the grandfather who had about eight different families. There was only one marriage certificate, however, which meant that gramps was a bigamist. In one family, it turned out that grandmother was purchased from her father for a horse and buggy. And I can’t tell you the number of people who never married yet had children, who went to prison, who were found floating in the river, and on and on.

Many people accept these family stories with aplomb. There is actually a subset of genealogists who celebrate their black sheep (although the definition of a black sheep varies from family to family – in my family it was someone who married outside of the church) But every now and then I encounter a genealogists who is truly shocked and unable to come to terms with what they have found. There is a belief that people in the past were more moral and disciplined, that they followed the rules and, with a few exceptions, behaved in a much better manner than we do now. What I have found is that this is simply not so. Our ancestors swore, cheated, drank, cavorted and behaved badly. And I think that when we start our family stories we need to be prepared for the eventuality that our ancestors may have feet of clay.

Irish Genealogy

by Christine Hayes - 1 Comment(s)

Trinity Library Dublin

Library at Trinity College Dublin

I recently finished a course through the National Institute of Genealogical Studies on the basics of Irish research. Anyone who has tried to find family in Ireland knows of the obstacles that are the realities of Ireland. What I didn’t know, was that there are so many resources still around.

I love Ireland – my husband’s family is still there and I cherish the time I spend there. But it is a different country. One cannot approach Ireland believing that because it is an English speaking country, for many years under British rule, that it is anything like Britain. It is not. In many countries where the British ruled, the people absorbed much of the British culture and adopted some of the ways of Britain, with regards to government and record keeping, things that genealogists rely on to find info about their ancestors. The Irish sort of did, but not entirely. Irish culture was strongly matrilineal. Irish women often retained their birth names. Any time during a child’s minority, the mother could “name a father” for the child. In this way family relationships became very wide reaching and sometimes had little to do with actual blood relationships. The culture was bardic and much of the early record keeping was done in the form of poems and recitations about families or tuaths. To this day, I can get more information about family relationships from my husband’s cousins than I can from the records that exist. In some ways, the family relationships in Ireland remind me of the family structures in the First Nations communities around Calgary. Children are “fostered” but are in no way less members of the family that the natural born children. This way is changing in Ireland, but within my generation, there are still family members who are “like brothers”. All this is, of course, preamble to the actual methodology I use to find my ancestors but, it’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to.

Anyhow, the best advice I can give to any researcher looking for their family in Ireland is get yourself a really good how-to manual and make yourself familiar with what records are available. We have a number of books that are invaluable to the Irish genealogy researcher. How to trace your Irish ancestors by Brian Mitchell and Tracing your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham.

Another invaluable resource for Irish researchers is a reference book specifically to assist researchers in locating records: Irish records: sources for family and local history by James G. Ryan. The book tells you what records there are and where they’re held. This is a very good starting point because I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to assist genealogists looking for records that simply don’t exist (or haven’t been found yet – we can always hope)

We also have a good selection of manuals on how to find and access the different records available such as civil registration, monumental inscriptions, and testamentary records, as well as guides for researching in specific areas of Ireland. You can find these in the catalogue by searching the terms Ireland Genealogy.

Although challenging, researching your Irish forebears can also be very rewarding. Ireland has a rich and colourful history, both at home and here in Canada. In a visit to a Wexford graveyard, I discovered the burial site of Thomas D’Arcy McGee and met an wonderful local historian who filled me in on the families in the area and a Calgary ex-pat who, coincidentally, had worked with my father and my brother (these things always happen in Ireland – I believe it is magic) So, hard work though it may be, there is that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – left by leprechauns or fleeing rum-runners, I’m not sure, but it is there and it is worth the work.

Keep in mind that our genealogy Saturdays kick off again in September (the 24th to be exact). If you're really stumped or would just like to discuss your project, come on down.

Library Interior Ireland

Who ARE These People?

by Christine Hayes - 1 Comment(s)

PC 957Some Lovely Ladies

Postcards from the Past, PC 957

Do you have family photographs? Photos can be very a helpful tool in piecing together the story of your family. They are MORE helpful if you know who is shown in the image.

The fashions in Victorian photographs can be extremely useful in narrowing down the time frame for when a photo was taken. Younger women, especially those of the middle or upper class, were more likely to keep up with changing fashion trends, so their fashions can pinpoint a very specific time frame. Older women tended to hang on to the fashions of their youth and were slow to adopt new styles, if at all, so their clothing styles may indicate an earlier time frame than the photo was taken. Note that babies or toddlers with curls and frilly dresses are very often boys! We have a reference book in our collection called Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 by Joan L. Severa, and it is a wonderful resource for identifying when the details on period fashions were stylish. Another book, Family Photographs, 1860-1945 by Robert Pols can also aid in identifying your photos. We also have several books and reproduction catalogues for retail stores, such as Eaton’s and Sears, which can help identify more recent fashions. (These tend to be a better representation of the clothing worn by everyday people than contemporary fashion magazines would be.)

Sometimes the photographer (often referred to as “Dad”) included a car in the photographs to keep track of the year that the photo was taken. (Now you know why all of your family photographs were taken in front of the family car.) There may be a date visible on the license plate, or you can ask a "car guy" (or girl!) to identify the vehicle. This can help you narrow down a time frame for an image. (My dad and uncles can usually tell you the year and make of the car, who owned it, when he or she sold it, who they sold it to, and what the owner bought next.)

There are books available that list photographers, their studios, and include where and when they were active. Photographers and their studios sometimes moved often, so a book may tell you exactly when a photographer's studio was at a specific address. (The address is sometimes printed on the photograph or cardboard backing.) An example from our collection is the Western Canada Photographer's List (1860-1925) by Glen C. Phillips, available in our Community Heritage and Family History room at the Central Library. Trying an internet search of the photographer's name and location may also be helpful in finding further information.

Are you a scrapbooker? When using old photographs in your scrapbook, it is a good idea to use copies. Cropping photos to fit your scrapbook page may remove details from clothing styles or from the background that can provide information on the location and time frame that the photo was taken. The name of the photographer printed on many photographs can also aid in identification, and this often appears on the back or around the edge of the photograph. Cropping the edges or covering up the back of the photo can obliterate this helpful piece of information.

Protect your photos! Sunlight is very harsh on old photographs, and photos need to be stored in a dry location. Those popular old photo albums with the sticky pages can be very hard on your images, and things can fall out and be damaged or lost, so it’s a good idea to transfer your photos to a new album. You can also scan your images onto your computer to preserve them. This allows you to share them easily with family, print copies, or digitally edit them. Some types of photographs, such as instant Polaroids, may fade over time, so scanning will save your images from being lost or damaged. We have a book called Preserving Your Family Photographs: How To Organize, Present, and Restore Your Precious Family Images by Maureen A. Taylor if you would like tips on caring for your photographs.

Most importantly, label your photographs!!! I have several in my collection that I know are extended family members of my ancestors, but it saddens me that there is now likely no way to identify who they are. We all have photographs that we can identify because we know the people in them, but our photos aren't labeled. (Even if you aren’t exactly sure who is in the picture, an “I think this is Mary’s daughter” or “This girl is a Barnes” note on the back is a good idea.) Don't let your family photos end up in a box at an antique sale because they are anonymous. Labeling your photographs allows them to be cherished by future generations, and gives you a good excuse to sit down and talk with senior and extended family members. (I’ve done this, and it’s a lot of fun!) I once located a distant relative in Ontario who was kind enough to share with me her collection of photographs related to our common ancestors. One of her unidentified photographs was of a small girl in a white dress. I already had a different photograph of this girl with her parents in my collection, taken at the same time, so I was able to tell the relative the name of the girl in her photo.

Don't discard old photographs! Even if your images are not identified, the information they contain may be useful to a museum, a family member, a historical or genealogical society, or a costumer. Ask around! And remember, just because you can't identify the people now doesn't mean that they will always be a mystery. Someone in your extended family may be able to solve the puzzle in the future. (I recently purchased identified photographs of a young brother and sister at an antique sale, and have located their descendants online. I have since contacted the family to try to get the images back to where they belong.) You can also try posting unidentified photographs online at, a website to reunite found photos with their families. It’s a long shot, but you never know!

Street Scene, Calgary

Postcards from the Past, PC 1589

PC 1589

Mysterious Young Ladies of Missouri

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)




I absolutely love old photographs of people. I am lucky to have several photographs of my ancestors and extended family that have been passed down through the years, and I am even luckier that the people in these photographs have been identified. It's wonderful to be able to attach faces to the names on my family tree. I also love looking at the clothing and hair styles, and at the props used in the photo studio. These images are a wonderful genealogical and historical resource.

Many antique and internet dealers have Victorian carte-de-visite (2.5 inches by 4 inches) or cabinet card (4.25 inches by 6.5 inches) photographs for sale. These photographs are plentiful, and tend to be inexpensive, so I have added a few "adopted ancestors" to my collection over the years. (I am always sure to note on the back in pencil that I BOUGHT them, rather than inherited them. No sense causing headaches for future researchers in my family!) These photographs sometimes come with information written on them, but often the only clue to their origins is the printed name and location of the photographer on the mounting card. I'll admit that it saddens me a bit that some of these photographs have traveled far, and have been around for a very long time, only to end up in a random "for sale" box in Canada!

I recently purchased two carte-de-visite photographs of sisters at a local antique sale. The backs of the photos have the printed name of the photographer, "Cramer", and the location of his studio in St. Louis, Missouri. The only other information on them is the first names of the girls written on the back of each photo - "Lucretia" and "Sallie". I liked the photographs themselves anyway, but I was unable to pass up the mystery included in the price. Using their names, and my sleuthing skills, would I be able to figure out who these girls were? (If their names were "Mary" and "Jane", I wouldn't even have attempted to search for them!)

The elder sister, "Sallie", appears to be about 12-14 years old, and "Lucretia" appears to be about 10-12 years old. They are well-dressed, in fashions most likely from the 1880s, and I know from the studio stamp that at some point around that time frame the girls were in St. Louis, Missouri. So now how to find them?

The Calgary Public Library subscribes to a database called "Heritage Quest Online", available in the "History and Genealogy" section of our E-Library. Heritage Quest's main focus is American history, and it gives you access to hundreds of scanned genealogical books, Revolutionary War records, Freedman's Bank Records (for researching African American ancestors) and PERSI (The Periodical Source Index), which is a collection of 2.3 million genealogy and local history articles. This database also gives you access to the full set of U.S. federal census records for 1790-1930, and all of these features can be accessed from home.

The best place to start with a search like this is often the census records. I went to Heritage Quest Online, clicked on the "Census" link, and then entered "Sallie" with no surname. With the girls’ fashions appearing to be from the 1880s, I selected "1880" as the census year to begin my search, and selected "Missouri" as the state.

On the 1880 census, there were 5075 women in Missouri named "Sallie". Of these, 643 lived in St. Louis County. Fortunately "Lucretia" is a far less common name, and it appeared only 537 times in the state of Missouri. Still a relatively large result, but only 57 of these entries appeared in St. Louis. A considerably narrower search! When I clicked on the name of the county to view the records, the ages of all the "Lucretias" appeared alongside their names. (Very helpful!) The younger girl in the photographs appears to be around the age of 10-12, but I decided to check those between 8-15 years old. (Victorian clothing styles sometimes make children appear to be older than they are.) These criteria eliminated all but six entries on the list. Could one of these "Lucretias" have had a sister named "Sallie"? I clicked on each possible match in St. Louis, and found that only one on the list, ten-year-old Lucretia Hazard, had a sister named "Sallie", who was twelve in 1880. Their father James is listed as a "merchant", which is a good match for the socioeconomic status indicated by the clothing of the girls. If this is the correct family, these photographs were taken around 1879-1882. These photographs are in very good shape, considering that they are 130 years-old, so they were obviously well cared for before they ended up for sale.

Of course, there is no way to conclusively confirm that these photographs are of the Hazard sisters without further research. It's possible that I could be off in my estimation of the date of the photographs. It could also be a coincidence that the Hazard family had daughters with these two names, and these girls could instead have been members of another family that was passing through St. Louis, or visiting from elsewhere. They may also have been cousins, rather than sisters. However the names of the girls, their ages, the city they lived in, the occupation of their father and the time frame indicated by their clothing are all a match, so it's quite possible that I have solved the mystery! (I have located a family tree online for these lovely ladies, so I’ll try to see if I can get them “home”.)




What's in a Name?

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Entrance to the harbour

Entrance to the Harbour

"From Old Books" website

As mentioned before on this blog, your library card allows you in-branch access to Ancestry Library Edition. While this is a wonderful database for genealogy, Ancestry LE isn't just useful for family research. This database can also be used for researching the origins of items or documents. Do you have a signed painting or a cross-stitched sampler with a name on it? Or have you inherited an autograph book, or a photograph or postcard with writing on the back? With a little digging, you may be able to find out more about the item, and about its original owner. Ancestry LE can also be used for researching notable individuals if you are writing a book or a paper, or if you are just nosy like me. (Or "inquisitive", if you prefer). Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), Charles Dickens, The Bronte’s, Emily Dickinson, Oscar Wilde, and Charlie Chaplin all appear on census records available through the database. On the 1861 census for England, Queen Victoria appears as "Victoria R", and her household includes three and a half census pages of servants, including a "coffee room maid"!

But back to researching objects. We have a small book in our Local History collection; Solitary Hunter or Sporting Adventures on the Prairies by John Palliser, published in London in 1859. I picked up this book one day to see what it was about, and inside the book, in elegant handwriting, is the inscription:

Hubert Heath Sabben

with Papa's and Mama's Love,

April 25th, 1862

And at the top of the page, written in pencil by a child, it says Hart, 1895.

I came across this inscription purely by accident, but this small scrap of information in this little book piqued my interest.

Just who was Hubert Heath Sabben? Was he an early pioneer to Canada? Did he live in England, where the book was published? Did he come to Canada at a later date, bringing his book with him? We aren't sure when this book joined our collection, and there is no indication of how we came to have it, so I thought I'd have a look for him in the Library Edition database. I entered Hubert Heath Sabben's full name, and got several matches for him. According to birth records, Hubert Heath Sabben was born in the June quarter of 1853, at Portsea Island in Hampshire, England. (Some British records are organized in "quarters", or three month periods, so Hubert was born in April, May, or June of 1853.) The inscription April 25, 1862, indicates that the book could have been a gift for Hubert's ninth birthday. It is possible that the elegant handwriting in the book belonged to one of his parents, John or Elizabeth Sabben.

I then checked the census records for Hubert Heath Sabben, and found him in 1861 with his parents and brother, Frederick, in Portsmouth, Hampshire, a naval city on England's south coast.

On the 1871 census, Hubert was 18 years old, and was a navigating midshipman on the ship "Basilisk".

On the 1881 census, Hubert was a navigating lieutenant a ship called the "Crocodile". He is one of a crew of 95 men on that ship.

On the 1891 census, Hubert was a navigating lieutenant on a ship called the "Wye". It was very interesting to note the different ranks and sheer number of men on this ship!

I found a marriage record for Hubert Heath Sabben to Mary Rebecca Hart in the December quarter of 1884, and a record for their son, Hubert Hart Sabben, born in 1885. This is likely the "Hart" whose name is written in the book. Perhaps the book was given to him in 1895 for his tenth birthday.

In the database I was also able to find other records of Hubert Hart Sabben's life, including his name on naval medal rolls and the index for his will in 1904. Ancestry LE also has records for son Hubert Hart Sabben's service in World War I.

Both Sabben men died in England, so I still don't know how this book made its way to the library's collection, but from the information that I was able to find, it appears that Hubert Heath Sabben and his son H. Hart Sabben followed James Palliser's lead, and became adventurers!

Why genealogy?

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Diary from iStock

I have been invited to give a brief presentation to a local service club on the why’s and wherefore’s of genealogy. The how-to stuff will be easy. What I have been pondering is the “why” of genealogy. I think I know why I am researching my family. I am nosy – I love gossip. Even gossip that is 100 years old, which is probably why I enjoy reading the society pages of the old newspapers. You wouldn’t believe the stuff they’ll tell you! I suppose I am also curious about how my family got here. What would cause people to pull up stakes and come to a country that was essentially a wilderness? When my ancestor came to Ontario, he had to clear the land on which he would settle. His experiences would have been very similar to those of the Catherine Parr-Traill and Susannah Moodie. And by their accounts it was not a lot of fun.

We can never know the “why” for sure. In genealogy, unless you are blessed to have generations worth of correspondence or diaries from your ancestors, the best we can do is guess. There are resources to turn to, however, to give us a better idea of what life was like for our ancestors and maybe even shine some light on their own reasons for doing what they did. I mentioned Catherine Parr Traill and Susannah Moodie. Their accounts of settling in Ontario, The Backwoods of Canada, Roughing it in the Bush and Life in the Clearings, paint a very colourful picture of what life was like in the backwoods of Ontario as their families struggled to establish themselves in a relatively inhospitable climate. While my ancestor’s experiences may have been a bit different (he certainly wouldn’t have been trying to maneuver through the brush in a full length dress, say – at least I think not) they would have been similar enough to give me an idea of what he had to face just to get started.

So, even if your ancestor didn’t leave boxes of correspondence or volumes of diaries, you can still extrapolate from what we have to give yourself an idea of what their motivations were and the hardships they faced. We have an excellent collection of first-hand accounts of life in early Alberta. You can find many of them by using the search term ‘pioneers’ in the catalogue. You can also try ‘correspondence’ (with the name of place) or ‘diaries’. A quick search turned up the following: The First Dutch Settlement in Alberta: Letters from the Pioneer Years; Wilderness Outpost: the Fort Vermilion Memoir of Mary B. Lawrence and Letters from Rupert’s Land . These are just a few of the first-hand accounts we have of the settling of Canada. We also have a good collection of explorers’ journals, which can give a very interesting view of the country at the point of first European contact.

All this research and reading really helps to flesh out the story of our ancestors. And really, for many of us, isn’t that what family history is all about?

PC 1649

New Settlers, Their First House, Western Canada

Postcards from the Past, PC 1649

Spring Events for Genealogists

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)


Even if spring has decided not to happen, there is still a lot going on in and around Calgary for genealogists and those interested in family history.

The first program I want to tell you about is a mini-fair on April 29 at the Family History Centre (2021 17 Avenue SW). It is called Bridges to the Past and will include classes in getting started in genealogy, reading old German handwriting, Irish ancestry research, using social networking for your research and a whole lot more. If you register in advance, you will receive a syllabus. You can see all the classes and download the registration form at this website:

Farther afield, the Alberta Genealogical Society is holding its annual conference, Unlocking Doors to the Past on April 16 and 17 at the Chateau Louis Hotel in Edmonton. Speakers at the conference will include Colleen Fitzpatrick, the author of Forensic Genealogy, Dave Obee, whose work includes eight books on Canadian family history, and Lyn Meehan, a well-known family historian and lecturer, along with other interesting and informative presenters. You can find more information about the AGS conference at their website:

Next month, the Alberta Family Histories Society, our own local genealogical group, will be offering a beginners course on May 7 at 9:00. The program is for members of AFHS (so if you’re looking for another reason to join your local genealogical society, this may be it). You can find out more about this course through the Alberta Family Histories Society blog (

Of course, there is always our regular Family History Coaching program, on the last Saturday of the month (April 30th) at 10:00 in the Central Library. This program has become increasingly popular and the feedback from participants has been great. We’ve found a lot of ancestors!

There is also our Genealogy Meet-Up at 2:00 on the same Saturday. This provides an opportunity for further assistance as well as some time to meet with others and offer your own advice to other genealogists – many hands make light work!

Both Family History Coaching and the Genealogy Meet-Up are drop-in programs, so no advance registration is required, but you will need to have a library card to participate (and to access Ancestry LE). You can find more information in our program guide, available online through our website (click on Programs).

Finding Women in your Tree

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1620

Woman on Horseback Jumping Car, Gleichen

Postcards from the Past, PC 1620

I signed up for a webinar that was called Chasing Women – it wasn’t for swinging singles, it was about finding your female ancestors. The presenter was Leland Meitzler, a well-known figure in the genealogical community.

Anyone who’s done even a little bit of genealogy knows the difficulties connected with finding female ancestors. We change our names, fib about our ages, change our hair colour (oops, that last one has nothing to do with genealogy!) You know what I mean, right? For example, I found my great-great-grandmother’s death registration and she was listed as Mrs. Stewart Coghlan – no first name, no maiden name. Not a particularly helpful document for tracking down her family line.

The webinar suggested some very good resources to help us get over the hurdles we encounter when researching the females in our family. First, a couple of very good books to help with “matrilineal descent” is The Hidden Half of the Family by Christina Schaefer and A Genealogists Guide to Discovering your Female Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. Although the emphasis is on American research, both contain a number of research paths that could be applied to any nationality.

So what did Leland recommend? First he listed what he called the “no-brainers”, those resources we would check anyway like marriage documents, family Bibles, death certificates, birth certificates, obituaries and the like. It was really driven home to me this weekend in our Family History Coaching program just how valuable an obituary can be. A customer showed me his great-grandmother’s obituary which listed all of her daughters by their married names and her brothers – hence, her maiden name.

Leland also suggested some more obscure ways of finding maiden names and married names. Things like the census, where, although the woman is listed by her married name, there may be an in-law or two living with the family. Probate records may also list daughters by married name. Sometimes cemetery transcripts can show family members buried next to each other, or land records may show land being sold to family members. Newspapers are invaluable. Gossip columns may include former names or indications of relationships. Other clues can sometimes be gained by looking at family names, sometimes the maiden name of the mother is used as a middle name. Local histories may include information regarding maiden names, other family members and the married names of daughters. Family collections may be lodged in local history societies or in archives or libraries in the town of origin. That is always worth checking.

You can also hope that your research leads you to a country where women retain their maiden names or combine them with their husband’s surnames. For example, French women use their maiden names on legal documents. In Germany and Poland, Catholic registers list deaths by the maiden name and in Hispanic countries names of the mother and father are often combined.

Whatever your path, remember that more and more information is being indexed, more and more is being digitized. What you couldn’t find last year may be easy to find this year, so don’t give up hope.

PC 1744

Womens' Orchestra, 1910

Postcards from the Past, PC 1744

Using Google Books in Genealogy

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

google books

The face of library service is undergoing a great change. Once we were seen as a repository of books. That was pretty much the sum of it. I’m not saying that was an accurate perception, since for as long as I have worked in libraries (and that is a long, long time) we have also been the intermediaries between customers and the information contained in those books. But books themselves are changing. They are no longer confined to their old fashioned paper format – they have broken free of the walls of the library and are finding a new home on the internet. One of the projects that is enabling this is the Google Books project. Google is working with some major libraries and also some partners to provide previews, and in some cases, complete text, of many books.

How it works is quite simple. You search, either through the regular Google search or through the more specific Google Books search for a name or a phrase. If that search term shows up in any of the scanned books, you will see a preview of the part of the book that contains the term. If the book is in the public domain, the whole text will appear as a pdf for reading or download. I have found this to be a real boon to my research.

What this has allowed me to do is to find stuff I wouldn’t have even known enough to look for. For example, I knew that my great-grandfather had worked on the Kettle Valley Railway but I didn’t know that he was the Chairman of the Locomotive Engineers Union for that railway until I found his name in a 1927 listing of labour organizations in Canada. I also didn’t know that my great uncle Claude, who eventually moved to Montana, ran a movie theatre in the billiard hall in Phoenix, BC in 1911. I found that juicy little bit of information in the preview of Ghost towns and mining camps of the Boundary Country by Garnet Basque. Using that, I was able to find Uncle Claude, his last name badly mis-transcribed and therefore not showing up in online searches, in the 1911 Canadian census, just where he was supposed to be, in Phoenix BC, living with his partner in the theatre business.

While it is great if the whole book is available, it is also just fine if it is not. Google Books gives great citations so that it is easy to find the book and request it, or a copy of the pertinent information, through interlibrary loans with your local library. In fact, there are links on the right side of the page to help you find it either through a book seller or at a library. (Turns out the U of C has the list of labour unions in which my great-grandfather appears, and Calgary Public Library – yay, has the ghost town book!)

So while digitization is not without its drawbacks and its need for adaptation, it is a great thing for researchers, especially those of us who are enamoured of the miniscule and unremarked details of the lives of our ancestors. These details could have gone unnoticed forever, unless we stumbled on them by chance. Now, the only drawback is that we can end up with WAY too much stuff for our family histories – we’re going to have to publish multivolume sets!

PC 424

At the Summit of the Rockies

Postcards from the Past, PC 424

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