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Obscure Sources for Genealogy Research

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Obscure sources

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.

Finding Granny with a GPS

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 1458

Grave of George McDougall

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1458

The City of Calgary is thinking about offering a new way of burying our dead. With Queen’s Park Cemetery rapidly running out of space, the City is planning for a new cemetery in the city’s southeast. As part of that burial ground they would like to offer a natural burial ground where graves would be dug by hand, bodies would be buried unembalmed and in biodegradable caskets and the land left to go back to its natural state. There would be no grave markers and anyone wishing to find a burial site would be given a GPS unit and the grave co-ordinates. This idea has kicked up a bit of controversy and lead to a bit of trepidation on the part of genealogists everywhere.

Genealogists love to find records and what is more solid and permanent than a grave marker? Genealogical societies the world over dedicate massive amounts of time and energy to transcribing markers. We have a very large collection of southern Alberta cemetery transcriptions in our Community Heritage and Family History collection here at Calgary Public Library. (If you’re curious, you can find them in the catalogue by typing “cemetery” in the search box and choosing “subject” from the drop-down menu). These are invaluable resources for people seeking their ancestors. But many of the transcriptions also include burial records so that those buried without markers or whose markers have disappeared can also be listed.

There are also, believe it or not, walking tour guides to cemeteries. To some this may sound ghoulish, but in reality, it is an excellent way to get to know the people and history of a place. By touring the graves, with a human guide or a guide book, you get a very personal view of who and what made a city or town what it is. A great one for Calgary is Calgary’s historic Union Cemetery: a walking guide by the inimitable Harry Sanders. Using the graves of Calgarians, both rich and poor, as a starting point, Harry examines every aspect of Calgary’s history.



Calgary's Historic Union Cementery by Harry M. Sanders

So, this new way of burying may have unintended effects, but it is an intriguing proposition. It may affect the way we do genealogy, but then, even stone grave markers don’t last forever. The plot where my earliest ancestors in Canada were laid to rest is a parking lot now. If your people were buried in a potter’s field, they were in an unmarked grave and all that exists is a record of burial. The same would be true if your ancestors were cremated and not placed in a columbarium. I think choice in these matters is a good thing. We are a diverse city and burial customs are very personal and tied to the culture and history of our families. The city’s proposition seems to allow for choice, and, personally, I think I might like to be the granny they had to find with a GPS.

Not Just Ancestry LE : More Online Resources for Genealogists

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

PC 503

R.B. Bennett Receiving Nomination Convention of Conservatives, Winnipeg 1927

Postcards from the Past PC 503

This is the second of my installments about some of the subscription databases (other than Ancestry LE) that genealogists should try. This week I want to introduce you to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

In my introductions to the genealogy collection here at the Central Library, I always like to mention National Biographies as a potential resource. Many countries have them and they are the semi-official records of the people who played a role in the formation of their respective countries. The grand-daddy of these is the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB – I warned you about libraries and acronyms!) DNB is the national biography of Great Britain. Calgary Public Library owns the original 22 volume set and the 15 volumes of supplements. Sources such as these can be very useful especially if you have ancestors who were notable in some way. In Canada, sometimes being notable just meant being here early so the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, in addition to politicians and industrialists, includes, pioneers, fur traders, and First Nations leaders. The articles are written by many different, reputable authors and include extensive bibliographies of primary and secondary source material. The DCB (again with the acronyms!) covers people who died between 1000 and 1930 (it is traditional in national biographies to include only dead people and to indicate coverage by date of death)

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography was started in 1959 as a joint project of the University of Toronto and the Université Laval. It is available in English and French and has been a staple reference source, in its paper incarnation, on reference shelves in libraries across Canada for decades. Now that it is available online it is much easier to use and the full text searching pulls up names of people mentioned in articles but not necessarily the subject of an entire article themselves.

You can access the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online through our E-Library accessible through the catalogue or via the link at the top of our homepage. In the E-Library you can click on either “Canadian” or “History and Genealogy” and scroll down to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. You will be asked to sign in using your library card number and PIN. Choose your language, and off you go. You can browse the collection by name, by category or by geographic location.

You can also search the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online through the site at Library and Archives Canada.

Genealogy Databases - More Than Ancestry LE

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 53 18

Group of people watching a band in Lethbridge, 1961

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 53-18

Most genealogists are aware that the Calgary Public Library has a subscription to Ancestry Library Edition. This is a great service for customers who don’t have their own, personal subscriptions to the Ancestry products. But what some family historians don’t know is that there are a lot of other online subscription resources available that can help in their genealogical searching. So, over the next few months I thought I would tell you all a little bit about some of these resources so you can explore some of these little jewels.

The first database I am going to introduce is the Biography and Genealogy Master Index. It is found, along with Ancestry LE, in the E-Library under History and Genealogy. You get to it from the library homepage,, by clicking on E-Library in the black navigation bar at the top of the page. You can also access it from the library catalogue by clicking on E-Library in the bar at the top of any page in the catalogue. Then just click on “History and Genealogy”. Because these are subscription databases, you do need to go through the E-Library link and you will also have to log in using your library card number and PIN.

Biography and Genealogy Master Index is the second in the list. This index has been around for a very long time. When I first started at the library (cretaceous period) this was a 3 volume paper index to biographies published in biographical dictionaries, subject encyclopedias, literary criticism which includes biographical information and other indexes. This sounds very mundane and ‘library-ish” I know, but this resource allowed us to find biographical information on some very obscure people whose biographies had not been published in book form. I always test genealogical databases by typing in my maiden name, which is quite unusual. Imagine my delight when I turned up biographical information about my great-great uncle who was a writer of inspirational books and hymns. There were entries for him in a number of resources. Because of the scope of this index, your ancestor may also have an entry in the BGMI (acronym – we love acronyms in libraries!) The sources indexed cover many, many different subject areas. For example, BGMI indexes biographies in The A t o Z of Scientists in Weather and Climate; Ad Men and Women; Automotive News; The Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women; Biographical Index of Artists in Canada; The Boxing Register; Who’s Who in Asian and Australian Politics just to name a few. Keep in mind, though, this is an index only. It doesn’t contain full text articles; it merely points you to the source. We have quite a few of the resources indexed at the Calgary Public Library and we can usually arrange to have photocopies delivered via our interlibrary loan service of those we don’t have in our collection (but there is a charge for this service). If you have any questions, you can email us at or telephone us at 403-260-2785.

So, when you are starting your search for information, BGMI is a good starting point.

Genealogy Saturdays

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)


It is time again for the start of the Family History Coaching program at the Central Library. This long-running program is very popular and we are happy to be able to offer it again. The Family History Coaching program is offered in conjunction with our partner, the Alberta Family Histories Society, which provides volunteer coaches on the last Saturday of the month. The coaches are very well versed in all things genealogical and will give you one-on-one assistance with your project. This kind of assistance can be very helpful for those who are just getting started, those who have hit a brick wall or for anyone who needs a fresh perspective on their research. We meet at the Central Library on the 4th floor from 10:00am to noon. This is a drop-in program so you do not need to register in advance.

We have introduced a second genealogy program on the last Saturday of the month to make it a truly genealogical day. In the afternoon we are offering a Genealogy Meet-Up. Participants will be able to chat with other researchers and share information about methods, resources and other genealogical interests. This program will take place in the meeting room on the fourth floor of the Central Library from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. You will have to register for this one. This can be done in person at your local branch, by telephone at 403-260-2620 or online at (click on ‘Programs’ in the black bar at the top of the page, then search for ‘genealogy meet up’). If you’d like more information on either of these programs (or on any other matters genealogical or historical) you can contact us at 403-260-2785 or by email at

We’d love to see you at either or both of these programs. Come down for the day, there is a lot going on in and around the Central library on Saturdays and there are some really great eateries in the vicinity. Make it a day of genealogy. Hope to see you soon.

PC 1046

Harvest Time

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 740

Threshing Scene, 1915

Postcards from the Past PC 740

It is getting to be very cold at night and in the mornings there is a suggestion that soon there will be, dare I say it, frost. (Sorry) For our grandmothers on the prairies, this often meant that it was time to start making preserves and laying down food for the winter. I think I have written before about the great collection of cookbooks we have in the Community Heritage and Family History collection and it was to this collection that I turned for some recipes for the kinds of preserves they would be making.

PC 242

Haying in Lethbridge, ca 1909

Postcards from the Past, PC 242

Prairie cooks used not just what they grew, but also what grew wild around them. From The Pioneer Cook comes this recipe for Rose Hip Jam. Remember, if you are going to try this recipe that grandma would most likely have been collecting hips from roses that grew wild and had not been treated with any kind of chemicals.

Gather berries after the first frost, and preserve the same day as picked. Boil 4 cups berries with 2 ½ cups water, until berries are tender. Force through a sieve to remove seeds. Add 1 cup sugar to 2 cups pulp. Mix thoroughly, and bring to a simmer slowly. Cook 10 minutes. Bottle. A layer of sugar sprinkled on the top helps to improve the flavor. (True of everything in my humble opinion!) This recipe was from Edythe Windsor, Koostatak Manitoba. (Page 101)

Rose hips can be used as a source of vitamin C, which can be quite useful when fresh fruits and vegetables are not available.

I am very interested in trying this next recipe because I have about 8 tomato plants in my yard, none of which has produced a ripe tomato yet, and likely won’t unless it stays summer until October.

Green Tomato Chow-Chow

1 peck green tomatoes

4 large onions

6 green peppers

1 ½ cups brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Chop tomatoes (not too fine) and let stand in brine overnight. Drain and cover with vinegar (not too strong). Add peppers, onions, sugar, and spices and cook until tender. Place in bottle or jars with parowax over them if corks or covers are not available.

From The Blue Bird Cookbook by the Domestic Science Department of the American Woman’s Club of Calgary.

I suppose another thing we have to keep in mind if we are using older recipes to make preserves is that processes have changed and even though we may love these old recipes, we should follow current instructions for canning – for example, process the chow-chow in a canner rather than covering the jars with paraffin or corks. I still rely on my Bernardin book for information on how to safely preserve food. We do have copies of this at the Calgary Public Library. It is called The Complete Book of Home Preserving. Copies can be found at most branches.

If you would like to see our collection of cookbooks, come on down to the 4th floor of the Central Library and visit our Community Heritage and Family History collection. Some of the cookbooks, mostly the older ones, are in our storage collection and don’t show up in the catalogue. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a look at them, though. Just ask and we will get them for you.

AJ 1286

Hays Farm, ca 1960s?

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1286

Canada's Census Records Online

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Census record

You may have seen the article in the Saturday edition of the Calgary Herald that a "forest of family trees" was recently unveiled. That may be a little bit of an exaggeration but what has actually been released is just as exciting. This is the Historical Canadian Census collection which includes all of the census records from 1851 (only a partial census exists for this year) to 1916 (which was a census of the Prairie Provinces only). This is the product of a partnership between and Library and Archives Canada and includes 32 million names.

While digitized images of various censuses have been available through Library and Archives Canada, this project provides indexing and images which means, of course, easier access to these records. I know that the census was one of the first places I turned to find information about my ancestors and once I had found my great grandmother, living with her family in Ontario, I was hooked. Back in those days, indexes were few and far between and the census was only on microfilm We still have the microfilm here at the Central Library but having indexes and images online is going to be a real boon to researchers and may open the way for new genealogists to get started.

You will need a subscription to to view these records, unless you are a Calgary Public Library member. Then you can access these records at any branch of the public library through our subscription to Ancestry Library Edition. While you may not be able to pull up your entire family tree, you will be able to see the record of you ancestors as they were enumerated throughout the years for the official census.

Land Records

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 261

A Homestead on the Boundless Prairie, Western Canada

Postcards from the Past, PC 261

I can't explain my fascination with land records. The majority of my ancestors were working class people and not landowners. Unlike many of the people I encounter in my work with the genealogy collection here at the Central Library, I cannot go back and find the homestead land. The one ancestor who did apply for a homestead didn't stay. There was, of course, my ggg grandfather, the original immigrant to Canada, who got land from the Canada Company. Boy, I was excited when I finally found the entries for his property in the Ontario Land Records index (available at the library, of course). It wasn't long, though before his family up and headed west to work on the railroad in British Columbia. Not a farmer in the bunch!

Despite the paucity of information in the land records for my family, I have found that for people who settled and stayed, land records can tell you a whole lot about your ancestors. Homestead records can contain pages and pages of information about the land and the people who filed for the homestead. At the very least, land records can help you place your people, which can be an important key to finding other records about them. At Calgary Public Library we have a number of resources to help you track your ancestors' land records. For example, we have the Ontario land records index, the index to Crown land grants in Quebec, and the microfilm finding aid to Alberta homestead records, which includes the township registers. (The index is also available online at the Alberta Genealogical Society website(

Our postcard collection includes some interesting examples of promotional cards created by the Canadian government as advertisements for the land available to settlers in Alberta. The card illustrating this entry is just such a one. The verso reads:" 160 Acres Farms in Western Canada Free. Good Schools. Splendid Climate. Rich Soil. Splendid Pasturage. Land for Cattle. Excellent Dairying. Particulars may be obtained from any Canadian Government Agent or from Mr.W.D. Scott. Superintendent of Immigration.Ottawa. Mr. W.T.R. Preston, Commissioner of Emigration, 11-12 Charing Cross, London W.C. England." We've noticed that none of these postcards is a winter scene.

1916 Census of the Prairie Provinces

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

1916 Census Regina

I was very excited when Library and Archives Canada released the 1916 Census for the Prairie Provinces. This will be the first census that both my grandmothers will be on. This is going to open a new path of research for me as my maternal grandmother was never very forthcoming about her history. I will be able to find her in her family before she was sent to the orphanage with her sisters following the death of her father. It will also give me her mother's name and the names of her siblings and may help solve, once and for all, the mystery of her birthdate.

The 1916 Census for the Prairie Provinces was released in 2008 and has already been indexed and launched by This means that users of Calgary Public Library can access the index and the images through the library's subscription to Ancestry Library Edition. This is just one of the many Canadian resources that can be searched through Ancestry LE. If you have a Calgary Public Library card you can use this wonderful resource at any branch of the Calgary Public Library. It is also accessible to customers who use their laptops in the library and access our wireless server.

Pop in an have a peek at the latest census release.

NEW We have just finished shelving the microfilm reels for this census. They are in the microfilm cabinet in the Genealogy Area on the 4th floor of the Central Library

Canada Census, 1891

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

Census 1891

Library and Archives Canada has announced the launch of a new database, the 1891 Census of Canada. This census marked the third time names and statistical information was collected from the whole of the country. The intent was to reflect the population as of April 5, 1891. In all data was collected from 4,833,239 people from all the provinces and territories. LAC has acknowledged the contribution of, without whom the project could not have been completed. The records are free to search through Library and Archives Canada (see hot link above) and through Ancestry LE. You can access Ancestry LE free of charge with your Calgary Public Library card at any branch of the Calgary Public Library.

The database is a collection of digitized images taken from the microfilm produced in 1955. Unfortunately, the quality of the images on the microfilm is uneven - some pages are good, others not so good. The originals were destroyed so that all that exists are the microfilms of the population schedules (Schedule 1). Some of the images are not decipherable so if your people don't show up in the indexing, it may be that they are on one of the unreadable pages. If you would like to check the microfilm, Calgary Public Library owns a (nearly) complete collection of all released census microfilm, with the exception of the 1916 Census of the Prairie Provinces, which is still on order. The films are held in the genealogy section on the fourth floor of the Central Library. You can ask for assistance in finding the films or using the microfilm readers (or anything else, for that matter) at the reference desk.

And a reminder for all you avid genealogy buffs, we offer Family History Coaching with volunteers from the Alberta Family Histories Society on the last Saturday of every month from 10:00 am to noon in the genealogy area. If you'd like more information on anything genealogy related, please feel free to contact us. Our telephone is 403-260-2785 and our direct email is

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