Monday, 17 September 2018

Hone Your Skills With Transcribing and Indexing

One of the most frustrating aspects of genealogy is handwriting. In a perfect world, all the documents we come across would have been written in a neat legible hand. In reality, we are invariably going to come across a document where the handwriting looks like a snake fell in the ink pot and slithered drunkenly across the page. It's even more of a headache when they document you're looking at is not in your spoken language, or uses archaic terms and words not in existence anymore. 

One really excellent way to get yourself familiar with handwriting is to give a go at transcribing and indexing. It's also a good way to give back to the genealogy community. These records don't index themselves.

Transcribing is becoming a lost art. Once upon a time, the only way you could take home a copy of a record was to write it out by hand. Nowadays, you can save microfilm images to a USB, and depending on the archive, take a picture of a document. While this is quicker and handier, you should still give a go at transcribing. I'm the first one to admit that when I fine a new document, my excitement doesn't let me pick up all the details when I read through it. Transcribing the document word for word forces you to slow down and look at everything the document is saying. 

Indexing is another great way to get familiar with handwriting. Take census records for example. There's set columns, so you know what information is going to be in each one. You can train yourself to look at the handwriting to make out words. How did the writer form the letters? Looking at the entries above and below can help you decipher whether that occupation is carter or cashier. 

Indexing and / or transcribing a record set of a research area you're interested in can be invaluable. The obvious bonus is you might find your ancestors. An added bonus though is that the documents will give you sense of the community your ancestor lived in, and the families there. You'll get to know how they talked, and what their lives were like. This can be true of not only census, civil registration and parish registers. Transcribing a diary of a local person can tell you about everyday life in the community. Indexing newspapers also gives insight into the events and social activities that shaped how your ancestors' saw the world. 

There are some great Canadian opportunities right now to join in indexing and transcribing:

  • The one everyone is talking about right now is the indexing on Family Search of the 1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces. We have another 5 years to wait until the next Canada wide 1931 Census, but this is still a great record set for those with ancestors in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. You can find the link to the project here
  • Library and Archives Canada has a great program called Co-Lab, where you can help index or  transcribe documents. They also have photo collections that need descriptions and tagging. The main page of Co-Lab challenges is here.
  • The Nova Scotia Archives had started last year a crowd sourcing program called Transcribe. There is nothing posted in the way of projects that I could see right now, but the link to their page is here.
  • The BC Archives is also looking for transcription volunteers. ou can see what projects are going on right now here.
  • Ancestry's World Archives Project always has projects on the go. Check out the main page here.
  • Contact your local genealogy or historical society. I can guarantee that if you call and say you would like to volunteer your time indexing and transcribing records, they'll jump to say yes. Some records will require you to spend some time at the society, but you might also be able to do things at home as well. Preparing for this blog post, I came across many local museums and archives' websites across the country asking for volunteers.
  • Automated Genealogy is a volunteer website transcribing census records. They've branched out trying to index other record sets to link to the census records. You can see more details here.
  • The New England Historic Genealogical Society has many volunteer indexing and transcribing opportunities. Don't be fooled by their name. They have many Canadian based items in their holdings. Their page on volunteering is here.

Give it a try. You don't need to block off huge amounts of time. Even just half an hour a week can make a huge difference in these projects. It's a win/win situation for everyone. The organizations get the help they need, and you get to hone your handwriting skills.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Taking the Time to Browse Part 2: Ancestry

In this series of posts, we are looking at websites where you might be missing information by not browsing through record sets. This post is about Ancestry.

Now unlike Family Search, Ancestry doesn't usually have browse only collections. At least none that I could find in Canadian record sets. What you want to do is instead of using the name search, look to the right and use the browse feature. There are some good reasons for doing this:

1. Sorry Ancestry, but sometimes your indexing needs work. Especially with non Anglo names. Here's a perfect example. One of my paternal great grandfathers was named Patrice Joseph Mallais. Using the name search, I could not find him anywhere in 1911. I could find him in St. Isidore New Brunswick in 1901, and in Taboustinac in 1921. The only Patrice Mallais in the area of New Brunswick I was looking at was a nephew of my great grandfather. So I decided to start browsing. I brought up the 1911 census, then chose New Brunswick, then started browsing through each district in the area that he was living in 1901. Lo and behold, just a few pages into the Suamarez district I found his family. PATRICE MALLAIS had been indexed as PAHIQUE MALLARS. It wasn't even close to being a variation of his name, which is why Ancestry's search feature didn't pick up on it.

2. The second reason to browse is that in each record set, there are the odd section or page that isn't indexed. A good example of this is the Canadian Voters Lists collection. It says it holds records for 1935-1980. However, if you look at the description of the record set, you'll realize that the years 1979 and 1980 are browse only.

3. Even in a record set that is fully indexed, a name or two gets missed. In the 1851 Census, I found the Ferguson family living in Toronto, Peel County. This particular page only had the bottom half indexed at the time. The first 21 names did not show up in the index. John Ferguson lived next door to his parents, John and Christina. John the younger showed in the index, but his parents did not. Since I first found the record, Ancestry has updated the indexing. John the elder and Christina now show up. But when I first found the record almost 10 years ago, they weren't. I was lucky enough to already land on the page because of John the younger. Otherwise indexing alone at that time wouldn't have given me his location in 1851.

So how can you find and be able to tell what has been indexed and what hasn't? Well on the main search page, you're going to click on Search:
From the drop down menu you're going to click on card catalogue. Next you'll see:

Now, once you've picked a record set to look at, here's how to tell if a page is indexed:

.This means it has been indexed.

See how the people icon isn't highlighted? This mean it hasn't been indexed.

Ancestry has almost 2,000 record sets that pertain to Canada. Here are some of the record sets that I have personally come across that using browse struck gold:

Canada, Voters Lists, 1935-1980 As I said above, the years 1979 and 1980 are not indexed. As well, OCR was used for the indexing. On more than one occasion, an ancestor's name was missed.

Acadia, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1757-1946 There are several sections that have not been indexed. As an example, some sets dealing with before and during the Acadian Expulsion have either been only partly indexed, or not at all. Also, only some years of certain parishes have been indexed.

Canada, Photographic Albums of Settlement, 1892-1917 Some of the photographs are captioned with names of people.

Canada, Fenian Raids Bounty Applications, 1866-1871 This collection is only partially indexed.

This is just a sampling. So, if you can't find an ancestor and you know they should be there, take some time to browse. You may find what you're looking for. Or, even better, take a look at a record set that looks promising. You may find something new.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Taking the time to Browse Part 1: Family Search

Indexed collections on various websites can take you many generations back in a relatively short period of time. In our excitement, we can sometimes forget about "hidden" collections. There's a whole host of record sets that haven't been indexed. If you stick to name searches, you're never going to get hits from these collections. They can take awhile to find what you want. You may have to slog through quite a few images to strike gold. Anyone who's searched through reels of microfilm at your local Archive can tell you it can be a long and tedious process. But what if the one nugget of information you find beaks down a brick wall? All that eyestrain will be worth it.

For the next few posts, I'm going to highlight ones for Canada from sites such as Family Search, Ancestry, and a few other smaller sites. This week I'll be discussing Family Search.

There are 99 uniquely Canadian Collections on Family Search's website. Here's the thing though: Only 80 of them are indexed. That means there's 19 collections that you won't see results from in a name search! That's a lot of information you could be missing. Here's how to find them:

On the Search screen, you're going to click on Canada on the Research by Location on the right.
If you are looking at records from a certain province, then click on that province. Or you can just click Canada to get all the records.

The next screen will give you a name search section, but scroll down the page to the section Image-Only Historical Collections.

They have 18 BMD collections, 1 Census, 1 Military, 12 Probate and Court, and 2 Miscellaneous collections that are not indexed. Here's the complete list. Click on the collection, then the Learn More link to get detailed information on each one.

Probate and Estate files. Images count: 783,176

Naturalization documents from Victoria and Cranbrook Counties. Image count: 23,240

Wills and indexes from across BC. Image count: 127,172

Records of land granted or bought from the provincial government and from the Hudson's Bay Company. Image Count: 4,567

A larger collection continuing on from the one above. Image count: 540,745 

Land purchases of land not surveyed. Image count: 2,408 

Indexes and Land Records for the Railway Belt and Peace River Block. Image count: 286,123

Records from ports in British Columbia, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia, as well as a few foreign ports. Image count: 23,381.

Taken from RCMP periodicals, newsletters and books. Image count: 9,476

Indexes of information from HBC records and the Manitoba 1870 Census. Image count: 30,729

Baptisms, marriages and burials from around Manitoba. Image count: 6,567

One of 3 collections of death registrations for the province. Image count: 76,812

Continuation of the above collection. Image count: 16,806

Books of transcriptions submitted from the churches to the Province. Image count: 7,459

Marriage registrations from around the Province. Image Count: 119,291

Early records of marriages. Image count: 141,775

Indexes and Registers. A work in progress. Image count to date: 792,235

Registers from around the province. Image count: 3,754

The third of the death registrations collection for the Province. Image count: 80,741

Baptisms, marriages, and burials from around the Province. Image count: 6,071

Indexes and registrations from around the Province. Image count: 35,026

Parish registers from around the Province. Image count: 16,188

Provincial death registrations. Image count: 27,717

Provincial marriage registrations. Image count: 21,950

Probate files. Image count: 1,395,009

Images of the Index books for Halifax County. Image count: 23,008

Genealogy notes of families from the Queen's County area. Image count: 30,314

Covers several parishes around the Province. Image count: 126,354

Baptism, marriages and burials from around the Province. Image count: 22,448

Indexes to the records submitted by the churches to the Province. Image count: 1,300,530

A work in progress. Image count to date: 4,956,093

Coverage varies by parish. Image count: 278,512

Indexes and records. A work in progress. Image count to date: 310,188

A hodge podge of land, voter, biographical, and municipal records. A work in progress. Image count to date: 1,506,449

Indexes, Docket Books and files from the Supreme Court and King's Bench. A work in progress. Image count to date: 203,047

As you can see from the image counts, there are several MILLION images not yet indexed. Think of all the information you could be missing by not looking at these. And, as Family Search starts digitizes more and more records, this list will only grow.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Military Ancestors: Courts Martial Records of the First World War at LAC

When we find a military ancestor, it's natural to imagine them doing heroic deeds and ending up with a chest full of medals. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Our ancestors were regular people just like we are, and didn't always distinguish themselves in good ways.

Library and Archives Canada has an interesting online database called Courts Marshal of the First World War. These are court records from disciplinary hearings. Not all those charged were found guilty. So even if your ancestor wasn't found guilty of the charges you will still see them in here. The paper files themselves no longer exist, so this microfilm collection is the only record left. The database itself does not have digital images. But don't get disappointed just yet. By using the information it does have, you can still get to see the file.

First, you want to bring up the main database screen here.

Then, you're going to open up a new window, and bring up the search screen here.

As you can see, you can search by Name, Regimental Number, Unit, and/or Offense. Take note that if you are using a name only search, a surname that could also be a given name will show results for both. I used "Douglas" a surname from my tree, and got results for soldiers with both their first name or middle name as Douglas as well the Douglas surname.

On your search results, click on the Item Number next to the name. This will take you to a summary screen. Using the results for Douglas, I clicked on J. Douglas, and this is the information it gave me:

Now, it doesn't seem like you get much information, but what you are going to do is take a few key pieces of information from here. What you want to look at is first the Offense. It's going to be a section number. We're lucky here because in the Remarks it tells us that he's being charged with desertion. Not all the results have an explanation though. If yours doesn't then you're going to switch back to that main page window we first opened, and scroll down the page. Here you will find what each number in the offense section means.

The second piece of information you're going to look at especially is the Reference section. It gives you all the information you need to go to Library and Archives Canada and see the microfilm. But if you can't make the trip to the LAC or hire someone to do it for you, you can still access the microfilm. What you want to do is take note of the military file number and the microfilm number. In the case of J. Douglas, the file number is 649-D-19654, and it's on microfilm T-8657.

Now go back to the main page window and scroll all the way down to How to Access the Records. Then click where I've highlighted.

This is going to take you the digitized microfilms on the Heritage website. using LAC's link will take you right to the microfilm collection.

Click on the reel you want. For J. Douglas, we want T-8657. This is where the fiddling begins. These microfilms are not searchable by keyword, so you're going to have to jump around a bit to find the file number you want. We're looking for file 649-D-19654. Go through the first couple images of the reel to find a page that looks like this:
In the top left will be the case number. Looking at the first one in the reel will give you an idea of how much you have to jump ahead in the reel to find what you're looking for. Each case starts with this image, so you'll want to find this image to get to the start of the file you're looking for. As you can see, I had quite a bit of jumping ahead and around to find 19654.

Depending on the seriousness of the charge, you may be looking at a very large file. In the images are handwritten statements, and typed transcripts of the trial. You'll have the decision of the court, and the sentence if found guilty. There are also images of the exhibits entered into evidence, names of the witnesses and the court personnel. If your ancestor appealed his decision, documentation for the appeal may be there as well. It's fascinating reading.

You can save the image for each page by right clicking over the image, and selecting "save image as..". This will allow you to save it to your computer. For very large case files, it will be tedious. But it will still be quicker than trying to transcribe. There is so much information, you'll never be able to absorb it all in one sitting. As well, the microfilming done at the time didn't always result in nice clear images. It may take some adjusting on your part to make out everything clearly.

And what happened to J. Douglas? Well according to his case file, he was supposed to have returned from leave in London, England on 19 October, 1917. He did not return, and it wasn't until 5 February 1918 that he was apprehended. He was declared Not Guilty of Desertion, but Guilty of being Absent Without Leave. He was scheduled to 1 Year Jail Hard Labour.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Probate Records Part 7: The Territories and some Final Tips

In this last segment, we're going to take a look at The Canadian Territories.

The Yukon
Probate in the Yukon used to be handled by the Territorial Court. Today it is handled by the Yukon Supreme Court. It sits mainly in Whitehorse, but does travel to other communities if needed. The central registry for Supreme Court proceedings is located in Whitehorse. The contact information is on their website here.

The Yukon Archives has estate files from 1897-1950. They can be be viewed at the Archives. The records held there are mainly from when the Territorial Court handled the records.

The Northwest Territories
Probate is done through the NWT's Supreme Court. Like the Yukon, the Supreme Court sits mainly in Yellowknife, but will travel to other regions as needed. Requests for access to probate files is done through the Court Registry - Office of the Clerk.

The NWT Archives has a collection in their holdings of estate files from 1926 to 1947. However, due to privacy laws, access is restricted. It is part of the RCMP fonds, so I would imagine any permissions for access would have to come through them.

Because the borders of the Northwest Territories changed so drastically through the years, it would be a good idea to check with the Manitoba, Saskatchewan  and Alberta Provincial Archives in your search. I know Manitoba especially has records relating to the Northwest Territories.

This territory is unique in that there is one unified Court in the Territory called the Court of Justice. Like the other territories, the court primarily sits in Iqaluit,but routinely travels around the territory to give it's residence a chance to resolve legal matters locally.

Since Nunavut only came into existence in 1999, you will not find "historic" probate cases. For this you will have to refer to the records of the Northwest Territories.

General Sources and Tips
To finish off this series of posts, here are some general sites and tips for finding wills:

1. CanLII- The Canadian Legal Information Institute is a non-profit site that has court decisions from across Canada. I typed in "estate" in the keyword search, and got over 96,000 decisions from across Canada. You can also first narrow down by the province or territory of your particular interest.

2. Check the Canada Gazette to see if there is mention of your ancestor's probate. This is especially true if your ancestor was part of the government, or had significant assets.

3. Always check in land records for your province of interest. Wills were sometimes registered in Land Registry offices to prove an heir has title to land.

4. Though Provincial Archives are your best source for looking for wills and probate, don't overlook local Archives and Societies. They might have an index, or some might have microfilms or transcriptions of the Provincial Records.

5. Whether in Provincial or local Archives, look beyond the obvious Court fonds. If the Archive has a collection such as "McDonald family fonds", be sure to check that collection out as well. I've seen more than one that have wills or estate papers in the collection.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Probate Records Part 6: Alberta and British Columbia

In this installment of Probate Records, we're going to look at sources in Alberta and British Columbia. If you missed the earlier installments, you can find them here:

Part 1: An introduction to the records

Part 2: Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island

Part 3: Nova Scotia and New Brunswick

Part 4: Quebec and Ontario

Part 5: Manitoba and Saskatchewan

Probate in Alberta, as with other provinces, is handled by the provincial Court of Queen's Bench. When looking for probate records in Alberta, the most important information you need to know is where your ancestor died. There is no central place for court records, so you will have to contact the courthouse where the probate took place. If you are unsure, both Family Search Wiki and Library and Archives Canada suggest getting a search done by the Succession Duties Department . Searches can be done for a fee. Their contact information is:

Succession Duties Department
Public Trustee's Office
10365-97 Street
Edmonton Alberta T5J 3Z8

Once you have the judicial district, then you can contact the courthouse. The Court of Queen's Bench has an interactive map of courthouses here.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta's website states that they have files and indexes available to view onsite. If you can manage a visit there, it might save you some leg work contacting a far away courthouse.

Unfortunately, I could not find any other sources online or otherwise for Probate in Alberta. If you happen to know of any please comment below.

British Columbia
The Supreme Court of British Columbia handles Probate Cases. From a genealogy point of view, BC is much more user friendly on accessing information compared to other parts of Canada. There is a central registry that you can contact to find where your ancestor's probate records can be found. If the records you are looking for are before 1982, then the BC Archives at the Royal BC Museum should have them. They also have some files dated after 1982. Courthouse Libraries BC has a great information page on probate files and where to find them here. The BC Archives also has a reference guide here for the records in their possession. This guide is from 2010 though, so some changes may have been made since then. I did a search of their holdings and you can access it here. Take note that on the left side of the screen there are several subject group that have probate in the title, so check through them all to find the area and year ranges.

Other place to find Probate and Wills:

1. The Abbotsford Genealogical Society has indexes of wills filed in BC from the 1860's to 1940. These have been arranged alphabetically by surname and can be viewed online. They also have an index of wills filed by non residents of BC. Using the index you can find out which of the over 60 volumes of books the name is found in, and what page. You can then request a copy of the will through them. Or if you can make a visit there, they do have the volumes microfilmed.

2. Family Search has the browse only digital collection British Columbia Estate Files, 1859-1949. This is divided by jurisdiction. Some estate files were handled by the County Court, so some locations are further divided by County Court and Supreme Court. Ancestry also has this collection, but it is the same as the Family Search one, and is not indexed.

3. Family Search also has the browse only collection British Columbia Wills, 1861-1981. This collections has indexes from the central registry up to 1981, but the wills themselves only go to 1939.

For the last post in the series, we'll wrap things up with the Territories and some general tips, strategies and finding aids.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Probate Records Part 5 - Manitoba and Saskatchewan

In this series of blog posts, we are travelling west across Canada looking at probate. This post we're looking at Manitoba and Saskatchewan. If you're just joining in, you an find earlier posts here:

Part 1 gives a short overview of probate
Part 2 looks at Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island
Part 3 looks at Nova Scotia and New Brunswick
Part 4 looks at Quebec and Ontario

The probate process in Manitoba officially started in 1871. It falls under the Probate Court division of the Court of Queen's Bench. There are some earlier probate and wills records before 1871, but they are much fewer. Each regional courthouse is responsible for the keeping on records for their particular area. These are routinely transferred to the Archives of Manitoba under the following criteria:

  • Records over 60 years old from the Eastern Judicial District in Winnipeg
  • Records over 20 years old from outside of Winnipeg
The Winnipeg Courthouse has a central index. The indexes are divided by year, then alphabetically. A search can be requested, but you will need to provide the deceased's name and date of death. Copies of some of these indexes are also at the Manitoba Archives. The Manitoba Archives' website has a great explanation on the two step process in obtaining probate here.

Some other resources for finding probate and wills are:

1. 1763-1921 Wills of Hudson Bay Company officers are held at the HBC Archives, part of the Provincial Archives

2. Family Search has the searchable online collection Manitoba Probate Files, 1871-1930. They also have several microfilms listed here.
3. Ancestry has the same collection as Family Search, but it is browse only by district.

Probate cases go back to 1883. Like Manitoba, probate cases are handled by the Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatchewan. Now, I have read conflicting information on these records. Some sources say that records pre 1930 have been transferred to the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, while others have said that they are all still in the custody of the individual courthouses. If indeed older records have been transferred to the Archives, then they can only be accessed onsite. They does not seem to be an inter library loan program, and I could not find anything on their website suggesting they have been digitized. 

In any case, there is a central index of all the province's probate files located at the Registrar's Office at the Regina Courthouse. By looking at the indexes, you can find out whether your ancestor's estate was probated, and where. The process  for getting a search done, and fee schedule is on the Saskatchewan Law Court's website here.

Some other sources to get probate information:

1. Family Search has the browse only collection Saskatchewan, Judicial District Court Records, 1891-1954. These are the docket books and indexes from the central registry in Regina.

2.Family Search also has a browse only collection called Saskatchewan, Probate Estate Files, 1887-1931. These cover the entire province. Narrow your search first by district, then year, then file number.

Next post we will look at Alberta and British Columbia