Monday, 17 March 2014

Newspaper transcriptions are often better than digital images - why?

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Good to be back after having been under the weather for a few days ...

Did you know ... that when a document is scanned and digitized the image data might not be converted correctly - or at all? Let me explain ...

First of all you need to know that much of the imagery appearing online has been produced from microfilm. So the digital image is usually two generations away from the original source.

So, the problems begin with the original microfilm. In many cases the documents were microfilmed 50 or 60 years ago when quality standards were not as high as they are now. As someone who has prepared microfilm for three summers at The Archives of Ontario I can confirm that:
  1. blank / missing pages were not filmed nor indicated
  2. "re-takes" could not be edited out of the film, so if the first shot was out of focus the next page might seem duplicated
  3. if the original documents were in bound volumes - they were not de-bound before being filmed so information is missing from the "gutter edges" towards the binding. In the case of newspapers on the left side of a page you will have lost the furthest right hand column, and on a right side of a page you will have lost much of the first column.
Now comes the scanning process ...
  1. In theory once scanned, the out of focus pages that were followed by the re-takes can be edited out - but most often are not as this is too labour intensive. So you now have a scan of an imagine which is not of the best quality.
  2. The good news about the scanning of newspapers and books that missed pages can be added in to the digitals files as found
Now comes the "OCR" process - OCR = Optical Character Recognition
  1. The good news is that for more modern documents the quality controls and OCR training is amazing
  2. The bad news is really bad ... in most cases the OCR training can not "read" the old typeface prints of newspapers
What does this mean for the genealogist? When you go to "x" newspaper file online and you find a "search" field that can be used on a number of queries, i.e. title only, subject, all text, dates of coverage the search responds with "No results found". So, you make down in your notes you did a search of "The Weekly Gossip" from Anytown for so and so and no results were found .... BUT ....

If you know the date of the event, you may want to do a manual search of the digital image and you could be very well surprised at what you find!

This is where the use of newspaper transcriptions comes to play a major role.

Before the Internet and search engines you had to go to a Library and or an Archives to "read the microfilm" - and I am still convinced that by reading or even scanning whole issues of the masthead you will gain great insight into the lives and times of your ancestors.

Many people have taken the time to prepare transcriptions and or indexes of genealogical items of interest. Notable among these are the works on the Methodist newspapers by Rev. Donald McKenzie as recently re-published by Global Genealogy . You are given a summary of the entry from the given newspaper and then provided the details where to locate the notice.

However I also like the standard set by Michael Harrison in his transcription of Births, Marriages and Deaths (1837 - 1861) from the "Toronto Mirror".  By looking at this transcription one can see at a glance what issues are "missing" or contained no genealogy news, i.e. the transcriptions go from Feb. 10, 1843 (Vol. 6, Issue 29) to March 3, 1843 (Vol., Issue 32).

You also see how quickly and or how slowly items of interest (and tragedy!) were printed:

Published Jan. 20, 1843
Died - On the 9th September last, on board ship, oh her way to New York, Eliza, aged 32 years; on the 9th of December at Stratford, Canada West, Henry, aged 18; on the 25th of the same month at Toronto, John aged 25 and on the 15th inst. and at the same place Thomas, aged 20 years, the daughter and sons of Mr. John Morris, late of Donamore, Queen's County, Ireland".

However it is a genealogical gold mine of information!

So good readers ... take heart and remember this is one of the reasons we are RE-searching our family trees ... I need another cuppa green tea ... Till next time!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

First Census of Canada and the 1901 Census of The Yukon

When was the first census of Canada, as we now know it, taken? Answer at the end of the blog ....

Did you know ... that the 1901 census of The Yukon has a different format and different questions than the Ontario form.

1901 Yukon census questions
  1. Number of dwelling (JBG comments - includes tents)
  2. Name of each person in the family
  3. Relationship to Head of household
  4. Single, married, widowed, divorced
  5. age at last birthday
  6. place of birth
  7. Date of arrival in Canada (JBG comments - usually gives an exact date)
  8. When naturalized (JBG comments - usually just a year)
  9. (Number of) Years in Yukon
  10. Present Nationality
  11. Occupation
  12. Position
  13. Salary
The importance of this Yukon census is that it was taken just after the end of the great Klondike Gold Rush [1896 - 1899] - an event which saw upwards of 40,000 people enter the region.  By looking at the column "Years in Yukon" it can be determined if the person arrived for the Gold Rush, i.e. anyone with a residency of 5 years or less might qualify.

Another important consideration about the use of this census, and those of other provinces that were being settled during this time period, is that the men who are listed as "married" but have no spouse present can be one explanation of "married" women having no spouse living with them back in the "eastern" provinces of Ontario, Quebec, or many of the United States

The image below is identified as
"Dawson waterfront in the Gold Rush Days",
taken in 1898 by Joseph Burr Tyrrell.
credit: Library Archives Canada, Ottawa
PA-050927. Mikan Number 3278277
No restrictions on use - Public Domain

Did you know ... that the first census of Canada, as we now know it, was taken in 1951 - after the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador entered Canadian Confederation on March 31, 1949 - 65 years ago this month...


Monday, 10 March 2014

How comprehensive is your tombstone vocabulary?

One of the elements to successful research in any topic is the ability to find resources. As genealogists we all know that the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon is going to explore "marble orchards". We read the inscriptions, we learn of family tragedy, we learn about where people came from and above all we are reminded of our own mortal existence - what have we done to leave our mark, have we made arrangements for our own tombstones? In other words what did we do with our time between the beginning date and the end date?

We always appreciate finding lists of tombstones for our family members compiled by fellow genealogists from all over the world - so many of us pay it forward by transcribing and or photographing local cemeteries near our home.

Having said that - how would you find these records at a library or on-line? The following list is compiled from publication titles on deposit at the Library of Congress in Washington, and the Toronto Reference Library here in downtown Toronto. Just remember that the record you are looking for could be found under any of these (or other!) headings ...

Cemetery inscriptions

Cemetery transcriptions
Gravestone inscriptions

Gravestone transcriptions
Memorial inscriptions

Monumental inscriptions
Monumental transcriptions

Tombstone inscriptions
Burying ground monumental inscriptions.

and my personal favorite - Sepulchral monuments
So, enjoy the journey into this dead topic ... and remember one day you too could be the proud owner of a bumper sticker that reads: "This vehicle stops at all cemeteries".

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The first blog

Greetings from Toronto - and welcome to my ``Canadian Genealogy notes and news`` blog. Many of my genealogy friends and followers have asked me to create a blog where I can not only relay news about Canadian research but also to provide my commentary on how to analyze records.  

Some days the blog will contain only a one liner `Did you know ...` while other days may be an in depth discussion about a topic.

There are two things I hope to accomplish:
a) highlight the myriad of resources that are not (yet) on the internet and
b) discuss how to use and interpret the resource
In this age of desire for instant gratification, far too many people find resources about their ancestors on-line and they `click and claim` loading the details into their own genealogy program.
My hope is that, no matter how you find the details, you will learn to be more analytical. That in turn will help you understand your ancestors as the people they were. Their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations ... Please follow me on this journey of discovering our past ... Cheers!
This is the very plain and under-stated tombstone of Canada`s First Prime Minister
Sir John A. MacDonald
located in Cataraqui Cemetery, Kingston, Ontario.