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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

Heritage Round Table - Heritage Trades

by Christine Hayes - 1 Comment(s)

AJ 1256

Entrance to Reader Rock Garden, ca 1960s

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1256

That we are very keen on the preservation of Calgary’s heritage sites goes without saying (this is the Community Heritage blog, after all). We have a deep admiration for people who work on behalf of these goals, groups like Calgary Heritage Initiative, the Heritage Planning Department at the City, the historical societies, and the legions of volunteers who work tirelessly inventorying, advocating, lobbying, writing, touring, to get heritage resources recognized and protected.

What we often overlook is what happens to heritage sites once they are legally protected. The conservation and restoration of heritage buildings requires different skills than building a new building or even renovating an older building. Work on heritage sites and artifacts require that the craftsman have an understanding of traditional materials and methods of construction.

We have the opportunity to hear from some of the trades people who work on heritage buildings, landscapes and artifacts at the next Heritage Roundtable on Thursday January 27 at 7:00 PM at Beaulieu, the historic Lougheed House. Speakers from various heritage trades will be there to give us insight into their work. Ken Armstrong, a mason and stone carver, will talk about tradition versus modern stone carving techniques; Janet Jones, a horticulturalist, will give us insight into the rehabilitation of the Reader Rock Garden; Steve Ramsey, the Manager of Facilities and Maintenance for heritage Park will give us a general overview of the park’s processes of heritage preservation and maintenance, while discussing the restoration of the 1885 Morrisey, Fernie & Michel passenger cars. There will also be time for questions and discussion and, of course, the all important networking with others interested in Calgary’s Heritage. You can register for this event online at or by telephone at 403-244-4111. These roundtable events are always interesting and you get to meet some of the neatest people. I hope to see you there.

AJ 44-09

Crest on the wall of Beaulieu

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 44-09

What's New at Library and Archives Canada

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

LAC Banner

I was cruising through the genealogical society newsletters and came across this interesting bit of information: Library and Archives Canada has launched several new databases and tools for genealogists. They have also outlined their plans for the next few years.

In December LAC announced their intention to double the volume of online genealogical content with the mounting of millions of digital images on its website. This is as a result of their partnership with Perhaps as recognition of the effect this partnership will have on Canadian researchers, was nominated for a 2010 Pierre Berton award for excellence in contributing to the study of Canadian History. They didn’t win, that honour went to Desmond Morton (yay!) but did receive an honourable mention for their work.

Library and Archives Canada has also announced their intention to phase out the sending of photocopies in response to the 750,000 requests they receive every year. Instead, by April 2011, the will be sending only digital copies. This has a double benefit. Paper use is reduced and, as digital copies are requested, LAC is looking for ways to reuse these images to provide access to the copied documents. Many archives enhance their digitization projects in this way. As images are requested they are mounted on the website. This doubles the value of work done.

New at the Canadian Genealogy Centre is the 1916 Census. It is not searchable by name but it can be searched by place and the pages can be browsed. In time, LAC will have all censuses available on their website. Also in December, LAC launched the Medals and Awards database. This resource contains more than 100,000 listings of medal citations and awards. Other databases and tools newly launched include the Canadian Families database, which is a small but growing index to church records, the Upper Canada Land Boards records which include 16,000 references to land board documents from 1765-1804, a guide to help researchers find documents relating to Internment Camps for both World Wars and new tools for researchers looking at immigration documents including transcriptions of the various forms used to record information.

It is always worthwhile, with any provider of information or database, to have a look at what’s new. At LAC, there is a link in the red bar on the left side of the page. Things are really hopping at LAC and I’m always impressed by what I find there.

Family Heirlooms

by Christine Hayes


Souvenir Handkerchief showing Calgary Public Library and South African War Memorial

Many of us have things that were left to us by family members. In my family, we inherited, on the passing of our great aunt, a musical fruit plate that my brother adored as a child, and an antler cribbage board made by my great grandfather. These are not valuable monetarily but they do have great value within our family. Other people’s heirlooms can be fascinating as well. Just look at the success of “Antiques Roadshow” and the popularity of Calgary Public Library’s Antiques Appraisal day. Sometimes other people’s heirlooms cross over from family interest to local history interest – we really like those kinds of things here. Some of the more obvious examples are postcards, of which we have a major collection here that you can view in the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library (see the link on the left of the page).

A very interesting artifact was brought to my attention recently by a colleague who collects vintage stuff. She was shopping and found this hankie, with an image of the Memorial Park Library on it. It is a very interesting piece. We haven’t been able to find much information about it but it looks like it might be souvenir hankies, which were popular articles for servicemen to send home to their loved ones. I found this serviceman’s letter on a website called Canadian Letters and Images Project: “When up in town this a.m. I got a few souvenir handkerchiefs, one of which I am enclosing for Jean. Hoping she likes it.” The letter was from Louis Duff to his Aunt Lily, sent from Belgium in 1915. Calgary was a training centre for several units of the C.E.F. so it is a possibility that this handkerchief, like the one sent to Jean, was purchased by a serviceman.

PC 1895

Memorial Park

Postcards from the Past, PC 1895

We have an image similar to the one on the hankie on a postcard that has a 1940 postmark. It may be that the company that produced the souvenir postcards also produced the handkerchief (or that the photographer marketed his image to a number of printing houses or….). If you have any information about this kind of heirloom, please add a comment to this entry. I’m always interested to hear what you all have to say. It’s the best way to learn!

Heirlooms, such as the hankie and even the postcards, require special handling so they survive to be passed on to the next generation. We have several books in our collection that can help you, if you are lucky enough to have been passed some of these delightful objets. One is Saving stuff by Don Williams, another is Caring for your family treasures by Jane Long.