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But I'm Not a Writer - And Other Excuses

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1591People in a rowboat, possibly in Bowness Park, Postcards from the Past

No, this isn’t a crossover from the Writer’s Nook blog. This post is about the importance of writing your family history and the myriad excuses we have for not doing it. A few weeks back I had the privilege of attending the Alberta Family Histories Society seminar. John Althouse, a noted Edmonton-based genealogist, was speaking about writing family stories and his presentations got me to thinking about what we lose when we fail to record the stories we have locked up in our heads and stashed away in our filing cabinets.

We often get people into the library looking for information about family. Each and every one of them has a fascinating story to tell, and we always say “you should write that down.” I think people often feel we’re just humouring them, but in fact, we look at these stories as an important part of history. The stories of our families are as important as the any other historical resource, maybe even more so, because the everyday people, our ancestors, are the builders of this province and their history is often lost to succeeding generations because no-one thought it was important enough to record.

For many genealogists the building of a family tree is an attempt to find their personal history. Shows such as Ancestors in the Attic and Finding Your Roots are popular because they tell the stories of individuals and we watch with rapt attention. Doesn’t this tell you something? Our stories are just as interesting, people! Write Them Down!

If you’ve got that box of documents, look through them, sort them out, build a framework to hang your story from and then dig some more. If you’re just getting started, we have resources to get you on the path to finding your family and telling its story. Check out our programs, such as Family History Coaching which happens nearly every month. Start thinking like a storyteller and keep a journal (paper or electronic) where you jot down the stories that come to mind. Many genealogists were the nosy kids who eavesdropped on the adult conversations at family gatherings. Write down what you remembered, Nosy Parker, and then do your investigating to find out the truth behind the story. We have any number of great books to help you organize your story and make it exciting such as Sharon De Bartolo Carmac’s You can write your family history But most importantly, recognize that this is an important task and that if you don’t do this, your family’s story will be lost. If you can talk, you can write your family history.

I Love Government Documents - And You Will, Too!

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Gov Docs displayGovernment Documents on Display, Central Library

One of the coolest things about working in a large urban library is the range of stuff we have available for research. I wrote an earlier blog article on some of the gems we have in our government documents collection. We’ve set up a display with some of the cooler stuff from the collection. Check out the picture above.

The great thing about these obscure resources is that there are so many of them. That is also a bad thing because when we do our genealogical research there may be records that are really useful, but we don’t know they exist, which is where librarians and other research-savvy folk come in. It is our business to find out about these weird and wonderful resources and to pass that information on to you.

Government documents come from all areas of government in all countries. Here at Calgary Public Library we don’t really collect a lot of government information from outside of the country but Library and Archives Canada do. And in their blog I discovered that a fairly obscure collection of documents from the Imperial Russian Consulates in Canada have made their way into the digital universe. People researching ancestors in Eastern Europe may or may not be aware of the LI-RA-MA collection (acronym alert – it stands for Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers – the names of the last Imperial Russian Consuls in Canada) The consular records, following the Russian Revolution, were boxed up and moved from pillar to post, with the attendant loss and damage this lack of care inevitably brings. The consuls, themselves, were kept in Canada and employed by the Canadian government to assist with the large numbers of Eastern European immigrants who had settled in Canada.

LAC has had this collection on microfilm since it was loaned to them by NARA (the US National Archives and Record Administration) in the 1980s. It is comprised of approximately 84 reels of microfilmed documents created by the consulates in Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax. Some of the documents are about the day to day functioning of the consular offices; some are correspondence about particular immigration and naturalization problems, and documents relating to the internment of Eastern Europeans in Canada during the war. This is a treasure trove for historians but the mother lode for ancestor hunters is Series IV, which is the Passport/Identity papers series. This group of records is comprised of the applications of Russian subjects for various kinds of identity papers including passports and visas. But in order to apply, citizens had to prove they were Russian subjects, so they had to fill in an extensive questionnaire about their origins, often including a town or county of birth. Keep in mind that at the time, the Russian Empire included parts of Poland, Finland and most of the countries that would become the USSR.

AJ 0092Russian/Greek Orthodox Church of All Saints, AJ 0092

LAC has made the index and images of the documents available on its website

The index cards have been transliterated into the Latin alphabet, but the original documents are in Russian. You have to have a look at this wonderful collection. (There are also records available in the United States for immigrants who settled there. See the link above for information regarding that collection.)

Research the History of Your House, World War I Edition

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)


PC 758East Calgary, Alberta


It is that time of year again. With Historic Calgary Week fast approaching folks may be thinking ahead to the Century Homes project. We are offering a revised version of our program on researching house history, focusing on a house on Memorial Drive that was home to a soldier who served in World War I. This will give us the opportunity to explore some military resources for genealogists and house historians. In fact, we were able to find this solider because of the research that someone had done on their heritage home. They mentioned in their sign that the original owner had been on active service in 1915 so using a bit of reverse research we were able to find the house and the owner (and a whole lot more).

We are working again with our Heritage Triangle partners and we have managed to pull up a ton of information. I don’t want to give away too much, but even if you don’t have a house to research, you may just want to drop in to hear the story of this house and its fascinating tenants. You can register for this program in person at any library branch, online or by calling 403-260-2620.

I would also like to give a nod of appreciation to all of the organizers and participants of the Heritage Fair that was held over the weekend. It does my heart good to see all the students and the hard work they’ve put in to their projects. Also, a big thanks goes out to the staff and soldiers at Mewata Amoury for hosting the event. It was great.

What I Learned from Dave Obee, Part 2

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

1851 Census LAC

1851 Census page

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the privilege of attending the Dave Obee seminar put on by the Alberta Family Histories Society last Saturday. I learned a lot about sources and records and where to find them but the most important lessons were about the goals of doing family history (which I wrote about last week) and about research techniques to maximize results.

Good research skills do not come naturally. We aren’t born with an instinct to find records (food, yes, data, not so much). Research skills are a tool, just like your genealogy software and your laptop. They are the most important tools however, because if your goal is to find your ancestors and tell their stories you must become a sleuth and to do that effectively, you need to learn how to look, not just where to look.

It helps, when you are looking at a record, to know what it is you are looking it. Is it an index, a transcription or an original document? Our goal as outstanding researchers is to track back to the original source, so indexes and transcriptions are just “maps” to help us uncover those documents. In many cases, those maps are just like the ones drawn by the gas station attendant on the back road in Italy when you find yourself lost. There may be language barriers, varying levels of local knowledge and drafting skill, and even changes in the landscape such as washouts and road works.

What this means in purely practical terms (and to not stretch a metaphor too far) is that you should use every index and transcription available. For example, there are several different indexes available for Canadian census records. Automated Genealogy has an index created by an army of volunteers. This is a particularly good index to the census records because it is done by people who are familiar with local names and places. FamilySearch also has indexes done by volunteers. Ancestry (available at Calgary Public Library branches) has all of the census records for Canada indexed and available on their site. Their indexing is done commercially, often by off shore companies, and this can sometimes cause problems.

So, what would you do if you couldn’t find your ancestor in the census in one index? Would you stop there and assume they weren’t in Canada at the time? What we should do, if we want to be the Sherlock Holmes of genealogy researchers, is check every index and transcription available (and sometimes this means paper — oh the horror!)

What if they still don’t show up, but you know they were there? Library and Archives Canada has a number of censuses scanned on their site. There are no indexes but you can look at the original documents without having to touch microfilm. Sometimes this is the only way to find your folk. You will recognize a family name when someone who isn’t familiar with the name doesn’t.

Dave has written a book on how to get the most from Canadian census records, Counting Canada, which includes lots of other pointers for squeezing every last drop of information from a census record.

Happy hunting.

What I Learned from Dave Obee

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

CPL 103 15 01

Students at the Central Library, ca 1914

Calgary Public Library, Our Story in Pictures, CPL 103-15-01

I was as happy as a pig eating rhubarb on Saturday — I was at a genealogy conference given by the Alberta Family Histories Society featuring the Canadian genealogy guru, Dave Obee. Dave is the author of a large number of reference works relating to Canadian genealogical records, including Destination Canada, and Counting Canada, as well as a bunch of great guides to things like directories, voters’ lists, and citizenship indexes. In addition he is the proprietor of the best (in my opinion) website for Canadian genealogy research, CanGenealogy. Dave is also a library supporter, and has written the history of library service in British Columbia, The Library Book. In his other life, he is also a working journalist so his insights into the study of people (which, really, genealogy is at its heart) are particularly valuable.

So, the most important thing I learned from my day-long participation in this genealogy conference is not about a particular kind of record or a really snazzy website to check. No, the most important lesson that I took away from Dave’s lectures, was that we have a duty to our ancestors to tell their stories. We have to look beyond the census and vital statistics and research the time and the place of our people who went before. For this we use the secondary sources such as local histories, general histories, ephemera, maps and any other number of cool, non-traditional sources (like those found in our Local History Collection). I was delighted to hear this affirmation of my own belief from someone whose work I admire. I, too, believe genealogy is not just the process of collecting names and dates. The true value of genealogy lies in the history of the people and the building of their story.

This is the approach we have been taking with the Lest We Forget project. The students we visit take documents, facts, and statistics and turn them into a life story. Perhaps they may even be interested in looking beyond their soldier, to the families left behind. This is certainly a more challenging assignment, but it is one that has immeasurable value in the understanding and the remembrance of those who went before.

So, this is the most important thing I learned from Dave Obee, but it wasn’t the only thing so in my next posting, I will mention some of the other great tips I gleaned from my day with the expert.

Upcoming Genealogy Events

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)


Dave Obee is coming to town! The Alberta Family Histories Society is bringing Dave Obee to Calgary for a day-long event covering many aspects of Canadian genealogical research. He will be talking about using the internet for research, finding information on our immigrant ancestors, how to squeeze the last drop of information from the census and Canadians in World War I. Dave Obee is a very big name in Canadian genealogy circles and has written a number of books that I use nearly every day. This is going to be a great seminar and it is dirt cheap - $35 if you register before March 1, $45 if you register after. Check out information on the Alberta Family Histories Society website. I am so looking forward to this – I hope to see you there.

Closer to home, we will be offering our Genealogy for Beginners program at the Fish Creek Library on February 22 at 7 PM. This is the perfect opportunity to find out how to start that family history project. For more information and to register click here.

Also remember our Family History Coaching sessions on the last Saturday of the month from 10 to noon until June 28. We meet on the 4th floor of the Central Library and we can help you one-on-one with your genealogical research. This is a drop in program, so no registration is required.

In the genealogy vein, but not exactly a genealogy program, is the lecture series being put on at the Military Museums to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. A series of lectures will be run over the next three months including Dr. John Ferris, talking about the outbreak of World War I, Rob Alexander sharing his grandfather’s account of the Dieppe Raid and the invasion of Italy from his diaries, and Lindsey Sharman introducing Forging a Nation: Canada Goes to War, the newest exhibit in the Founder’s Gallery at the Museum. For more information visit their website.

Sarcee Camp

192nd Battalion, Sarcee Camp Calgary, 1916

Postcards from the Past, PC 965

If you are a teacher looking for an interesting way to engage your high-school students in the life of a World War I soldier, contact me about presenting our Lest We Forget program. We bring the service records of local soldiers and each student can use these documents to create a story or a tribute to the soldier. This has been a very successful program, leading students to a deeper understanding of the meaning and impact of war in the lives of our ancestors. If you’re interested, contact me.

Tonight is the Heritage Trades Roundtable at Rideau Park School. We will be listening to presentations about Beautiful Brick. For more information and to register visit their site.


If you have an upcoming genealogy event you would like us to mention, please feel free to post a comment below.

Pets in Your Family Tree

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Dad and Peggy the dog

My Dad and his dog Peggy, 1931

Some people love their pets to the point of distraction. I may fall into that category (well, not quite) but I was tickled by some of the recent information I’ve found in my genealogical travels. What triggered this (no pun intended) was a search in (this is a private, fee-based). I turned up tons of Sheridans and on further examination found that they were listed because they had licensed their dogs. Yes, dog license registrations for parts of Ireland are on Find My Past!

One might wonder what could possibly be gained by knowing that great uncle James owned several sheep dogs and a mastiff. Well, the first thing we would know is that great uncle James was a sheep farmer (granted, not a huge leap of imagination given that the man lived in Donegal, but still.) However, we have found the place where great uncle James lived and in Ireland, where any record is a good record, that is a very important piece of information.

Once I’d found these registers, I had to explore further. Most of the licenses are for working dogs like sheep dogs and terriers, some are for racing dogs—which is what I was hoping to find for the Sheridans who raised great racing dogs—but some are a little harder to fathom, like Mr. Coll in Rathmullen who owned two black poodles. Yes I know poodles are actually a sporting dog, but in a sea of terriers and sheepdogs, the poodles do say something about the man, don’t you think?

Another indication of the importance of pets in our lives is their inclusion in the census records. I was reading one of the many blogs that I regularly peruse and came across the story of Bobs, the black cat, who was enumerated in the 1911 British Census. It appears that in Britain, the householder filled out the census form, unlike in Canada, where people were enumerated and their names put on a list. I had to pursue this further and came across another posting, this time for a dog that listed not only her name but that she was a “faithful Irish terrier”—hence the name Biddy, the fact that she was a “demon on cats and vermin” and that she was 11 years old.

Again, this says as much about the person who owned her as it does about Biddy and it reminded me of visiting my husband’s aunt who kept a small Parson’s terrier on her farm in Cavan. He was a charmer and my husband mentioned this fact to his aunt who said “Aye, and he’s a great ratter” driving home the vast difference between her rural life and our, more sheltered, urban one.

So, scoff as you may about the keeping of seemingly useless records—there is no such thing in genealogical research.

Lest We Forget

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)


PC 1478

I.O.D.E. War Memorial in front of Memorial Park Library, ca 1920s

Postcards from the Past, PC 1478


Next Monday is Remembrance Day. It is the time of the year when we pay homage to those men and women who served our country. A great way to honour our military ancestors is to tell their story. I’ve pulled together a few sources to help you access information about Canada’s military.

I was recently made aware of couple of new databases that include information about our military ancestors. Last night the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta launched its new database, Southern Alberta Jewish Veterans of World War I & II. The database aims to include those Jewish veterans of the two World Wars who spent a part of their lives in Southern Alberta.

The second database is of veterans of a much earlier war. The War of 1812 Veteran Graveside Project will provide a database of biographical information on thousands of veterans of the War of 1812. There is currently no national recognition for these veterans and many Canadians are unaware of the importance of this war to the founding of our country. The research for this database is done by historians, students and other interested parties. If you have an ancestor for whom you would like a graveside marker you can apply through the site.

There is a wealth of information for researching your military ancestor in Canada. AncestryLE (accessible at your Calgary Public Library branch) has a great selection of Canadian military records including selected records of soldiers who died in WWII, militia lists, lists of prisoners held by the Royal Navy in Canada at the beginning of the 19th century, and Canadian War Graves Registers, just to name a few.


PC 1590

Four Soldiers in Uniform in Calgary, ca 1915

Postcards from the Past, PC 1590

There is also very good access to military records through the Canadian Genealogy Centre. Records there date back to the French Regime and include links to war diaries and loyalist information. There are also service records from WWI and for those killed in action in World War II, as well as records from the rebellions and the Boer War.

Included in this treasure trove of military records is information about the Black Loyalists. This provides a great segue to our One Book One Calgary launch this Friday, November 8 where we will kick off the event with author Lawrence Hill and The Book of Negroes. Among the information provided under “Loyalists” in the military records at Library and Archives Canada is a link to the actual Book of Negroes which gave the novel its title. This list contains the names and information about many Black Loyalists and is a great resource for anyone researching their ancestors or anyone who is interested in the hidden history of the Black pioneers. Keep an eye on our website or check our program guide to find out about the great programs we have lined up to celebrate One Book One Calgary.

15th Light Horse Band

Postcards from the Past, PC 1264

PC 1264

We have the 1921 Census, now what?

by Christine H - 1 Comment(s)

Electoral Atlas of Canada 1895

Electoral Atlas of Canada, Yale & Cariboo, 1895

(This probably won't help if you have family on the Prairies or other Unorganized Territories, but may be helpful for other areas)

Genealogists were very excited when the images of the 1921 Canadian census were released to Library and Archives Canada and then put into Ancestry’s database. The ardor has somewhat cooled as many of the researchers found out that there is no name index and to find ancestors, we will need to know where they were living and then, and this is the difficult part, find out what census division and subdivision they were in. (Unless, of course, you want to scan each of the nearly 8.8 million names one by one.)

But genealogists, never ones to accept the status quo, and even less likely to want to wait for the name index to be compiled, are pulling together resources to help us find those divisions and subdivisions and offering suggestions for using the records. I’ve pulled together a few and welcome any other suggestions. According to Ancestry, the census districts were roughly equivalent to electoral districts, cities or counties. Sub-districts were often parts of cities such as wards, townships, institutions, reservations, etc. This is not always the case but it is a good place to start.

In some cases, you can check for the district and sub-district in the 1911 census, which is free to search through Automated Genealogy. This can work if your ancestors didn’t move in the intervening 10 years and if the districts and divisions hadn’t changed. I tried this with my Saskatchewan ancestors and came up empty, but it is a good place to start.

If you had ancestors who were First Nations and living on a reserve, ancestors who were criminals and were incarcerated on census day or an ancestor who was confined to a hospital on the day of the census, you may be in luck as these institutions were often enumerated separately. Again, you need to have a general idea of where they were, but as you go through the list of sub-divisions under each division you will see the reservations, penitentiaries and other institutions listed in the descriptions.

If your people did move around and especially if they were urbanites, city directories can be invaluable. More and more of them are being digitized and can be searched online. Directories for towns and cities on the Prairies are available through Peel’s Prairie Provinces .

Other directory digitization projects can be found through Library and Archives Canada.

You can also find directories (among many other wonderful things) at You can search the archive with the place name and the term ‘directory’ to see what is available. I was able to find a 1921 directory for Saskatchewan, which allowed me to find the name and address of the orphanage in Prince Albert where my grandmother was sent, which allowed me to locate her in the 1921 census.

And it is always worth having a look at the website for the library in the area you are researching. Many libraries offer a look-up service so if the directory you need isn’t available digitally, the local library may have it in paper.

There are some very dedicated genealogists who are pulling together finding aids for the 1921 census.

Parts of Toronto – Rob Hoare has posted this finding aid for parts of Toronto:

Kingston Frontenac Public Library has published this for their area:

British Columbia Genealogical Society has this site to help guide you through their province:

And if you have Doukhobor ancestors, the Doukhobor genealogy website has pulled together a list of settlements:


Do you have any tips? I would appreciate hearing from you. Just post a comment to this site and I’ll add it to the list.

They've taken leave of their census!

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

Annie Kenny and Christabel Pankhurst

Annie Kenny and Christabel Pankhurst

From the National Archives

I don’t want to talk about flooding anymore. I’m still feeling blue about being displaced and all the havoc that my once gentle rivers wreaked on my beautiful city so I am going to concentrate on genealogy for a while. One thing you can count on when you do genealogy, there is always something worse to discover.

I have a specific topic in mind and that has to do with a kind of ‘did you know thing” relating to finding your female ancestors in the UK. Deciding that if they were not to be considered as citizens when it came to voting, suffragettes, led by women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, declared that they would not participate in the census being taken on April 2, 1911. The census asked that the householders list everyone present in the dwelling on census night. To avoid being enumerated, suffragettes took one of two approaches: Either they defaced the form, writing such things as "I will not supply these particulars until I have my rights as a citizen. Votes for Women” or they arranged to be out of the house on census night. To facilitate that many events were organized across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This was not as frivolous as it seems as refusing to participate in the census could land one in prison.

The papers carried wonderful stories of the evening’s events. One enterprising woman was discovered in the crypt of the House of Commons on the Monday following census night. She had concealed herself there to avoid being enumerated but was “duly returned” on a census form provided by the police for that purpose. Another woman had hidden herself in a broom closet for 46 hours. Edinburgh protesters spent the night in a vegetarian restaurant and in an abandoned store. Some women slept in vans in parks. The biggest event, however, was an evening rally in Trafalgar Square that was broken up by police. The suffragettes had rented the Aldwych Skating Rink (roller skating, not ice-skating) and retired there to listen to speeches and skate until morning.

The London Times reported that the suffragettes efforts were largely useless as the women were counted by police, however, their particulars were not recorded and this has an impact on researchers looking for female ancestors in the United Kingdom (as if finding female ancestors was not hard enough). If your ancestor was a suffragette, she may not show up in the 1911 UK Census. I can find no indication that suffragettes in Canada and the US attempted the same strategy in any organized way but this doesn’t mean that there weren’t some dedicated women who staged their own census boycott. So, if you’re looking for a female ancestor around that time, keep the boycott in mind and also keep in mind that there may be records elsewhere (such as police rosters, Votes for Women organization lists, newspapers accounts of the boycott, lists of contributors to the cause and other documents. ) As always, be inventive and think outside the page (the census page, that is).


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