Tag Archives: volunteering

Genealogical volunteer work.

I have been interested in genealogy for most of my adult life and since moving to Toronto in 2007, have gotten involved with the Toronto branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.  In the past year, I’ve joined the Enquiries team, a small group that responds to requests for information that come in to the Branch from researchers around the world who would like assistance accessing records available in local libraries and archives.  I have done “look-ups” at the North York Central Library (mostly the Canadiana Room) as well as the Archives of Ontario and these are of great help to me as I learn about how to access these records while doing the work.

Recently, a request came in for records from the London Insane Asylum. The Archives of Ontario holds these records and they are available in a couple of forms.  Lists of patients are available in their original notebooks, stored in archival boxes, and I was able to take digital photographs of these for our client.



The actual case files are on microfilm, and the film-readers are driven by computers that let you save the images to an external storage device like a USB stick or portable hard drive.  

I find this kind of research very interesting and I try to undertake a few lookups for my own personal research when I’m at the Archives or library.

Late last year I was asked to blog for Simcoe’s Gentry, a project of the Toronto Branch that is documenting the original Park Lots granted under Lord Simcoe in the Town of York.  Their website is an ongoing repository of research, and the blog will help to introduce people to the work.  The first post was in February and is here. You can scroll through the posts using the navigation at the upper right of that page.  This is a very interesting project and I’m getting to know a lot about the history of Toronto.


[1851 Township of York – The original map can be seen at the Toronto Reference Library (call number 912.71354b68)]

Finally, I have taken on the role of Twitter-mistress for the branch, sending out announcements of interest to our followers every couple of days. These can include meeting reminders, course information, history or heritage events of interest to genealogists in Toronto, and links to new online resources.  We set up the account in late January and hit 100 followers today, which suggests that we are offering a service of value to both our members and other followers with similar interests. You can follow us at www.twitter.com/TOfamilyhistory

Imag(in)ing the past.

I’ve recently signed up to become an indexer with familyserach.org.  Indexers are an army of (typically) genealogists who, reading from scans of original records, type the information into a database so that the reconrds can become searchable online.

It’s a very efficient system.  The scanned images are divided into batches that you download to your computer with the click of a button.  You are presented with the image at the top of your screen and a form at the bottom (actually, three choices of forms) to enter the data.  Each field has help information, and you really can’t go wrong.

The main difficulty with the tasks is reading the handwriting.  You have an option to leave fields blank or designate them as unreadable.  Each batch is indexed (at least) twice, and discrepancies go to a moderator who has a third look at the data and finalizes the input.

As a beginner indexer, I started with some basic census forms that are fairly straightforward to enter.  I did batches from the New York, Minnesota, and South Dakota censuses from around the turn of the last century.  Once I felt comfortable with these batched rated “Beginner”, I moved on to some Ontario batches, in particular, Marriages (1869-1927) and Deaths (1933-1937).  These were rated “Intermediate”, mainly because the data are spread out over the form, rather than in a straight line per record as in the census.

I found my mind wandering while indexing these important life events. The marriage records were all from 1871.  Why was a 13 year-old girl getting married?  Was this typical at the time?  What about the 60 year-old man marrying a 43 year old woman?  How had that come about?  Or about a Jewish man marrying an Episcopalian girl?  What kind of issues did they face back in 1871?  Because I also had names and locations, names of parents and witnesses, and where the marriage took place, it was easy to weave a little story in my head as I typed in their names, squinting over the handwriting, deciphering numbers and dates.  

Below is a Census record from my personal research files. From the 1911 Census of Canada (Toronto), it shows my great-grandfather Stephen Goddard, his wife Minnie, and their five children.  (They are the first family listed on the page.)  I was able to obtain this because someone indexed these records to make them searchable online.  It is unlikely that I would have taken the time to page through the entire census of Toronto to find them.


The image below is an Ontario Death Record for my great-aunt Barbara who died in January 1911 at age 8, of Diptheria. These records are even more onerous to search be hand because there are only six deaths listed per page, meaning a lot of page turns (or microfilm forwards). 


The Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society has partnered with Family Search to index the records from the Toronto Trust Cemeteries here in Toronto.  I hope to be part of that activity as I get a little more experienced with indexing.  Who knows?  I may end up indexing some of my ancestors’ records   I’m thrilled to be part of this worldwide project to make important information available to genealogists and others seeking to learn about and from the past.