Friday, 27 March 2009

A Walk along King Street

I now have two days' worth of St George's Ward under my belt. I was expecting dullness but, as ever, it isn't. With 100 of 489 schedules complete, this is what I have discovered.

The first three schedules were for Rossin House, a very large hotel for the time--five stories high, located on the southeast corner of King St West and York Streets. It burned down two or three years later. At the time of the census, there were just about exactly 100 residents including the Rossin family (two German brothers with wives and children), people newly arrived in Toronto including a university professor, salesmen and commercial travellers from elsewhere, and a big staff whose families were probably located elsewhere in the city.
The enumerator progressed from Rossin House eastward along King Street and then down to Melinda and Wellington West.

Many buildings were businesses with no one on the premises overnight. Some are listed as "vacant", others give the name of the proprietor and the phrase "Personal Census at Residence" which I have shortened to PCAR. I wish I had used the same term when doing St Lawrence's Ward. Amongst the PCARs was The Globe printing works with the schedule signed by George Brown himself. Capital invested in the business was $250,000--more than the $200,000 claimed by the furniture makers Jacques and Hay.

The largest family was that of Charles Rogers, a carver from Glasgow, Scotland. There were 11 children ranging in age from 24 to 2. He and his wife were in their 40s. In fact, his wife's age was written as a very small "40". That would have made her 16 when the first one was born--was she being truthful? The children were evenly spread every two to three years, so they were probably all of the same union. I couldn't help but compare the family with that of my Scottish great-great grandparents who were less than a decade older, and had a total of 13 children. They had already lost four by 1861 and were to lose another 3 in the next twelve years. I hope all the Rogers children made it to adulthood; their descendants could have splendid family reunions.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

St George's--Here I Come

I thought a blog was going to be in order when I finished transcribing St John's two weeks ago, but I wanted to get on with the finishing touches, so I put off the "literary" exercise. This morning I completed comparing the three eastern wards with the contents of two city directories of the same time period, and again thought it was time I wrote a blog.

Then, half an hour ago, while I was taking a break and doing the ironing, the organizer of our local FHC phoned to say that the film of St George's Ward is in, so it's back to work again as soon as my camera battery charges up.

St John's Ward had a population of over 8000. I thought it would be more, but that was the number at the bottom of the spreadsheet. It covers 3 microfilms and by some error I managed to transcribe the first and the last, and then had to order the second separately. So, originally I assumed there were 6 divisions, but it has turned out to have 7. There must have been an error in estimating the size of the first four because Division 3-1/2 has been invented. Now why could the census organizers not have called it 7? Because it is not north of Division 6? But it is not really adjacent to Division 3 either. Go figure.

St George's is the ward along the Bay and north to King Street, west of Yonge Street. It is the smallest of the wards in terms of population. There will probably be a lot of businesses with and without people staying in them over a Sunday night. Ooh, wouldn't we have hated to do that in January in 1861! Not like staying in The Harbourfront Condo!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The unknown ones

Unfortunately not everyone recorded in Toronto’s census of 1861 will be present in my transcription. I have named them my Invisible People.

Every once in a while I come across a census form which might as well be a blank. Usually this is because of the technology of camera and film in the 1950s when the microfilms were prepared.

We have become very used to the principles of digital cameras. We can point and shoot and then immediately inspect the photograph. We have forgotten the routine of only 10 or 15 years ago when we snapped 12, 24 or 36 pictures and then took the reel to the drugstore and waited an hour or a day or a week for film to be transformed into photographs. We collected them and immediately began to wish we hadn’t taken some of them. We hadn’t noticed the movement or the potential over- or under-exposure.

The same thing happened at Library and Archives Canada when they decided to condense an archive by putting the 19th century censuses on microfilm. The old census pages were clamped on a flat surface and the pictures taken from a camera perched overhead, probably fixed in a small gantry. In each of Toronto’s wards over 2000 photographs (two for each form) were required. Some people wrote in pencil, some wrote with thick pen nibs, some changed their minds and scratched out their original answers, some had their answers changed for them by enumerators. If a householder decided to give their family’s names as surname and initial, the enumerator went back and asked for clarification. The given names ended up in the margin where they often ended up under the clamp holding the fraying paper edges in place.

A basic exposure setting was needed. It could not be easily altered to cope with the differences in the individual pages. The film crew could only foresee a few of these problems as they took the pictures. And, after the images making up the film were processed, it really wasn’t worth going back for an extra shot here and an extra shot there. It would have taken the patience of Job to match up the poor quality images with the originals and retake them and then interleave them into the right places. Ever wondered why it costs Hollywood more than a million dollars to make a movie? Careful editing was definitely not a job to consider doing in a minor government department!

Hence the quality of the images on the microfilm I have looked at. The choice of focus must have leaned toward darker images. Did they have an exposure meter? Would it have worked given with so few shades of grey? I am not a professional photographer and I don’t know the answer to these questions. All I know is that when a census schedule written in pencil was overwritten in places by an enumerator, the corrections appear on the film but the original names do not. And the names, over to the left hand side of the form, are less likely to show up than the ages and genders closer to the centre.

If anyone reading this participated in the census microfilming way back in the 1950s I would love to know how close my theorizing comes to the actual process.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Transcribing: the First Rule

The more I transcribe, the more I think about the basic rule of transcribing: write down what you see. But then are so many cases where I want to accept that rule with a fair pinch of salt.
I wonder if I should really differentiate between the various ways of describing a religious denomination or the various abbreviations for a birthplace. In 1861 Ontario was officially Canada West. It had had that name since 1848. But almost every well-established household with children aged under twelve reports them as having been born in Upper Canada (or U Canada, or U Can or U C)--the name of the province prior to 1848.

Should I just scribble down UC in every case, or is it absolutely necessary to answer following the householder’s whim? Should I differetiate between Upper Canada and Canada West? Should I decide that the responses should be converted into a series of multiple choices? These are questions that go through the head and keep the boredom away. Certainly, if a householder specifies a town in Britain or Canada or a specific state of Germany or the United States, that is put down in the transcription. I know it may be gold dust to a future family historian.

There is another way in which I have probably personalized my transcription. You may notice it in the paragraph above. I don’t use periods in abbreviations. My first job in the UK was with a book publisher, and my colleagues soon told me that adding periods (“full stops” over here) was very old hat and American and “didn’t follow British Standards”. Britain may not have a constitution but it does have rules for how to print abbreviations. Forty years after leaving that job I have never gone back to using full stops except at the end of a sentence. It doesn’t half save typing time!

I just came across a schedule where I can’t be sure of the names, so I thought I would copy the ages and the sexes first to give me some clues. It turns out to be one of those families where males are listed first, so the ages go 37, 2, 36, 19 (perhaps 13), and 11. But the marital status column reads m, m, s, s, s. What should the honest transcriber do here? What this one does is provide a column for Notes. My Notes column is very full.