Wednesday, 8 December 2010

City Directories and the Census

Part of my 1861 Toronto census project has involved matching people in the census to entries in city directories of the time, namely that of Caverhill in 1859-60 and of Mitchell in 1863-64. This has proved very interesting. There is evidence of a lot of movement around the city, as well as of people coming into the city and disappearing from it. From the census we learn a person’s age and his birthplace. From the directories we learn the kind of business he may be running or employed in. We may discover that a woman has been widowed during the five-year period. And I find hints that I may have misinterpreted a surname when transcribing the census. It has certainly been a worthwhile exercise.

In order to use the directories efficiently I have had to digitize them. Digitizing is a word we have heard in connection with computers over the past ten years, but do we know what it means? Taken simply, it is the process of copy-typing the directory entries onto a computer, and, at the same time, breaking down each line into its component parts of surname, given name, occupation and address. If you have transcribed a census or a list of burials in a Family Search project, you have digitized the manuscript information on the original forms.

Why should we have to do this for printed books? Can’t books be scanned and read by optical character recognition? Well, many more recently printed ones can, but 19th-century type does not lend itself to the procedure. The letters are just not sharp enough for a camera to identify each as one of the twenty-six used in our English alphabet. I have tried OCR programs on pages of old data and come very close to turning the air blue trying to make sense of the software’s interpretation. It might take a long time, but old fashioned copy-typing is the better plan of attack.

Since I was transcribing the directories myself I was able my own choices for headings. My initial reason for looking at the directories was that some enumerators had omitted addresses from the census forms. I wanted to know where these mystery areas actually were. For my purposes it was best to separate the directory addresses into streets and numbers and add in the city ward where the streets were located. From this I could make up a list of inhabitants, street by street, and house by house.

Both directories had a number of foibles. Caverhill’s inability to keep his records in strict alphabetical order was frustrating. I am suspicious that a pile of entries at the end of the alphabet went astray before the directory was printed. Initial letters W and Y are very poorly represented. He also had a bad habit of omitting the “East” or the “West” from streets that crossed Yonge. An address like 394 Queen could either be around Denison Avenue or between Sumach and River Streets, a very long way apart.

Mitchell’s Directory of 1864 had two parts and in one the households were arranged by streets. I started my database using this, but then found it only contained house owners or the heads of the tenant families. His alphabetical one contained not just heads but other people in the house: tenants, boarders, mothers-in-law, sons (and daughters) who were working or who were students in law or at university. Sometimes the addresses in the street directory differed from those in the alphabetical directory indicating that the family had moved house sometime during the compilation process. The alphabetical listing usually contained the later address. Mitchell had obtained staff lists provided by large employers. Unfortunately, many people’s addresses were missing. But the directory had an extra advantage: the entries for most widowed women contained the phrase “widow of John” or “widow of William”. How useful to the genealogist.

We ought not to complain about the imperfections in a mid 19th century city directory. Picture how it must have been developed—without electricity, typewriters, and all the other paraphernalia that we have depended on for the last hundred years. Until the directory was finally typeset, all the listings must have been done with pen and paper. It would have been easy to misread a colleague’s handwriting or even one’s own on a cloudy day in a dusty office. Omitting a letter or a cross on a “t” can make a lot of difference. Were entries made on foolscap pieces of paper or on slips that fitted in a shoebox? (Given the number of shoemakers in Toronto at the time, they must have had shoeboxes.) I hope it was the latter. Corrections are much easier to make that way. However, the typesetters might have insisted on the listings being on sheets of papers—and the rewriting would be another step in the procedure where errors could creep in.

Today I have three “digitized” databases illustrating Toronto’s population over a five-year period at the beginning of the 1860s. I hope it will prove to be a more useful series of documents than any one of the three taken individually.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Exploring Mitchell's Directory

The end of a stage is in sight. This morning I have reached the letter "W" in matching the adult inhabitants of York Township to Mitchell's Directory of Toronto, published in 1864. Matching the inhabitants of Toronto itself to the city directory was completed some months ago.

Maybe it is getting to the end that sent me into hysterics about this entry found on page 180 of the directory:

Henry WHITE, explorer; 22 Nassau Street, St Patrick's

My first thought was, "Did he find it?" with the mind boggling about what there might be to look for on Nassau Street. But I've decided that "explorer" is a typo.

The census gives a much more sensible entry:

Henry WHITE, surveyor, 39, m, 5 children, Nassau Street, St Patrick's

It just shows that us census transcribers don't make all the mistakes.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Was Yonge Street Paved with Gold?

I have just found another family who must have improved their lot by moving.

In the 1861 census Ambrose Kent was a bricklayer in his early forties with two sons at home--Ambrose, 17, and Benjamin, 15. A third young man living with the family, but probably not a son, was Joseph who was working as a bricklayer. No occupations were given for Ambrose jr and Benjamin. They lived in Division Five of the Township which stretches northwest from Dufferin and Eglinton to the Humber River in the vicinity of Weston.

In Mitchell's Directory, compiled in 1863, Ambrose Kent was a grocer at 288 Yonge Street, i.e., in the middle of today's Eaton Centre. Ambrose jr and Benjamin were with him--Ambrose jr still didn't have an occupation, but Benjamin was now a watchmaker. John Kent (not found in the census) appeared next door at 286-1/2. There is a Joseph Kent on Walton Street (north of Gerrard but easy walking distance from Yonge and Queen). No other people of the surname Kent appear in the Directory.

There were two other Kent households in York Township, once again in Division Five. William, age 28, was another bricklayer, and F G Kent, described as a gentleman, age 47, with a wife nine years older than himself. Was this couple the source of capital for Ambrose's move?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Tollgate Keeper, a Stationary Occupation?

Tollgate keepers were a necessary breed around 19th century York Township. Tollgates were not erected to prevent people travelling over private land or to improve the roads in general, but as a means of collecting money for the upkeep of difficult roads like steep hills and fords. Considering all the ravines within today's GTA, there were plenty of places where a toll was established.

I picture a tollkeeper to be a man in his fifties no longer capable of all-day outdoor work, but who could get about enough to get up from his comfortable chair by the fire, go outside, and demand the charge from the teamsters and drovers who moved goods passed his door. I shouldn't generalize on this point--I found one of my great grandfather's sisters working as a tollgate keeper somewhere between Aurora and Bradford in the 1881 census.

But I did expect that tollgate keepers to work in the same place. Even this is now disproved.
From the 1861 census of Yorkville:

William Hughton, tollkeeper, age 61, married, 2 children in household (probably grandchildren);

and from Mitchell's Directory compiled in 1863:

William Heighton, tollgate keeper, Kingston Road, Toronto Liberties

Did old Will find a better paying job or did the occupation run in the family? One thing is for certain: I have just found another surname to recheck!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

York Township gets Sorted

I've now finished inspecting York Township and arranging the entries into households.This was a far more difficult than in Toronto where one page equalled one house.

Problems were compounded in four out of the seven divisions because the origunal census pages were not arranged in the correct order before being microfilmed. What made me suspicious was finding so many groups of children at the top of a page who were not part of the family at the bottom of the preceding page. Eventually I spotted that the elder members of these families were to be found at the bottom of another page.

In Divisions One and Four the parents and older siblings were always located at the bottom of the page following the one that started with the children at the top. It was a while before I realized that, in these divisions, the pile of pages had been placed in reverse order to what they should have been prior to the rubber-stamped number being put on each page.

In Divisions Six and Seven the pages are in a more random order. The families follow one after the next for several pages and then, suddenly, up comes another group of youngsters with their parents not immediately accounted for. The mind boggles over what happened to those bundles of papers.

All families have now been given a Household Number in addition to the Census Reference Number given to each individual. The Census Reference locates a person on the microfilm, but their Household Number places them with their family.

The order of the pages wouldn’t matter two hoots to a statistician in Library and Archives Canada or in its predecessors. But we genealogists are interested in families, not just people. It is a help when families stick together.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Autumn Revival

Like me, when you see a blog that hasn’t had any work done on it since February, you think that the author has grown tired of his or her topic and gone on to other things. Such is not the case with Toronto 1861.

When I shut down in February it was so I could put all my attention to the talk I was making at the Ontario Genealogical Society’s conference which was held in May in Toronto. And once that was over I came back full of desire to complete Phase Two of the project—to link as many inhabitants of 1861 Toronto as I could to the City Directories published by Caverhill in 1860 and by Mitchell in 1864.

Despite computer problems that have plagued me throughout the summer and are still not resolved, Phase Two is pretty much complete. The two city directories have now been compared with the census once. In fact, the whole of St Lawrence’s Ward and a part of St David’s have been subjected to a second check against Mitchell. I work through each directory, one letter of the alphabet at a time. Both the directories and the census are indexed using Soundex Code as well as surname and given name. The second check has yielded enough new matches to make me feel that repeating the operation is worthwhile.

Unfortunately, the images from the second microfilm of St James’s Ward which I copied while in Toronto disappeared without trace when I attempted to move them from a memory stick on to my main machine. Since that particular microfilm was not transcribed by Family Search, it is not a part of the 1861 census on the Ancestry website and I cannot compare my work with that very useful outside source. As a result my transcription of St James’s north of Gerrard East contains more omissions and is less accurate than it might be.

But, once this far through a phase, the temptation to look at other possible sub-projects becomes more and more irresistible. As a result I have got out my old York Township transcription and have re-jigged it into the style I used for Toronto.

Working with the first “ward” of York Township I found a whole lot of people whose names are in Mitchell’s Directory and some whose names are in Caverhill, so I am not finished linking the directories yet. In the past week I have been working with the agricultural census, trying to establish some formula to express “addresses” for the township or country inhabitants. After a lot of fiddling about I think I have established fairly specific addresses for the farming community, but it will be harder to be specific about those who made their living running a hotel or a blacksmith’s shop, or those commuting into town from their place in the country (and there were more or those than you might imagine!).

I wonder if it snowed on Sunday, January 13, 1861, and people were waiting till Monday before trying to get down to the city? Maybe going to the cottage for the weekend started earlier then we thought!

Watch this space. There will be more blogs to come.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

It's Done!

The complete census for Toronto in 1861 has now been transcribed. Work started in late 2005, so it's been a long slog to complete the records for 45,357 people. It hasn't been dull though. Some pages were written in the worst penmanship imaginable, others were absolutely clear. Some pages were sparse with information--not even the householder's occupation; others were filled with detail. I never knew what was going to be on the next page.

The institutions proved to be difficult, not only because it was hard to follow information on such large pages, but because the camera used for microfilming needed repair. Two out of every half dozen pages were seriously out of focus. These would be followed by four normal ones, then the images would go wonky again. It was a very short film and the last for Toronto, so I guess the decision was to get the city out of the way and then get the camera fixed. I wonder what part of Ontario they tackled next?

I am sorry to disappoint the extra curious by telling you that entries for the inmates of the jail did not include the reason why they were there. However, occupations were included and most of the women (who outnumbered the men) had the same occupation. The mayor must have started the year with a real morality campaign.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

St Patrick's complete, but there's more

The transcription of St Patrick's Ward was finished last week. In the seven wards there were 43,357 people living in 7,936 households. Women outnumbered men by 22099 to 20944, with 314 people whose sex could not be distinguished. Children made up a total of 37.3% of the population. Those with unknown sex were usually those with a name like J Smith in a household where all we were told was that it included 5 males and 3 females.

Now I am working on the institutions: residential colleges, orphans' homes, hospitals, the garrison (married quarters make it quite large), and the jail. The photography should be completed tomorrow. Each page has to be photographed in about 15 sections, insuring that all the sections overlap suffieciently so as not to miss anyone or their details. The position of the age, gender and marital status columns is too distant from the names to combine the two together in one picture. Transcribing is like solving a jigsaw puzzle.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Canada West--ever heard of it?

Looking at the Ontario Genealogical Society website last night I was reminded of an item of history that I probably learned in Grade 10, many moons ago.

Upper Canada became Canada West on 13 February 1841.

Canada West became the province of Ontario on 1 July 1867.

But transcribing the 1861 census has shown me that even in its time, Canada West was not well recognized even by its inhabitants. Officially, everyone born locally and under 20 should have been born in Canada West, but in many districts, on census form after census form, Canada West was given as Upper Canada.

Many inhabitants who filled in the form for themselves give the birthplace as just Canada. More than one enumerator has methodically gone through a pile and corrected them. Some have put an obvious sharp-pointed "W" after Canada. No problem there. But others have prefaced "Canada" with a round-based wiggle. This wiggle can easily be read either as "U" or "N" or "W", depending on the whim or knowledge of the transcriber.

The transcription available on Ancestry was prepared by volunteers recruited through FamilySearch Indexing, an LDS project. It includes many entries giving birthplaces of children as "U C", "Upper Canada", "W C", "W Canada", "N Canada", or even "Western Canada" or "North Canada"! North Canada and Western Canada have never existed as a political entities--they are only geographical descriptions.

It is a pity that "copy what you see" is so stressed in instructions to transcribers. When it comes to birthplaces we should be giving as exact information as can be inferred from the details in front of us. Birthplaces are vital clues for following up the previous generation. Why should we send newbie family historians off to search the vital statistics of a place that never existed?

Some towns and cities, such as Halifax and London, exist in more than one country. If the country is obvious, why not add it to the entry?

Some places lend themselves to mis-spelling: it is Glasgow, not Glascow. And Glasgow is in Lanarkshire in Scotland. That's where you will find the parish registers.

Excuse the rant. I hope the people at Ancestry understand why I have made so many corrections to birthplaces.

Discoveries in St Patrick's

St Patrick's District 3 had some interesting little morsels in it, as well as too many people (see previous blog).

First, there was John Leballeter, a 37-year old painter from Jersey in the Channel Islands, his wife and five children who were living on Lippincott Street. Well, they were until Sunday 13 January 1861, the day of census night. There was a note on the form that their house burnt down that day. There was nothing to say that they were in temporary accommodation elsewhere. I hope they got out safely.

Then, I met Thomas Carfrae--again. I have occasionally been doing a spot of transcripion on the Toronto Trust Burials Project which is digitizing the records of a number of Toronto cemeteries including Potter's Field and The Necropolis. When Potter's Field opened in 1829 or 1830 the first person to bury a relative was Thomas Carfrae. Between then and 1834 he buried several more, possibly two wives, several children and his mother. I began to wish he had spent more on food and less on burials. Recently I found myself looking at the early days of the Necropolis in 1854. Mrs Carfrae was arranging for the family to be moved from the Potter's Field to the new cemetery! My census find was a boilermaker in his early 40s, born in Scotland, with a wife and three children aged between 14 and 9, living on Spadina. Was he a son of the original Thomas Carfrae, I wonder.

Then there was the household of Patrick Cummins, "sergeant-major of police" living in the police house on Queen Street West. The position of each member of the family was listed in the Occupations column. There was a wife, two little daughters, another woman of 52 whose position I couldn't quite read, and his police sergeant, David Smith. On the right-hand page was a note to say that Patrick Cummins and David Smith were actually absent and on duty the night of the census, and Annastasia Summers wasn't in the house either. She was a prisoner in custody at the police station. Has anyone been looking for Annastasia Summers?

Monday, 1 February 2010

Counting St Patrick's People

The first three districts of St Patrick’s Ward have now been transcribed and I’ve spent the day verifying my counts of both people and households and sorting out errors, not all of which have been mine I am glad to say.

The enumeration districts within the ward are strips which stretch all the way from Queen Street West to Bloor Street. District 1 (University Ave to Beverley Street) contained 1450 people in 261 households. District 2 (Beverley Street to Spadina Avenue) was much smaller—only 605 people in 111 households. District 3 (Spadina Avenue to Bathurst Street) appeared to contain 2118 people in 414 households, but that is the count according to the unsuspicious.

As I transcribed District 3 I noticed families that I thought I had seen before and when I finished I decided to check just how many duplications there were. By sorting the families alphabetically I was able to spot 19 families totalling 95 people who had been enumerated twice. The households were not absolutely identical. There were variations in spelling and in age, but Mr McDole and Mr McFowl had wives and children with identical names and ages, and what district is going to hold two 40-year-old Caleb Butts, each with six children.

How could these people have been transcribed twice? Obviously the enumerator was not being careful. For the most part the streets were named on the forms, but all the houses on one street did not appear one after the other. It was a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and back again. Also, the enumerator had re-written a great many forms—the writing was consistent from one form to the next for about the last hundred or so households. Either the enumerator was being paid by the head and intentionally expanded the population in order to gain more for his work, or he forgot to throw away the originals when he decided a number of census forms needed rewriting.

All of the duplications have been noted as part of my transcription. But I would have preferred District 3 with only 395 houses containing 2023 people in the first place.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Hidden Worthies in St Patrick's Ward

The snow has cleared and I am gradually getting a better grip on the new computer. The transcribing progress on St Patrick's Ward has picked up. Not only have I been able to get to the FHC for the last three sessions, but Ancestry has finally made the ward available on their website. Some of the folios are so pale that it takes both their transcription and mine to make any sense out of what was originally written down.

I am now working on District 3, a huge area which starts at Spadina and progresses west. I haven't seen Hope Street (which turned into Manning Avenue), so either it is in District 4 or in the 150 folios of District 3 that I have yet to see. On the south-north axis, all the districts started at Queen Street West and stretched all the way up to Bloor, but there weren't many people living north of College Street.

While transcribing the other day I came across a civil engineer named William Armstrong. He had a wife and 7 children and 3 boarders. He lived on Queen Street and he had named his house Toronto Priory. I had come across the name of the house before in Caverhill's Directory, along with his business address at 46 King Street East. At that point bells began to ring. One of Mr Armstrong's boarders was D Beere, another civil engineer. Armstrong, Beere & Hime were the photographers who took the series of photographs from the roof of Rossin House (later the Prince George Hotel) in 1856.

The facts coming together from the census and both city directories (Mitchell placed Toronto Priory between Vanauley and Esther Streets) weren't enough for me. I had to find another reference to William Armstrong. Sadly, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography did not see fit to mention him, nor did Eric Arthur's book, Toronto, No Mean City. Time to do a search in Google where I found Greater Toronto Archives to have a special section on the firm at . I am still not clear about Armstrong and Beere's contributions to civil engineering, but their contribution to memorializing 19th century Toronto through photography was truly worthwhile.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A New Year with Changes

I just caught a glance at my signature photo as I came to write this note.

The desk is the same, the sweater was the one I was wearing yesterday, but the lamp is gone and, the really big thing, the computer is different. For Christmas my son gave me a new huge machine which he put together himself. Two disk drives, two DVD drives, Windows 7, and masses of memory into which I can put the whole of the Toronto census and all the links to other information about the people I find there. The only thing it didn't come equipped with was more human brain empowerment to figure out how to move all my data and photographs from the old machine. Gradually I am figuring things out. Yesterday I managed to install the two extra buttons on my mouse, the ones titled "copy" and "paste" which are a vast improvement on ctrl+c and ctrl+v. The mouse is long out of date and finding the driver online took an age. Today the printer must get installed. . . .

You may have heard that the UK has been swaddled in snow. We didn't have a white Christmas (i.e., it didn't snow on Christmas Day), but we did have two big snowfalls in the week before and more since the New Year. It is snowing as I write and two lads off school because of it have just knocked on our door offering to clear our drive. They were armed with homemade snow shovels--not the garden spades that most of us use. The past week has also been very cold and only main roads are clear to drive on.

The transcribing of St Patrick's Ward has been limited by the weather. We have lost three sessions at LDS so far and the one tomorrow will probably be cancelled too. I hear a thaw is on the way for which I am thankful. With the cold weather outside and the powerful fans of the new computer blowing cold air through the keyhole of my desk, I have had to wrap my legs in a duvet.

The 1861 census was taken on the night of 13th January 1861, 149 years ago tonight. There were people living on the wharves at the bottom of St Lawrence Ward! I hope they managed to get a good fire going without burning their shanties down.