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.

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