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Upcoming Talks

May
29
Mon
7:30 pm Life on the Farm @ Eglinton St George's United Church
Life on the Farm @ Eglinton St George's United Church
May 29 @ 7:30 pm
Life on the Farm @ Eglinton St George's United Church | Toronto | Ontario | Canada
LIFE ON THE FARM: YOUR ANCESTOR’S PLACE IN ONTARIO AGRICULTURE May Meeting of Toronto Branch OGS: Speaker Jane E. MacNamara We often think of farming as a traditional occupation—something that hasn’t really changed much. But[...]
Jun
16
Fri
9:00 am Think like a genealogist. @ OGS Conference 2017
Think like a genealogist. @ OGS Conference 2017
Jun 16 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Creative Research Techniques to Help You Follow the Right Ancestral Trail: A WORKSHOP AT OGS CONFERENCE 2017 Family history research is all about following clues and creativity—imagining what records might exist around a life event,[...]
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Salt Lake City in February: Join us!

This beautiful city—and the amazing Family History Library—has me hooked. I’ve been to Salt Lake City many times. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to do some of my own family research—with the odd diversion to some of the rogues and rebels I’ve found in other people’s families. (My ancestors were all very well behaved.)

I’m also looking forward to sharing the experience with friends who have travelled with the group before and introducing new group members to the Library and the intriguing city. Maybe you’d like to join us? We will arrive in Salt Lake on February 10, 2015, for one or two weeks. Most of the group will depart from Toronto, but we can accommodate other starting points.

The Salt Lake Temple, focal point of Salt Lake City's Temple Square (photo: Jane E. MacNamara)

The Salt Lake Temple, focal point of Salt Lake City’s Temple Square (photo: Jane E. MacNamara)

The first few days of the trip, February 11 to 14, will be buzzing with two big family history conferences—FGS 2015 and Rootstech 2015—that have combined forces for a one-time special genealogical event. But if you’re anxious to hunker down and get your nose into those old records right away, that’s OK. The Family History Library will be fully staffed and open extra long hours.

You’ll find prices and more details about the trip here. Our blocks of airline seats and hotel rooms are limited, so I’d advise booking soon. There are a handful of “repeat” travellers already on the list.

Using cameras and scanners at archives and libraries in Toronto

Capturing images of original documents at a library or archives has never been easier. There are so many choices of technology it is tough to keep up—for both researchers and the library and archives staff who make policies about their use.*

Next week, I’ll be leading Genealogy Summer Camp participants to archives and libraries around Toronto. To provide them with up-to-date information, I contacted each of the repositories we’ll be visiting for their current policies, which are summarized in the following chart. I asked them to consider two types of scanners—a “slide-across-the-document” scanner like the Magic Wand by VuPoint Solutions, and the portable “flat bed” scanner Flip-Pal.

I was very pleased to get prompt and carefully considered answers from all concerned. Libraries and archives strive to provide great access for researchers, but they have to balance that access with protecting their collections from potential damage—so the documents will be available for future researchers.

Here are a few factors mentioned by respondents behind their policies:

  • A high intensity light source must be used to capture the image and light damage is cumulative and permanent. When the institution makes a digital copy (either by scanning or photography) a copy can be saved for future access therefore preventing the need for multiple exposures to the high intensity light. If a personal scanner is used, a copy is not retained by the institution and thus each time a copy of the image is requested the object must be subjected to light again.
  • To capture an image the document must have direct contact with the surface of the scanner. This can cause damage to items that are creased when they are forced flat without humidification beforehand. When an archives make copies of items that are creased they are flattened by conservators beforehand to prevent tears and splits in the paper.
  • Wand-type scanners have the potential to damage the surface of old paper, photo emulsion, and to catch on fragile edges.

My little “study” covered only those Toronto venues we’ll visit during Summer Camp. Whenever and wherever you research, bear in mind that the rules at each repository may be different and they are bound to change from time to time. Please ask the staff on duty before you pull out your camera or scanner. If allowed, use your device carefully.

I know, if you’re reading this article, that you appreciate seeing the ink, the texture and tone of the paper, the hundred-year-old fingerprints, and the history woven into an old document. Let’s think of the future, too, and do everything we can to preserve it.

NOTE: Table has been updated to May 27, 2015.

Repository Digital cameras without flash Portable scanners Notes
Archives of Ontario Allowed Not allowed Researchers must read and sign the Self-Serve Digital Copy Service guide before taking photographs.
City of Toronto Archives Allowed Not allowed New book scanners are available in the Research Hall. Researchers can save images to a USB key.
Anglican Diocese of Toronto Archives Allowed with staff permission Not allowed Check with staff before using your camera.
Presbyterian Church of Canada Archives Allowed Not allowed No photos of registers more recent than:
95 years for baptisms
80 years for marriages
70 years for deaths/burials
Digital camera users are charged 25¢ per image.
Archdiocese of Toronto Archives (Roman Catholic) Allowed with staff permission Not allowed Digital photographs of the microfilm screen may be allowed with special permission on a case-by-case basis.
The United Church of Canada Archives Allowed with staff permission Not allowed No tripods. Researchers must fill out a request form listing items to be photographed.
North York Central Library—Canadiana Department Allowed Wand scanners are allowed for non-fragile material. Flat bed scanners are not allowed. Do not scan fragile books. Consult with staff if in doubt.
Toronto Reference Library Allowed Wand scanners are allowed for non-fragile material. Flat bed scanners are not allowed. Do not scan books that are marked “do not copy” or books that appear fragile. Consult with staff if in doubt. Staff may know of an alternate version that can be copied. Scanners may not be used to copy any Special Collections manuscripts, books, maps or photos, etc.

* Please note that while an archives or library may permit you to copy an item for your personal use and study, you must still obtain permission from the copyright holder to publish the image on paper or online. You should also request permission to use the image for a display or in a presentation.

Reflections on Rootstech

I’m just back from the big Rootstech conference and two weeks of research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Others have tweeted and blogged about Rootstech announcements and news, so I’ll not try to one-up them. You may even have watched some of the sessions live online. But I will attempt to draw together some of my overall impressions—and what they seem to say about the state of genealogy.

Rootstech was big. More than four times the size of any genealogical conference I’ve attended. The male/female balance was closer than any family history event I’d been to, and the age range much wider. (There were also more cowboy hats—but mostly on the heads of brightsolid staff, Scottish brogues and all.)

The concurrent sessions—13 in each time slot—were about evenly split between “user” and “developer” target audiences, and designated as beginner, intermediate, or advanced level for each target group. It wouldn’t be fair to say the audience was split along similar lines, because there was so much overlap in interests, skill levels and emphasis.

Many of the “user” sessions were fairly basic and a bit disappointing to experienced researchers, however very appropriate as an introduction to family history techniques for the “techie” half of the audience. I enjoyed myself more when I figured out that I could understand and benefit from the beginner and intermediate “developer” sessions. (And my knowledge of html is strictly cut and paste and cross my fingers.)

Maybe Rootstech organizers could more actively encourage participants to wade into the other stream at next year’s conference.

But back to overall impressions…

Supplying genealogical data is now big business. No doubt about it. But there seems to be a realization that data doesn’t stay exclusive for long, and the better business model is to provide the customer with easier, more accurate, focused, and documented searching. Transcriptions and indexes need to improve, and customers expect value for money. Brightsolid’s first American project—offering US census records only, purchased with credits rather than a timed subscription—will be an interesting experiment to follow.

We were shown intriguing collaborative projects—from a new and better GEDCOM, to a microdata schema that can be added to archive, library and genealogical websites to help Google find historical information, to perhaps the most visible, the 1940 US Census Community Project.

There were many new software products to organize and share the data collected—some of them valiant efforts that, I’m afraid, will soon be left in the dust. Notable were QR code medallions designed to be embedded in gravestones.

I would liked to have seen more emphasis on thorough research, thoughtful conclusions, and documentation, which tend to get lost with the avalanche of data sliding in our direction.

A bright spot on this front was FamilySearch. Representative Ron Tanner shared their plans for merging the LDS-only New Family Search with the public site and allowing merging of records and correcting of data submitted by anyone. A brave and huge step towards accuracy, submitters will be able to attach digital images of records directly from the Family Search site and other sources, and if you change someone’s data, you’ll be prompted to explain why. (And they’ll be able to change it back.)

While sometimes it seemed that I was the only person not glued to a smart phone or tablet or laptop (or all three) during the multimedia presentations—I learned a lot and was reassured that the spirit of collaboration and openness will boost the quality of our research and conclusions.