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Continuing census fight


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By Ryan Taylor

Our celebration of the the bill to release the post-1911 Canadian census may have been premature.

The small print in the bill in question does not provide for release of the census information 92 years after it was taken, as we were led to believe. Instead, genealogists and historical researchers may obtain access to the records, but only by signing an undertaking not to share any of the information that they find there with anyone. In fact, the census information would not be freely available until 112 years after it was taken.

As Sharon Sergeant wrote recently, this will "severely hamper the detailed analysis and collaboration of millions of family history researchers."

Gordon Watts, who has been a leader in the campaign to obtain release of the documents sent a submission to the Senate committee studying the bill. He asked for the 20-year period to be removed. He stated plainly that there is no evidence that any family historian has misused census records. There has also not been the public outcry about release of the records which Statistics Canada predicted.

In fact, Watts refers to the 20-year hiatus and the signed undertaking as 'an appeasement to the Chief Statistician.' Once again, as with previous census difficulties, Statistics Canada is taking the position that the census records belong to this government department and not to the people of Canada. The politicians (whom I mistakenly praised in this column a few weeks back) are allowing the civil servants to lead them around by their noses.

The House of Commons has received more than 18,000 petitions advocating the release of the census. Many of these represent more than a single person, and yet these thousands of Canadians seem to be unheard compared with the dry arguments of a handful of Statistics Canada employees.

Gordon Watts' full submission to the Senate committee is online. Read it and then phone or write your Member of Parliament with even more petitions.

When I read a census entry, I feel very close to my long-dead ancestors, whose voices gave the information to the census taker. It is as if I had the chance to talk to them at one remove, and this valuable information-first-hand and hot from the source-tells us so much. Don't let the statisticians keep it from us.

Thanks to Global Genealogy for keeping public internet space available to those who are fighting this battle.


Marj Kohli's ongoing work on passenger lists and orphaned children (two separate topics) has blossomed into websites which will be useful to many Canadian genealogists. She wrote recently that some of the records of the St. Lawrence Steamboat Company (1819-1836) have been added to her site, TheShipsList. Currently 1816-1819 are available, and 1820 is being worked on by her web partner, Sue Swiggum.

Kohli says, "The company took immigrants upriver from Quebec to Montreal. Since we have virtually no [trans-Atlantic] passenger lists for this period, these have turned into a real gold mine."

TheShipsList includes not only passenger information but also ship descriptions and pictures, shipwrecks, port arrivals and marriages at sea. It is a vast ocean of facts (more than a billion at current count, according to the homepage) which might include one of your relatives.

An emigration ad from the Norwich [England] Mercury dated 1836 says their "ship will be fitted in the same commodious manner as heretofore, and the passengers will be received on board with their luggage at the Quay." I suspect few of the passengers would have regarded their onboard accommodation as 'commodious'.

TheShipsList is a valuable site which gathers material from a broad range of sources. Give it a look.

Posted March 20, 2003
Column copyright © 2003 Ryan Taylor

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