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By Ryan Taylor

The word 'stray' causes confusion in family history circles.

It was first used in Britain to indicate a person who had wandered from their place of origin. It was worth noting these people because researchers might be trying to find a lost relative. Short lists of strays often appear in genealogical journals.

The word has since been taken up by Canadian genealogists and is commonly used here, but not in the United States, where people still think it refers exclusively to cattle.

The Ontario Genealogical Society decided to progress beyond the short lists to make a substantial database of strays in the province. These have been published in a series of volumes edited by Shirley Lancaster and David J. Browne. They can be helpful in locating lost relations, or determining where people of a similar name came from, should this seem helpful.

The OGS Strays Project has now published eight volumes of names, and supplemented them with two volumes of British strays in another series. Browne has also provided two extra indexes, one to Ontario settlement names in the volumes, the other a married name index to v. 1-3.

These twelve volumes provide access to people who might otherwise have disappeared. Even researchers who have no particular person in mind should have a look at their surnames in the volumes, in case somebody unexpected turns up.

The Ontario Genealogical Society's rejuvenated publications programme has resulted in a number of revised editions of familiar publications. The most important of these is Brenda Dougall Merriman's handbook Genealogy in Ontario: Searching the Records. The third edition appeared in 1996, and now she has revised it ($37).

John Acton's Index of Passengers who Emigrated to Canada between 1817 & 1849 has always confused people, because the thin volume cannot possibly contain the names of all those early settlers. Indeed, it doesn't. Most ships did not have passenger lists in those early days. Some did, but they got lost. The few that survived have been indexed by Acton.

To solve the confusion, OGS has renamed its reprint of his book Index of Some Passengers who Emigrated to Canada between 1817 & 1849 ($18).

Academic Althea Douglas offered genealogists two volumes of advice about what to do with their own family heirlooms under the amusing title Help! I've Inherited an Attic Full of History. She has now revised them and they are published as one satisfying fat book with the same title ($33). If you have papers, furniture, dishes and textiles that belonged to granny and which you want to pass on to your grandchildren, Douglas' advice on how to organize and protect them will be useful.

One of the most interesting Ontario genealogical discoveries of the 1980s occurred when John McCabe, an Ulster researcher, was exploring in the papers of Colonel John By, who built the Rideau Canal. In an effort to find more Irish immigrants, By sent questionnaires to Irish in the Ottawa Valley asking about family members left in Ireland. Several hundred responses had lain unremarked in By's engineering papers at the Public Record Office in London, England for a century and a half.

The value for genealogists was obvious: here were people naming their relatives in Ireland, and where they lived.

The originals were transcribed by historian Bruce Elliott of Carleton University and published in the OGS journal and then in book form. Elliott has now revised the listings in a new edition ($11). In the interests of finding a short way of referring to a complex subject, it was called The McCabe List, to honour John McCabe.

These and other Ontario genealogical publications can be found at the OGS website, with full information about purchasing online or by mail. For more information, phone the Ontario Genealogical Society in Toronto at (416) 489-0734.

Posted August 11, 2003
Column copyright © 2003 Ryan Taylor

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