Ryan Taylor There's turmoil in provincial archives


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By Ryan Taylor

The Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador will spend the next few months in turmoil as they reduce hours, pack their bags and move their documents to a new location.

As of 5 January, the Archives will be open only Wednesday to Friday each week. On 1 May, they will close completely until sometime in June, when the move will be complete.

The Newfoundland archives is unusual among the Anglophone provincial archives in Canada in that it houses the vast majority of church records for the province as well as governmental records.

More than a century ago, concerns about the conditions in which the records were kept in tiny outport churches, and the need for vital statistics information which the records could provide, convinced authorities to pass a law moving the registers into the safety of the imposing Colonial Building. In those days, Newfoundland was still an independently-governed colony of Great Britain. It became part of Canada in 1949.

Having the church records in one place is a boon for genealogists, who can use the professional facilities of the archives for their research, and move from the registers of one church to those of another without traveling.

As charming as the Colonial Building is, the new facilities at The Rooms will upgrade the services the archives is able to offer. With more than 8000 square feet of space, there will be room for 80 clients (double the current limit). They will also offer online searching capabilities for the first time.

As the move goes on, some collections will be unavailable at times and services may be restricted. It may not be a good time to visit PANL-but once summer comes, the new building will be available and I expect many researchers with Newfie roots will want to see for themselves the improved facility.

The handbook on Newfoundland genealogy is Researching Your Family History in Newfoundland and Labrador, published by the Newfoundland and Labrador Genealogical Society.

In addition to the church records, the archives' collections include birth, death and marriage records, and extensive newspapers indexes.

News of the Ontario government's unexpectedly high deficit has affected all segments of the provincial community, and genealogists are no exception.

The Archives of Ontario has not renewed the contracts of nine employees, one of whom is the Saturday reference archivist. Although the reading room at AO will still be open, there will be no staff assistance available. A senior Ontario genealogist observed, "AO has not what-you-would-call publicized this info. There is no notice on the website."

Although everyone is sympathetic with the government's need to trim its sails a little, AO's action means that researchers who are employed during a regular work-week (Monday-Friday daytime) will not have access to archival reference services.

Protests are rolling in and Alan Campbell, Ontario Genealogical Society Region 1 director was told by Heidi Ritscher, team leader for customer service at AO that they are "exploring the feasibility of offering this service again in the spring of 2004".

The senior genealogist commented, "I hope her comment was real and not just a meaningless PR pacifier." My multiple attempts to contact Ritscher via e-mail and telephone received no reply.

Posted January 20, 2004
Column copyright © 2004 Ryan Taylor

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