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By Ryan Taylor

The largest operator of genealogical databases online is Ancestry.com. It recently launched its Canadian arm, Ancestry.ca. It makes a variety of Canadian resources available for the first time.

The most high-profile index on Ancestry.ca is the 1911 census. Although the digitized pages can be found at the Canadian Genealogy Centre website, there is no index there. The Ancestry index is quick and helpful.

As with other Ancestry census indexes, which include all the English and Welsh censuses from 1841 to 1901 and American censuses from 1790 to 1930, it is possible to try various combinations of keywords to search. So if your family name is misspelled on the census, you can search using first name, birthplace or age to locate the relation you need.

Ancestry.ca is a fee-based service, but there are various introductory offers. Have a look at it to see what it has. Both pay-per-view and subscription options are available. A company spokesman said that one in 29 Canadians has already consulted Ancestry, which demonstrates its usefulness.

The website of Steve Morse of San Franciso provides a form which links to the 1911 census -- it's a way to get to the census index directly, and very generous of Ancestry.ca not to have blocked it! The page on Steve's site says "You will get more detailed results if you have an ancestry.ca subscription and are logged on."

I tried Morse's form to look for the ancestor of a man I encountered in Toronto last week. He knew the man's name and that he was a home child -- he thought from Barnardo's, the English orphanage. The family name is Edmonds, which is right away difficult, since Edmunds is the more common spelling.

It took only a couple of tries to find John Edward Edmunds (name misspelled, as so often happens) living with a childless family in Muskoka. Sure enough, under relationship to head of household, it said "Bernardo child" and gave his date of immigration as 1908. He was 11 years old.

Right away, the family had learned something new about him, and we are on the way to finding him in the 1901 English census.

Ancestry.ca also provides online access to Ontario births, marriages and deaths, military records and the vast Ancestry World Family Tree, which consists of family data submitted by subscribers.

The launch of Ancestry.ca at the Ontario Heritage Centre in Toronto was an eye-catching affair. Many of the city's best-known genealogists were in attendance, and the principal speech was given by Dave Obee, a Victoria-based star of the genealogy lecture circuit.

Obee led a team of Ancestry genealogists who compiled the family history of Tommy Douglas, the CBC's Greatest Canadian. The longtime politician and father of Medicare died some years ago, but was represented by his daughter, actress Shirley Douglas. Obee described the genealogical research process using the Douglas family as his example. As well as Tommy and Shirley, the audience saw her son on the screen. He has a familiar face -- he's Kiefer Sutherland, the highest paid television actor this season.

Using Ancestry databases, Obee had Douglas material from censuses in Canada and Scotland, birth records, marriages and city directories. If she didn't know about her parents' lives before, Shirley Douglas certainly does now. It was easy to see why Tommy Douglas was the champion of the working class -- he knew them first-hand.

I had one other observation from the Ancestry.ca launch, which might help anyone planning a public relations reception or hoping to attract a crowd's attention. People are bound to look twice if you project a 20-foot high headshot of Kiefer Sutherland on the screen.

Posted June 20, 2006
Column copyright © 2006 Ryan Taylor

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