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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian Local Histories and Special Collections by Michelle LaBrosse-Purcell, B.Sc., MLIS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Corporate And Local Archives
After searching through the Provincial Archives and the Library and Archives Canada for genealogical information, you might think you have hit a dead end in terms of all the archives that are available to search. Well, you’d be sadly mistaken. Currently, the Canadian Council of Archives lists over 800 archives across Canada. These archives cover every type of record imaginable, from township records to business files, and everything in between. The Canadian Council of Archives did publish a list of all the archives in Canada, entitled Directory of Archives, which you can find in many libraries. It can be ordered directly from the Canadian Council of Archives. However, this publication was last updated in 1999 and according to the Canadian Council of Archives website "when it [the Directory of Archives] becomes out of stock it will only be available as an electronic searchable database.”
By performing a search online, you can find out all about the holdings, time of opening, etc., of any archive in Canada. See an example on the next page of information listed for each archives:
GIRL GUIDES OF CANADA - NOVA SCOTIA COUNCIL
3581 Dutch Village Road
3581 Dutch Village Road
Mandate and Objectives
At the moment, all I can say is that most major companies, as well as towns and cities, now have, or are currently in the process of setting up, an archive of their own. This has come about because of the tremendous recent interest in preserving our Canadian heritage, as well as the reduction in funding that provincial and federal archives are getting, so small archives are springing up to fill the void. If you have an ancestor who worked for Canadian Pacific, you can check out the Canadian Pacific Railroad Archives, and possibly find some information or a picture (their archives hold over 500,000 pictures) that describes your relative’s time there. However, employee records are not held at the archives and are not made available for research.
Or, did a great aunt work for London Life? They also maintain an archive.
One thing you must remember when contacting corporate archives is that they sometimes do not answer questions from the public. Most corporate archives are set up and maintained to keep track of the corporate records for the company, not for the good of the public at large. Most corporate archives have a very small staff, and their main concern is to serve the employees of the company, not to do genealogical research for the public. When contacting corporate archives, remember that the archivist might not be able to answer your questions quickly, based on their workload for the company itself. Or, due to company rules, they might not be allowed to release any information at all. Try to be understanding and courteous—as these archivists are only doing their jobs! Perhaps if you show them a bit of compassion, when they get a spare moment, they might find the time to answer your question.
Local archives can be divided into a number of groups: municipal, religious, professional, and university. These archives are different from corporate, federal and provincial ones. They are usually small archives, usually also with a very small staff. Local archives tend to preserve records that the Provincial Archives and Library and Archives Canada are not mandated to keep. Sometimes you will also find that these small archives also duplicate records that can be found at the national or provincial archives.
As an example, you might find copies of the Stratford newspaper at Library and Archives Canada or the Provincial Archives of Ontario, but Stratford-Perth might also keep copies of it, as many patrons need copies to search for family history, and don’t have the time or resources to travel to Ottawa or Toronto to search. Having the records handy in Stratford makes the search process much easier on the researcher.
Municipal archives—such as the City of Edmonton Archives, keep, as the name suggests, records relating to the history of a particular municipality. In this case, the City of Edmonton Archives have records relating to the city of Edmonton, as well as the former city of Strathcona (which was incorporated into the city of Edmonton) and other surrounding areas.
Religious archives are in the news lately due to the growing number of lawsuits against churches. These religious archives keep baptismal, confirmation, and burial records, as well as records of service and other church artefacts. It is common for churches and other organizations to write their histories to commemorate a significant anniversary or milestone. The archives of the organization may have a copy in their files. Be careful, though, as these histories are not always 100% accurate, depending on where the information came from and how it was recorded.
Professional archives, such as the Legal Archives of British Columbia, acquire records relating to their profession, such as the legal profession and judiciary in B.C. The archives have also acquired records of individuals prominent in the legal community.
So what information can you find in local or corporate archives? Well, each archive is different. Most have simple mandates - to preserve records from the immediate area, or of a religious organization, or of a professional group or university. What type of records they keep is dependent on the mandate of the archives, the archivist, and the people who donate material to the archives, as well as other factors such as space considerations. Besides usually being small archives, and having a limited staff, these archives also tend to have limited hours of operation. It’s best to check before going to do research at an archive. There’s always the possibility that you’d to show up to search on a day that they are not open, which means wasted time on your part.
Fortunately for researchers, more and more small archives are starting to have websites, or have put descriptions of their collections on one of the many archival databases on the Internet that are springing up in the past few years. For example, as mentioned in Module One, the Archives Society of Alberta has an online portal to archival collections in Alberta. This site allows searches of the archival descriptions, digital materials and archival institutions. The database also holds some records from Yukon archives. If you’re interested in material from Alberta, this database is a good place to start. To access the Archives Society of Alberta’s database, go to their website. This site has a database searchable by keyword but it also lists the holdings alphabetically and by recent changes.
Eventually, it is hoped that all archives across Canada will add their collection descriptions to one big Canadian database. On October 20, 2001, the Canadian Council of Archives launched the Canadian Archival Information Network (CAIN) in an attempt to do just that. CAIN has descriptions of holdings from over 800 archival institutions across Canada and more than 50,000 descriptions of archival records from the holdings of all provinces and territories. While many larger institutions have already put their data in CAIN, it is small archives that have not fully catalogued their material yet that are not entered in CAIN. To search CAIN, go to their website.
Have fun checking out local, corporate, religious and university archives. You’re likely to find dedicated, hard-working archivists or volunteers who know a great deal about the collections under their care. Unlike large provincial or federal institutions, these archives tend to have only a few employees, so the staff knows all there is to know about the collections.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Canadian Local Histories and Special Collections offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.
- This page was last modified on 3 November 2014, at 21:55.
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