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Many societies and organizations in Canada and several French Canadian genealogical and historical societies in the United States have valuable family history information. You may find it helpful to join and support one of these organizations.
There are many genealogical societies for Canadian research that publish helpful periodicals, transcripts, and compiled genealogies. They may have special indexes, collections, and projects. Most publish queries about Canadian ancestors or maintain a list of members’ research interests. Some specialize in immigrants to an area.
Each province has one or more genealogical societies. There is, however, no nationwide genealogical society for Canada.
The Canadian Genealogical Centre at Library and Archives Canada has a partial list of Canadian genealogical societies with website links. These are the main ones; there may be smaller, local societies as well.
A guide to genealogical societies in Canada is:
- Meyer, Mary K. Directory of Genealogical Societies in the USA and Canada. 11th ed. Mt. Airy, Md.: M. K. Meyer, 1996. (Family History Library Ref book 970 C44m.) A separate section for Canada lists names and addresses of more than 100 genealogy and family history societies and branches. The list is organized by province.
Genealogical Society Websites
- American-French Genealogical Society: A genealogical & historical organization for French-Canadian research
Genealogical Society Publications
Genealogical societies across Canada publish some sort of periodical to keep their membership in touch with what is happening, and to convey news of developments in their field. While many small societies cater only to a local membership, larger genealogical societies have a widespread roster of members, and the publication is vital to keeping these members interested and ensuring they pay their subscriptions year after year. For some branches of the Ontario Genealogical Society, for instance, considerably more than fifty percent of their membership lives far from the society’s home base.
The resource publications have to include more than news of current happenings in the society. That is why we see articles that include raw genealogical data, ready for the membership to use in compiling their own genealogies. It is also a chance for volunteers to produce short compilations from original sources and see their work published for the use of others.
What sort of material can we commonly find in genealogical resource publications which might be of use to us? Here are some possibilities, in no order of importance or frequency:
- Strays: a stray is a person who originated one place and is found in another, or who shows up in a record where they are not expected. This term is used in Canadian and British genealogy, but not in American genealogy, where it still refers only to missing farm animals. A good example from the PEI genealogical society newsletter for February 1902 lists people born in PEI found in the 1901 British Columbia census. The Saskatchewan Genealogical Society’s Bulletin for June 2002 included “Saskatchewan Strays from Yukon News, 1960-2000”, by J. Scott Wilson.
- Queries: the chance to place a query, asking for assistance in finding relations from a particular place, may be the most common reason for joining a genealogical society. A survey of Ontario Genealogical Society members showed that the queries column was the first article read in the OGS journal.
- Additions to the society library: this alerts members to new resources available locally, but for faraway members, it also is a clue to new publications, which they may not know about any other way.
- Cemeteries: short transcriptions of gravestones are often published in newsletters, and also corrections to previous publications, news about the finding of vanished cemeteries, new transcriptions of burial records, or the deposit of manuscript cemetery records in public libraries or archives.
- Newspaper abstracts: although we referred to book-length newspaper indexes in earlier modules, the amount of work required to transcribe these materials means that often there are very short indexes produced by interested members. These can be published in newsletters, making them accessible and encouraging the indexer to continue working. The Grande Prairie branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society newsletter has an ongoing series of extracts from the Grande Prairie Herald, submitted by Joan Bowman. It presents a page of extracts with the family names written in boldface type so a researcher scanning the page can spot them easily.
- Biographies: genealogists trying out their writing skills often begin by composing a short biography of a relative. Publishing them in a newsletter provides other genealogists with an interesting example of what a genealogical biography can look like. The person concerned may also be a relative of other researchers.
- Technology: There are constant advances in software, online searching techniques or websites which will help in research. News items about these resources or explanations about how to use them appear in most newsletters, in larger genealogical magazines such as Family Chronicle . The Bulletin of Kawartha Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, has a regular column entitled “Hot Internet Sites”.
- Addresses: both postal and email addresses for individuals offering particular help, businesses with genealogical wares, or websites are often published in newsletters.
- Publications lists: most societies have lists of publications, which they sell to augment their funds and to disseminate data. A quick way to learn about new publications is from the newsletter.
- Bible records: one of the smallest of genealogical resources is the bible record, which often consists of only a handful of dates and names, yet is invaluable for researchers. These records cannot be usefully published in book form, but add greatly to a newsletter.
- Methodology: resource publications which contain longer articles offer observations about how to do certain kinds of research, or news about techniques which have recently become available for research. Pat Pettitt’s comprehensive article on “Edmonton Daily Newspapers” (Relatively Speaking, May 1999) gives a history of the papers, where they are available and the many indexes and their locations.
- Local lore or history: even brief notices about places, businesses or happenings can be placed in newsletters.
- Descriptions of libraries and archives: visitors to libraries and archives in the area can describe their own experiences, or the newsletter editor can simply list the hours, rules and holdings of an institution of interest to researchers.
- Research experiences:a genealogist can describe how they used certain records, as in Mary Bond’s article in the May 2002 issue of Relatively Speaking (Alberta Genealogical Society), which she entitled, “How I Found my Uncle Jimmy”.
- Advertisements: for professional genealogists, other linked services, supplies, publications, software. Advertisements in old issues should not detain us long; the services offered may no longer be available.
- Society projects: the newsletter acts as a means of spreading the word about a new database, series of publications or other compilation which the society is assembling, both so that researchers can use it and as an appeal for volunteers to continue the work.
- Interests and surname lists: geographically-based societies publish lists of interests to link genealogists who are working on the same families but who do not know one another. Many societies include these interests as part of their regular newsletters, or publish supplements from time to time, with large listings of members and their interests, indexed for ease of access.
- Resource lists: short transcriptions of records, which may not have a place in a book-length publication, can be found here. These are most useful for faraway researchers, and newsletter editors like them because they fill up space. Commonly found are tax lists, voters’ lists, members of organizations, brief extracts from church records.
- Books for sale: there are many books published by individuals or groups in the geographical area, but which are difficult to publicise. The genealogical newsletter acts as a natural advertising space. One of the best of these is the Armchair Genealogist, from the Saskatoon Branch of the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society, which regularly lists new community histories (with complete price and address information for purchase) from throughout Saskatchewan, and also lists book sought after by members. Generations, from the New Brunswick Genealogical Society, also has an extensive listing of publishers in the province and their wares. Héritage, from the Société de généalogie de la Mauricie et des Bois-Francs regularly lists new répertoires for sale, as well as gifts to the society and publications of their members. L’Entraide Généalogique from Cantons de l’Est has numbers of new family histories for sale. These pages of the newsletter are probably among the most-read in it.
- Book reviews: going one step further, societies can assess the effectiveness of new publications which their members might use. Reviews which do not include purchase information (price and publishers’ address) reduce their effectiveness. The Mennonite Historian, from the Mennonite Heritage Centre in Winnipeg, always includes extensive reviews of new family histories; given the interrelation of many Mennonite families in Manitoba, researchers there are sure to be interested in cousins who will appear in these publications.
- Columns about recently arrived newsletters in the society library: a volunteer examines newly-added publications, and notes articles from these which might be of general interest to members. This listing helps those who might not have the chance to leaf through all the new arrivals. It can also help faraway members, who will be able to obtain the articles through their local society library.
- Aids: newsletters often contain aids to be copied and used by researchers, such as perpetual calendars, charts for determining relationships, formulae for calculating birthdates from age at death, etc.
- Genealogies, ahnentafel, birth briefs: these are short summaries of an individual’s ancestry, for the benefit of others who may also be related without knowing it. The format may be quite formal, as in correctly-produced Ahnentafeln. They may also be incomprehensible without instruction, as with the ‘birth briefs’ published in The Genealogists’ Magazine from the Society of Genealogists in England. Top-notch discussions of problems in interpreting records in a particular family can be research lessons in themselves. A good example is John and Mereda Cornick’s “Origins of Shute Ancestry in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland” (Newfoundland Ancestor, v. 18, no. 2), which points out a newly discovered record, discusses difficulties with it and draws some conclusions.
- Genealogy courses: news about upcoming courses, whether local or elsewhere.
Some of these periodical articles are the result of original research which breaks new ground, and will be of longterm value. To take two examples from the 2001 issues of L’Ancêtre, Jacqueline Sylvestre’s “L’âge de la majorité au Québec de 1608 à nos jours” provides us with a new perspective on the meaning of growing up in French Canada over the years (with considerable repercussions for the status of legal documents), and Guy Parent’s “Les charpentiers de navires à Beauport et à Québec 1680-1725: une affaire de famille” provides information about smalltime shipbuilding in early Québec along with some Parent family history.
This may be a good point to mention that French-Canadian genealogical periodicals have a slightly different perspective about research because so much work in Québec is based on church records. These resource publications have a great many biographies and family histories, more than their English-language counterparts. These are often of high quality and are usually in a format which even beginning researchers can understand.
There are now specialised ethnic genealogical groups, and their publications can be of great interest in helping us make the link between Canada and the old country. Anglo-Celtic Roots (British Interest Family History Society of Greater Ottawa) is one of the best of these ethnic publications. Shem Tov (Jewish Genealogical Society of Canada) is essential reading for Jewish reseachers along with its sister-journal, the incomparable American publication, Avotaynu.
Many family associations have newsletters, which are almost exclusively concerned with genealogy. These tend to have small circulations and few libraries collect them (even the Library and Archives Canada has only a limited number), so finding and using them may be difficult. Once found, however, they are goldmines of information.
The difficulty for researchers is accessing these resource publications. There are so many of them, and it would be a mistake to think that only those from our own area of interest include materials of use to us. A number of the larger Canadian societies publish bulletins which should be read by all genealogists, because the general interest articles are of such high quality and usefulness for researchers. These include Relatively Speaking, from the Alberta Genealogical Society, Generations (New Brunswick Genealogical Society) and the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society’s Bulletin. In fact, almost any reputable newsletter is liable to include information which we could use.
This brings up the question of the quality of these publications. They are all produced by society volunteers, some of whom have the necessary experience and some do not. Since the editors of the newsletters change, the quality of the publications goes up and down also, some of them having a professional appearance and others a consistently amateur quality. The appearance does not necessarily indicate the quality of the content, either; some of the best looking have the least going on inside. Researchers must make a judgement about the usefulness of the publication from their experience with it.
Some publications produce their own indexes. These can take the form of every-name listings (the best possibility), very sketchy indexes or sometimes contents only. Even the last can be useful, because they allow the researcher to skim through the list to see if any article looks good.
These indexes may be annual or regular in some other time period, or may be retrospective, covering many years. One way of finding the latter is similar to finding a newspaper index: look in a large catalogue or database, doing a subject search using the name of the periodical. Be sure to use the correct formal name.
Historical societies in Canada and in some parts of the United States can be valuable sources of information on Canada. Many societies have special collections of books and manuscript material for Canada. See Canada Archives and Libraries. More than 220 historical societies are affiliated with:
Heritage Canada Foundation
P.O. Box 1359, Station B
Ottawa, ON K1P 5R4
They are listed in:
Canadian Almanac and Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac and Directory Publishing Co., annual. (Family History Library book 971 E4ca.)
Addresses of local history societies and museums in Canada and over 100 ethnic heritage historical societies in North America are in:
Wheeler, Mary Bray, ed. Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada. 14th ed. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1990. (Family History Library book Ref 970 H24d.) This directory lists by province the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of more than 1,100 local historical societies and museums in Canada. It briefly describes their programs, services, and collections. Many of the societies and museums have genealogical collections or services.
Historical societies may publish scholarly articles, popular history or essays that fall between the two. Ontario History, from the Ontario Historical Society, is very formal and OHS has no other publication which might be of interest to non-academic historians. On the other hand, many historical societies have changed their longterm journals to glossy magazines; British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland all publish magazines which have popular appeal and solid historical research qualities. Some of the glossy magazines, such as The Island andCap-au-Diamants, are for more casual readers.
Aside from the interest of historical articles, these resource publications can also lead us to other newly-published materials. The Manitoba and Newfoundland monthlies both publish annual bibliographies of new titles, both monographic and periodical articles. It takes only a short time to scan through the listings each year, to see if there are items which we should examine for our family history research. More academic periodicals are even more likely to include these bibliographic lists; Acadiensis has a section “Recent publications relating to the history of the Atlantic region” in each issue, and Canadian Ethnic Studies has a ‘Bibliography and Historical Studies’ heading. Searching through bibliographies may seem a very dry part of genealogical research, but it can be profitable, and what started out as dry-and-boring suddenly becomes juicy if we find a new ancestor.
Although we expect to find resource publications which are geographically based, either province-wide, county or local, there are many more specialised publications which will help us.
Your ancestor may have belonged to an association, lodge, or secret society whose membership is based on:
- ethnic background.
These societies were involved in political, social, andfinancialactivities, including life and burial insurance.
Local histories, biographies, obituaries, tombstones, family records, and artifacts may give clues that an ancestor belonged to a fraternal society, such as:
- Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (Masonic Order).
- Knights of Columbus.
- Loyal Orange Association (Grand Orange Lodge of Canada).
Addresses of fraternal organizations in Canada are in:
Associations Canada: An Encyclopedic Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac and Directory Publishing Co., annual. (Family History Library book 971 C44a.) This is an alphabetical list of about 18,000 Canadian organizations. It contains founding dates, addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and names of chief officers. A separate subject index groups the organizations by type and has cross-references to entry numbers in main alphabetical list, which contain about 100 fraternal organizations.
For more information about fraternal societies in North America, see:
Schmidt, Alvin J. Fraternal Organizations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. (Family History Library book 973 C47sa; computer number 62409.) This gives names and brief histories of fraternal organizations in the United States and Canada. For each organization, it may include the founding date and place, goals and activities, membership requirements, rituals and emblems, and publications. About 400 current and defunct groups are described.
The Family History Library has histories of few Canadian fraternal societies and very few society records. See the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under subjects such as SOCIETIES, GENEALOGY, HISTORY, OCCUPATIONS, and MINORITIES.
Immigrant Aid Societies
A few immigrant aid societies still function in Canada, and may have records of recent immigrant ancestors. Such a society, founded in 1919, is:
Jewish Immigrant Aid Services of Canada
5151 Cote Ste. Catherine Road, Suite 202
Montreal, PQ H3W 1M6
Addresses of a few other such societies are in Associations Canada: An Encyclopedic Directory (see above; lists about 40 such societies under the heading "Immigrants"). Most immigrant aid societies still in existence in Canada were founded in the 1940s or 1950s. See "Canada Archives and Libraries" and "Canada Church Records" for information on ethnic archives and "Canada Emigration and Immigration" for societies that assisted immigrant children.
Lineage and Hereditary Societies
One of your ancestors may have submitted papers to join a lineage society. These papers often include multigeneration pedigrees and information from family Bibles, death records, or military documents. They may also lead you to someone else interested in your family. Unfortunately, these papers have not always been carefully documented, but they can provide excellent clues for further research. Some societies allow only members to use their records. They often maintain libraries and museums that can help in research. Most publish a periodical or newspaper such as The Loyalist Gazette, described in "Canada Periodicals."
Probably the best known lineage society in Canada is:
United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada
The George Brown House
50 Baldwin Street
Toronto, ON M5T 1L4
Other heritage societies include:
Heraldry Society of Canada
Box 8128, Terminal T
Ottawa, ON K1G 3H9
Huguenot Society of Canada
Suite 105, 4936 Yonge Street
North York, ON M2N 6S3
Canadian Society of Mayflower Descendants
(a partner society of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants)
contact and more information at website: csmd.org
Many Canadians joined lineage societies in the United States. Information on these societies is in United States Societies.
Guides to Societies and Associations
To find current addresses, functions, and membership requirements of fraternal, ethnic, veteran, heritage, and other associations, see:
Associations Canada: An Encyclopedic Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac and Directory Publishing Co., annual. (Family History Library book 971 C44a.) This is an alphabetical list of about 18,000 Canadian organizations. It contains the organizations’ founding dates, addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and names of chief officers. A separate subject index groups the organizations by type and has cross-references to entry numbers in main alphabetical list. It lists about 100 fraternal organizations.
To find Canadian government agencies that are not covered in the above book, see:
Canadian Almanac and Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac and Directory Publishing Co., annual. (Family History Library book 971 E4ca.)
Canadian Sourcebook. Don Mills, Ont.: Southam Inc., annual. (Family History Library book 971 B5c.) Editions before 1998 were called:
Corpus Almanac & Canadian Sourcebook. Don Mills, Ont.: Corpus Information Services, annual. (Family History Library book 971 B5c.)
Records at the Family History Library
For records of societies, see the FamilySearch Catalog, Author/Title section, under the name of the society. See also the catalog’s Locality Search under:
CANADA - SOCIETIES
[PROVINCE] - SOCIETIES
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY] - SOCIETIES
CANADA - GENEALOGY
[PROVINCE] - GENEALOGY
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY] - GENEALOGY
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 de Groot, Susanna, "Canada Genealogical and Historical Societies' Publications (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Canada_Genealogical_and_Historical_Societies%27_Publications_%28National_Institute%29.
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