10 August 2013

Library and Archives Canada and Ancestry Partnership Results in Release of 1921 Canadian Population Census

Genealogists with Canadian ancestry have been watching Library and Archives Canada (LAC) since they took custody of the 1921 Census of the Canadian population from Statistics Canada on June 1, 2013 after the required 92 years.  The Ontario Genealogical Society, along with many other organizations and individuals, sent letters to Library and Archives Canada, The Hon. Stephen Harper Prime Minister of Canada, The Hon. James Moore then Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages and local Members of Parliament. We advocated for the protection of Library and Archives Canada and our Canadian archival documents and for the timely release of the census.  As President of The Ontario Genealogical Society and its 3500 members I offered to be a part of the consultation process.  Unfortunately all formal communication with parties outside of Library and Archives Canada ceased.  We were eventually told that dialogue was already in progress with a third party and that LAC was committed to making the 1921 Canada Census “rich and complex information accessible and available to all Canadians no matter where they live…”
On Thursday, August 8, 2013 LAC and Ancestry made separate announcements regarding their partnership to make this Canadian census available to the public.  At present, the census images can be browsed for free online at www.ancestry.ca and users are told to return for updates since the collection will be indexed this year. To quote LAC, “Canadians will be required to pay for the extra convenience of doing advanced searches from their home.”  Free access will be available in person at Library and Archives Canada and through hundreds of libraries across Canada subscribing to Ancestry.ca.
Although The Society is very pleased that these images are finally available to the public, we are concerned about its release through a subscription site. The lack of consultation with Canadian heritage organizations ignored their skills, experience and offers of assistance.  Details of the arrangement are still unfolding and we hope that answers to our questions will be forthcoming regarding the arrangement between Library and Archives Canada and Ancestry.  Was there no Canadian organization that could handle this? Is this deal exclusive to Ancestry?  Has LAC given away its rights to use the digitized images later on their own web page, indexed or not?  Might other organizations have access to the images and produce their own indexes as has been done successfully in the past, perhaps then making the information free to all?  For how long will there be free access to the raw images or indexed information on the Ancestry.ca site?  Is there a limit to the number of years Ancestry will have the sole rights before the census might appear elsewhere or is this material solely in their hands? What of access to the other census schedules? Why have the microfilms or images not been available at Library and Archives Canada until now?   There are many unanswered questions being asked by our members and others in the heritage community.  We look forward to more details.
The 1921 Canada Census was taken at a very critical time in Canada’s history.  For many family researchers whose ancestors immigrated to Canada after the First World War, this is the first opportunity to have some insight into their families on North American soil.  For many born in other lands, birth and marriage records may be difficult to find.  This census provides a picture of the individuals and families who resided in Canada on June 1, 1921.  Responses to the 35 questions on the population schedule alone will possibly answer many questions about the family and perhaps provide leads to other sources.
Take advantage of these images to investigate your family in 1921.  Continue to be vigilant in helping to safeguard our heritage archival documents.  Together we represent those no longer living to ensure their lives and contributions to our country are not forgotten.  Speak for them whenever you see the need.

Shirley L. Sturdevant, President
The Ontario Genealogical Society

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