Advocacy has been a major part of Ontario Ancestors and its beliefs since its inception. Members strive together to protect, preserve and make accessible various record groups and other items of importance to genealogists and family historians. The following are but a few examples.
- Cemeteries. With the Ontario Historical Society, OA members, including Essex Branch members, continue to transcribe, photograph and preserve cemetery information and work towards the location, identification, registration and preservation of cemeteries with the goal of seeing them registered with the local land registry offices and protected by The Ontario Registrar of Cemeteries. OA continues to have an ongoing, productive dialogue with The Registrar.
- Census. OA has a strong history of advocating for the preservation and release of census records. We continue to be in communication with both Statistics Canada and Library and Archives Canada and have been told that census records in any form, since they seem to be changing, will be preserved and released but the time may be extended to 100+ years since people are living longer.
- Fegan Boys Distribution Home. The former Fegan Boys Distribution Home (Home Children), 295 George Street, Toronto was discovered to have inscriptions of the boys’ names and the dates they had been at the home in some of the exterior bricks. OA was afraid this building would be demolished in preparation for re-development. The City of Toronto has purchased the property and has indicated they hope to save the building along with others in the area. OA has offered to assist in preservation or filming of the inscriptions. OA monitors this situation but has been receiving updates from Councillor Wong-Tam’s office.
- Infant Home Records. In response to a member request, OA has contacted both the Ministry of Children’s Services and now the Association of Children’s Aid Societies (ACAS) to see what is possible with regard to the release of these records to interested parties if they are still in existence and accessible. Recent information from the ACAS indicated that legislation regarding this will be reviewed in 2015. OA will contribute to the discussion.
- Library and Archives Canada (LAC). It is great to see a new Librarian and Archivist of Canada who is already reaching out to the heritage community. For a few years recently, we were granted no communication with LAC. We were finally able to set up correspondence, both email and telephone, with the LAC Director General, Content Access Branch. We have had several discussions about preservation of and access to documents. LAC is committed to both, but the realities of this era are upon them as well as everyone else. They cannot function in a vacuum and have formed partnerships with other entities such as Ancestry and Canadiana.org to get materials prepared for use by researchers more quickly and cost-effectively. For example, they granted Ancestry the rights to their digital images of the 1921 census. Ancestry had it on their website for free in browse format only at first but quickly had the index completed. The arrangement was that this would be available on the Ancestry site for three (3) years (for free to anyone with a Canadian IP address) and after that period, the digital files and index would be available for free on the LAC site, but become part of the Ancestry paid subscription package for those who chose to access it there as part of other research they were conducting. LAC knew they could not handle the indexing quickly enough (even though the heritage community tried to offer their free services); nor could they handle the immediate flow on their server which was several billion hits in the first few weeks. Many felt they had sold out to Ancestry and given up our rights. The contrary was true. They maintained ownership, got the info out ASAP and made arrangements to have it free on their site in the future. Similar arrangements have been or will be made for other records. We continue to maintain contact, to ensure we understand situations as they arise and to monitor decisions and activities affecting family historians.
- Libraries and Archives (general). In 2013-14 both The Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Archives Summit held reviews of libraries and archives in Canada. OA contributed detailed papers to these discussions with member input. We monitor the outcomes of those reviews as they endeavor to set a future course for libraries and archives across Canada.
Now, back to the question….
In the past few years, I have also heard the question, “But what do we get for our money?” OA does have member benefits such as those mentioned above, as well as agreements with some other provincial societies and FindMyPast to provide reduced rates, and is working to arrange more; however, the truth of the matter is, the people joining now do not join because of the benefits. They, like our previous and many current OA members, join to be a part of an organization that works on behalf of family historians. They recognize skills they have and offer to use them to serve OA and the genealogical community by supporting its Branches/SIGs, projects and advocacy.
People can gather information online, but they soon realize it is not all there, or they do not know if what they have is their “family line”, or do not understand how to use or organize the data they have located. OA may not be the first place they come any more, but after they have found “the low-hanging fruit” they join to find out what else there is and to connect with people who have learned from their own errors and are ready and willing to lead and share that knowledge. They join to help make a difference by offering their background skills and knowledge in leadership, technology or many other volunteer roles.
OA is a membership-driven organization but it is also a service organization. Some members join for a short while to get all they feel they need and move on. Many others did and still join in order to better equip The Society in meeting its mission and objectives. Many see the vision of OA to be so important that they donate their dollars to its projects. Others donate their time and skills. Like other service clubs whose members work together to serve their communities’ greatest needs by promoting service, fellowship, values, or pride, our organization works together for the community of genealogists.
Why belong to OA? How can one not join? Please consider how you fit into an organization that believes in these values and principles and that strives to meet your family history needs. Join OA.
Other things change us but we start and end with the family.