There are lots of blogs out there to help you learn how to do family history research. This blog lets you watch our progress as we roll the Canadian Genealogy Survey out across the country. We'll also track developments in research on family history. It's a bit of a twist, but we hope you'll find something of interest. We welcome your comments.

If you haven't taken the survey yet, you can find it at:

Sunday, 18 December 2011

CSI discovers genealogy

It seems that genealogy is appearing everywhere in pop culture these days....  Did anyone else see the CSI episode (Genetic Disorder) this past week featuring genealogy?  As always on that show, a somewhat convoluted storyline opened with a dead genealogist Doc Robbin’s bed. 
It turned out another case the genealogist was working on had uncovered some unpleasant pasts. To solve the case Greg, one of the younger CSI investigators involves the partner of the dead genealogist in a search through her partner's case records and eventually to the source of the mystery.  In the process we get introduced to a dedicated and able genealogist who quickly gets to the bottom of the mystery by doing what trained genealogists do best; establishing a line of descent that leads to the killer.  As a by product, she also ends up getting the young Greg hooked on his own genealogy.
You can see a brief discussion of how the episode was developed by way of a blog posting by the writer at:

Can anyone remember another instance where a genealogist was featured in the plot of a popular TV series? 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


Is anyone else out there following the cartoon character Betty as she begins the process of uncovering her and her husband's genealogy.  You can follow it at:  It looks as if she is following the step process of first establishing what you can know from immediate relatives.

Friday, 2 December 2011


As we were working down to the final days of the survey we thought we were making reasonable estimates that there might be 2400 completed surveys.  Imagine our surprise and excitement when we received the figure yesterday of 2955, well over five hundred more than we expected.  It is all wonderful and will be exciting to get into. 

The Otttawa Citizen got in touch with us last week for a story about the blog that got delayed until this afternoon in its on-line edition.  It has that old estimate, but you might find it interesting at:

Thursday, 1 December 2011


When and how are we going to share the results of the survey?  It will take a few weeks to get a complete data set that will permit detailed statistical analysis from our survey provider.. 

We have three strategies for sharing the results with you:

1.       We hope to make our blog the primary vehicle for the release of broad-based findings regarding such items as gender, age and location, etc.  As we go along we will share more and more of the findings here.  So if you are not followers yet, it might be useful to become a follower in order keep up with the project via the blog.

2.       Scholarly analyses of material in the survey will take somewhat longer.  We are committed to giving papers at a number of upcoming conferences; the first of which is the Atlantic Canada Studies Conference slated for Saint John, N.B. in early spring 2012.  Following on that, we hope to publish some of the survey results in various historical and consumer research journals and perhaps in some of the genealogically oriented journals and magazines as well.

3.       Several genealogical societies have enquired about having us visit with them in person to share the results of the survey.  As time and finances permit, we hope to accommodate as many of these as possible.  But we have basically run out of funding for the project at this point, so we would have to be quite creative in meeting some of those opportunities.  Where possible we will visit in person, but we will also endeavour to incorporate as much as possible on our blog.

Saturday, 26 November 2011



A bit of publicity associated with taking down the survey produced remarkable results. We are approaching about 2400 completed surveys. That is an astounding figure, particularly with such an extensive a series of questions. We now feel we have a reasonable sample of the Canadian genealogical community. A quick survey seems to point to distribution from across the country, with a healthy number of people from outside the country who are interested in Canadian lines.
What surprised and delighted us was the surge of completions accompanying the final push. There have been a few hundred completions in the closing days of the survey. I suppose it has something to say about the power of procrastination, but we want to thank everyone for taking the trouble to complete the survey.
A special vote of thanks to our blogging friends for so many kind boosts along the way, but particcularly this past week or so. They posted or reposted announcements urging their readers to complete the survey. John Reid, Dick Eastman, Elizabeth Lapoint and Lorine at Olivetree, along with others, have all been kind. The results have been astounding; over a thousand visits to the blog this week; and it looks like over two hundred new complete surveys as a result of that boost.
So thanks again; and we look forward to sharing the results soon. It will take a couple of weeks to "Clean" the data and prepare a statistical file, but we will be posting findings soon after that.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


The MyHeritage blog, which deals with all aspects of genealogy from an international perspective, recently posted about Ron Lambert's 1990s survey of Ontario Genealogy Society members The posting refers to his analysis of respondents motivation for undertaking genealogical work. He had initially posted four soundings of his survey in Families in the mid 1990s and went on to write four sociological framed articles dealing with the results of that survey and some other work he did with genealogists; all of it listed in our bibliography.
The reasons he gave for undertaking genealogy are still relevant today:
People may develop an interest in family history broadly speaking at one of two periods in their lives. As young people, their curiosity may be piqued by family members who seem especially knowledgeable about the family's past and whose story telling intrigues and excites them. Or, as mature adults, people may find that genealogy offers intellectual perspective and emotional support in dealing with birth, death and life's other challenges.
Along with this came a variety of unrelated events external to anyone's direct experience. In the Canadian case, several respondents referred to the Centennial of Confederation in 1967 as a seminal moment that encouraged various initiatives in community history that led seamlessly to an interest in family.
Our survey asked a lot of the same questions as Lambert's and answers to this one are not unsimilar in orientation. He explores the role played in the lives of many genealogists of older relatives who shared family stories when they were younger. In many cases the actual words used in describing the beginnings of genealogical interest were vitrually identical. We will be posting some of our results in that area soon.....

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Survey Closing Date November 30th

This is a quick reminder that on Wednesday, November 30th the Canadian Genealogy Survey will finally close. After this date, it will no longer be accessible. If anyone you know still has not had a chance to fill out the survey but is interested in doing so, please pass along this message to them. A link to the survey is found on the homepage of this blog.

We would like to thank all those who have taken the time to fill out the survey. We are eagerly anticipating the results and cannot wait share them with you.

Friday, 4 November 2011


We are enormously pleased and thankful for all those who have taken the trouble to complete the survey. We were convinced from the beginning that genealogists and family historians would be both interested and anxious to share their experiences with us. We are presently making plans to close off the survey toward the end of November, so if there is anyone reading this blog who has not completed it or who knows of someone who should but has not, please feel free to do it in the next few weeks.

We will not be able to do a complete analysis of the results until the survey is completed and the survey is closed, at which point the results will be coded for analysis with a statistical package. But we have been able to access answers to a number of the qualitative or “open-ended” questions and will begin sharing some of our first impressions in the hope that we might stimulate some

Thursday, 3 November 2011


The first question in our survey invited people to discus why they had started to do genealogical research in the first place. We are still a long way from dealing with all the responses to this question, which also had a followup asking about why people continue to do so.

But we are able to access a few of the text files from the survey. Responses were quite varied; but there were some clear trends. I have pasted a few of the more typical responses below to give a sense of the range of answers: One really simple and quite common one was a single word “curiosity”; but a number of others were more extended about the source of their inspiration.

“I was planning a trip to Scotland and wanted to learn more about my family history before I went, to make the trip more meaningful."

"Mother was approaching 90 yrs. old and she had a briefcase full of data. When she was in her declining years, she talked a lot about her family. It stirred my interest. I inherited the briefcase when she died at 93 yrs. of age. Our roots are very exciting; I now have a passion (addiction) to researching our families.”

“I started after listening to stories from my grandparents about their life, what it was like when they were growing up, how they met, etc. However, I married, had children and 'life' got in the way of doing much research. I, regretfully, lost the opportunity to get oral histories and stories before my grandparents and parents died. I have always enjoyed puzzles and find genealogy like one big puzzle; always such a great feeling when finding another 'piece' of the family tree.”

So... at least a couple of the responses can be categorized as inheritance of a legacy of involvement, and the contextualization of family stories that had been handed down. And sometimes it is just serendipity associated with a particular occasion or event.

Any thoughts......

Friday, 7 October 2011

Genealogy and the Pursuit of Rights

  • The National Post last week on October 1st featured story by Kathryn Carlson about the genealogical involvement of a comparatively large number of Newfoundland and Labradorians in the pursuit of native status.
    This was prompted by an announcement last year that the federal government was finally recognizing the rights of descendants of the Mi’kmaw of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • The qualification for recognition is entirely genealogical; i.e. individuals have to establish at least one native ancestor. It has prompted a wide search in genealogical sources and has kept genealogists in the province busy for the past several months.
  • This raises an interesting question about the political uses of genealogy and the extent to which pursuit of genealogy can be driven by perceived gains to be made from associating with some particular group in the past. It is also a commentary on the changing nature of prejudice. Evidently, many Newfoundlanders had buried their Mi’kmaw heritage to escape discrimination based on race; today they are pursuing that status to activate the privileges associated with registered status as native Canadians

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Second Bibliography Update

We have completed a second revision of our ongoing bibliography regarding scholarly studies in Genealogy and Family History. The bibliography can be found on the ‘Studies in Genealogy’ tab beside the ‘Home’ tab at the top of the blog.

We like to give a special thanks to Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG for her bibliography suggestions. Thanks for your contributions!

We welcome any other suggestions to add to this bibliography and also comments on any of the articles or books currently included.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Genealogist Awarded Order of Canada

Atlantic Canada's premier public genealogist, Terry Punch, was awarded the Order of Canada this week for his ongoing contributions to genealogical research in the region. Punch is the author of several books dealing with Irish Nova Scotians and a popular radio commentator on the regional CBC news at noon show.
Congratulations Terry....

Introducing the newest member of our team... Lisa Craymer

Sprott School of Business student Lisa Craymer will be working with the Canadian Genealogy Survey team as our research assistant for the fall semester. Lisa will be helping us get word about the survey out to family historians across Canada and will also be contributing to our blog.

She's pictured at our table at the BIFHSGO Conference, where we've been chatting with people about the survey. If you are in the Ottawa area, it's not too late to attend. The conference runs today and tomorrow (September 17 and 18). BIFHSGO accepts walk-in registrations and we'd love to see you too!

Thanks to our fellow exhibitors: Arnprior and McNabb/Braeside Archives, Osgoode & Township Historical Society, Rideau Township Historical Society, and Gatineau Valley Historical Society for agreeing to spread the message about the survey to their members and clients.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Attending the BIFHSGO Conference this weekend!

Looking forward to attending the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO) Conference in Ottawa this weekend, September 16th-18th. We're hoping to chat with lots of people interested in family history and perhaps answer some questions about the survey. If you're planning to attend, come visit us! Our table is located across the corridor from the ladies' washroom - sure to be a high traffic location. If you haven't registered already, walk-in registrations are accepted. For more info: check out the BIFHSGO website.

Friday, 19 August 2011


  • Why the surge in genealogy? Several people we talked with during our tour of local museums and archives were less convinced that there was still a surge in interest. They seemed convinced that their own local communities had less need for formal genealogy, since small town and rural people were more conscious of their own roots and sensitive to the origins of their families; in other words "rooted" within their communities. Instead, they talked of genealogy as being important for people "from away," but with local roots, as their main clientele. The notion that the rise in genealogy was a function of distance from the original places associated with their families resonates through the scholarly literature.

  • Scholars discuss issues of identity in post-modern society, seen to be characterized by rapidly increased mobility and a sense of "rootlessness" on the part of large parts of the world's populations, as a leading impulse for current genealogical interest. But mobility and migration has long been a feature of Canadian society, particularly in Atlantic Canada.

  • Whether our survey will show people pursuing genealogy to discover roots or for other purposes remains to be seen. A very preliminary look at the results point to several sources for interest in family pasts. A dominant theme in responses to why people do genealogy and family history is sheer interest. Instead of searching for some sense of identity, respondents spoke more about inheriting their interest in family history from relatives or friends and just becoming "obsessed" with the interesting things they were discovering. More on this theme later as we have a closer look at the responses.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


  • We are safely back from the trip of a lifetime; we visited two dozen or so local and county museums and archives throughout Nova Scotia during the past week. Thanks to everyone who received us so kindly and shared their information about the doing of genealogy on the ground at the local level. It was great to meet so many of the people we had corresponded with and all those summer students who work so hard to help visitors to these institutions.
  • On our return to Margaree we were able to check out the survey and found we are up to a thousand completed surveys; all in the course of less than one month. We are just beginning to roll out the survey information in other provinces, where quite a lot of interest has already been shown, despite the fact that we had done little to advertise the survey there until this weekend.
  • So, thanks to all those who have completed thus far; and keep telling your friends to come and visit us. We would like to at least double those numbers by the time that we take the survey down sometime in November.
  • We are looking forward to getting the results out as soon as we are able to access the completed surveys, which we may not be able to do until the survey period is completed in November.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

2,000 visits to our blog!

Sometime overnight we had our 2,000th visitor to the blog. Thanks everyone for checking us out and for your comments.

Thanks also to Robert Ross for posting a link to our survey from his website PEI and NS Lineages ( and to the Cape Breton Genealogy and Historical Association ( for letting their members know about the survey.

Along the Evangeline Trail

 We started our day with a visit to the Yarmouth County Museum & Archives, in Yarmouth, NS, where we were greeted by Celia Muise and Alyssa Muise (no relation - at least not that we've been able to document!) It had been a number of years since Del had visited the YCMA and he was impressed with the changes that have been made.

Our next stop was at the Admiral Digby Museum, in Digby( We had a great chat with Curator Sheryl Stanton, seen chatting with Del below, and her able assistants, (left to right) Raylene Frances, Kassie Tidd and Gabbie Cyr.

We finished our day with a visit to the O'Dell House Museum in Annapolis Royal ( Del found some spin tops to add to his collection. They go nicely with those he picked up at the Queen's County Museum.

It was great to see our poster displayed in all of these places and to learn that people have been picking up the brochure.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Along the South Shore

Today we visited the Thomas Raddall Research Centre in the Queen's County Museum ( What a great facility and wonderful gift shop! Thanks to Kathy Stitt, pictured with Del at left, for giving us a warm welcome (and helping us indulge in the gift shop).

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Giving thanks where due...

The Ontario Genealogy Society (; the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada (; genealogyblog ( and the Council of Nova Scotia Archives all mentioned our survey to their members/readers. Thanks for helping us get the message out!


We stopped in Wolfville today so that Leighann could spend a few hours in the Acadia University Archives on another project. I worked from here to visit a number of local sites; particularly the Kings County Archives and Heritage in Kentville (http// and the West Hants Historical Society in Windsor, (http//
There I spoke with Nick and Kyle, two local university students. They were well versed in the issues relating to on-site use of their resources and the question of internet access to wider resources. It seems that the number of e-mail enquiries is as large if not larger than the number of actual visitors. This has been the case in a number of the sites we have visited in the past few days, and we were wondering if this is a common thread.
Do local and historical societies receive as many enquiries regarding genealogy on-line as in person?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

On the Road - Again

Today we visited several more centres and distributed more materials related to the Survey. Thanks to all the great people we met at The Cumberland County Museum and Archives ( in Amherst; Isabel Simpson Heritage Centre and Museum ( in Springhill; Ottawa House in Parrsboro; Age of Sail Heritage Museum ( in Port Greville; and the Colchester Historical Society Museum & Archives ( in Truro.

In the photo at top left are Age of Sail Curator Oralee O'Bryne and Del. We toured the museum and had a great lunch at the cafe. Thanks for your hospitality Oralee!

On the Road

Thanks to all the people who greeted us so warmly at the Antigonish Heritage Museum (; Hector Exhibit Centre (; the Creamery Square Heritage Centre in Tatamagouche (; Wallace and Area Museum ( and the North Cumberland Historical Society in Pugwash ( We enjoyed touring your facilities and chatting about family history research. Our brochure is now available at these sites, if you're looking to pick one up.

Today we're starting with the Cumberland County Museum and Archives and hope to visit several other sites along the way to Wolfville.

The photo at top left is of Del outside the Antigonish Heritage Museum, making friends the The Conductor.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Getting the Word Out - Part 2

We're hitting the road today to promote the Canadian Genealogy Survey throughout mainland Nova Scotia. First stop, an interview with the Pictou News.

For those of you living or travelling in Nova Scotia, you can pick up one of our information cards. They look like this and should be available at libraries, archives and genealogy centres throughout Nova Scotia.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Thursday, 4 August 2011


We have just completed a revision and updating of our ongoing bibliography about studies of Genealogy and Family History related scholarship. It is a large body of work and we will be adding to it periodically. We have attached abstracts of articles where they are available and hope to do brief summaries of those which do not.

Just a reminder; we would appreciate any suggestions for adding to this bibliography and would welcome comments on any of the articles or books we have included.

As well we would like to do some thematic review essays of some of the monographs that have been published in recent years.

While it is difficult to create mutually exclusive sub-categories, we have arranged material in a way that makes sense to us; but we urge you to scroll through the complete bibliography to see how wide-ranging the scholarly interest in genealogy is.

Friday, 29 July 2011


About four years ago now, a major study, Canadians and their Pasts, surveyed just over 3000 Canadians about their activities and attitudes toward the various pasts, including that of their families. One question in the activities section asked respondents if they had undertaken any research on the history of their families in the past twelve months. 659, about one in five respondents, reported having done such work in the past twelve months.
While there were no discernable differences based on where people lived, there was a marked difference in the age and gender of genealogists. (see graphic below) The stepwise age structure, advancing up to 65 then receding sharply, reflected the bias in our national sample, which included a large number of the baby-boomers of the post-WWII era, obviously the most engaged portion of the community. Almost a third of genealogists come from the 50-65 year old cohort a much larger proportion than the overall survey respondents, but also reflecting that population bulge that has so influenced all aspects of consumption in the past half century.

The gender distribution also reflected the national sample overall, though the proportion of women doing genealogy was higher for every age range than was the norm for the national survey. This also mimics what we see in various national surveys that have been undertaken elsewhere in the world.

We hope to have occasional postings about the genealogical community as revealed in Canadians and their Pasts.

Comments on this demographic profile would be welcome.

Genealogists by age and gender (n=659)

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


We have received some posts regarding eligibility to take the survey.

There is absolutely no restriction whatsoever. The news releases we sent out emphasized that we are planning a national survey; but because of limited resources and propinquity we decided to concentrate our first effort on Nova Scotia. It just happened that the Cape Breton Post was quickest to feature the survey in its news, prompting some additional publicity here. That has been very positive for the launch of the survey and we appreciate all the help we have been getting. Naturally they emphasized the local connections. but we want to assure readers that we have no intention of limiting the project to Cape Breton or to Nova Scotia.

But we are anxious to have as broad a clientele as possible. We will be undertaking publicity initiatives in other provinces a little later on. While we welcome survey completions from anywhere in country -- and the world for that matter. We he had a number of takers in other countries already, as well of course as from other parts of the country.

So; please feel free to take the survey now as it will all go into a common data base; but we will be able to sort for different locations as we go along.


How has the Internet influenced genealogy; are genealogists active users of social media? It's tempting to declare that genealogists invented social media. The so called "Golden Age" of modern genealogy (roughly from the 1970s to the 1990s) was characterized by a rapid expansion of the numbers and memberships of genealogical societies, as well as by the collaborative nature of the genalogical community that emerged. In many ways it was participation at the highest level of engagement; literally thousands of volunteers contributed to developing data bases, to which they could have only limited access via early cds and dvds, and which were likely to be of only occasional use for specific family searches on very scarce and small capacity computers. But the greater good required that censuses, vital records and gravestones be entered into searchable data-bases, which, in fact, largely preceded the internet as we know it.

Today much of that collaborative work of early digitization has been uploaded onto the web for instant consumption by people anywhere in the world, some of it facilitated by the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints. As those data bases have become more sophisticated, they have also become monetized, with leading the way in efforts to corner a large part of the international market for family related data. The world us not entirely controled by such money making consortia; though even publicly funded archives now charge liberally for those precious hard copies of vital statistic records, etc.

Given that ours is an on-line survey it is not surprising that our respondents are virtually all on the internet; which confirms the finding of the Canadians and Their Pasts survey that those who engaged in family history were more lilely to have internet connections than those who did not.
A very preliminary look at the first 1250 people to fill in our survey confirms this finding in spades. The modern genealogist is vastly connected with the web through a wide variety of discussion groups and web-sites. Many are involved with face-book sites concerning their communities or family history searches. Social media is becoming an indispensible tool; though we have to do some more detailed analysis of the survey results to get a sense of the dimensions of the trend.

Cape Breton Post features the survey

Well... day two of the release of the survey has been equally interesting it seems. I did a number of interviews, including one which resulted in a favourable article in the Cape Breton Post by Ken McLeod, which appeared on-line yesterday and in print today. I have patched it in here. It is curious how this old time media gets around. Two Sydney radio stations called for interviews, including a session on CBC's Information Morning this morning. The spike in visitors to the blog was really noticible with these releases; though we are not sure how it has effected the survey just yet as we await a reading from our server in Ottawa.

Here is the CB Post article:

Carleton researchers launch Canadian genealogy survey in Cape Breton

Published on July 26, 2011

SYDNEY — Two Carleton University researchers have launched an online survey that seeks to understand the surge of interest in genealogy/family history.

The first stage of this national project is being piloted in Nova Scotia, starting in Cape Breton before moving on to the mainland.

Genealogy is one of the fastest growing leisure activities in Canada and elsewhere. Current estimates suggest that between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of Canadians actively pursue genealogy/family history projects.

“The Canadian Genealogical Survey attempts, through a self-administered online survey, to gauge the nature of the phenomenon and its importance for those who undertake to travel to and visit sites of genealogical resources as well as those who do much of their work via the Internet,” says New Waterford native and East Margaree resident Del Muise, emeritus professor of history at Carleton University in Ottawa. “Our investigation seeks to understand the behaviour of genealogists in their research activities.

“With estimates of some 25,000,000 people in North America being able to trace their families back to Nova Scotia during the past 400 years, Nova Scotia seemed like the best place to start our data collection.”

Muise is joined in the study by Leighann Neilson, associate professor of marketing at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business and a family historian herself.

“The survey will likely have implications for the many museums, archives and local libraries that have seen an influx of visitors seeking information on their family’s history,” she says. “We hope to gather information on who’s doing family history today and what resources they like to use. A key feature of our research will be to assess the inter-relationships between web-based research and onsite research.”

According to Muise, Cape Bretoners are active in tracing their roots through online social networking sites like Facebook as well as through local institutions such as the Highland Village Museum and the Beaton Institute at Cape Breton University.

“Cape Breton is a very highly developed area for geneology,” he says, but adds that the rising in interest in geneology isn’t restricted to any specific areas of the country.

“It’s everywhere. We did a different survey on Canadian’s attitudes toward the past, asking them what they felt was important to them; well over 50 per cent said they were keeping materials to pass on. On another question, 20 per cent had done actual work over the past 12 months on geneological research.

“It’s huge. And there’s no dicernible difference on a provincial basis.”

The typical person involved in geneological research, says Muise, is over 40, with a big spike at 55 to 65, the baby boomer generation.

“From the national survey, we learned that people didn’t normally get excited about geneology until middle age,” he says. “And the numbers are probably going to grow as people become more active (in searching out their roots.)

Muise and Neilson will be visiting many local centres for genealogy research this summer, promoting the survey. The survey is available online now at: For those interested in learning about the results of the survey, the researchers have created a blog,, where reports about the survey’s progress will be posted. Family historians, librarians, archivists and others interested in genealogy will be able to comment and offer opinions on the results.

“In a post-modern world, people don’t have a firm sense of being rooted,” says Muise, “so they pursue geneolpgy as a way of identifying an understandable past. One of the things we are trying to figure out is what people get out of it, and how will they pass it down.”