1940 National Registration File

Are you researching someone who lived in Canada and was 16 years or older in 1940? If so, you need to know about the 1940 Registration File. This record provides all kinds of information about a person in 1940. You can learn about their job, jobs they are qualified to do, dependents and health. Click on the links to see all the details of what’s on the card for men and women. Also, according to the Library and Archives Canada blog post on the subject, “For immigrants, key details such as the year of arrival in Canada and their parents’ country of birth are given.” If you don’t know when your ancestor immigrated to Canada, this resource can be invaluable -and the key to finding your ancestor’s naturalization record (provided they immigrated between 1915-1951). According to the blog post, this set of records was created to enable “the government to identify military and labour resources that could be mobilized for the war effort,” and probably had nothing at all to do with this. Probably.

One thing I thought was nice about sending away for this record is that you not only get a photocopy of the original file, but also an extract where they try their best to transcribe what was written on the document. This is useful as the original document can sometimes be a little illegible.

Of course, extracts aren’t cheap. Given that the cost of sending away for this record is 45$ plus tax at the time of this writing -and that is for EACH record-I don’t know that I would recommend this for everyone. It’s also important to keep in mind that the information is what the person remembers about these things in 1940, and memory is not always reliable. Information about their current job and address are fine, but information about year of immigration and where their parents were born might not be.

If you feel it’s worth the money to send away for it, you will need to know the address in 1940 of the person you are searching for. Historical directories in your area should help with that -in Quebec, it’s Lovell’s; in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, try Henderson’s; British-Columbia has some here; Newfoundland has some here; Nova Scotia here; Ontario here; and Library and Archives Canada also has some here. Also, due to privacy restrictions, the person whose record you are seeking must be deceased for 20 years, and proof of death may be required (such as a death certificate or obituary), unless 110 years have passed since their date of birth.

I sent away for this record for one of my husband’s ancestors. Since I already had his naturalization record, this document didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. However, when I showed it to my grandmother-in-law, she remarked that he would sometimes get his sons to help him load up his wagon with stoves that needed repairing. This helped me to read what had been transcribed as “Repairing Sto___” to “Repairing Stoves Sometimes.” Priceless.


Township 1, Range 4W

If you’re Western Canadian, you will definitely want to check out the Library and Archives Canada database Land Grants of Western Canada, 1870-1930. Using this database and other information I have, I was able to use this map to figure out where the land my ancestors owned actually is. The square in the picture is divided into 36 pieces called sections, and my ancestors farmed a quarter of one of those 36 pieces. I also highly recommend checking out this website to learn more about the township/range system.

The Application for Homestead Patent shows that in 1883, four years after beginning to homestead, a house and a stable had been built, and 48 out of the 160 acres had been farmed. Clearly this represented a lot of hard work on the part of my ancestors.

A cousin recommended I read Katarina: Mennonite Girl from Russia by Eleanor Hildebrand Chornoboy. It was a good read and I highly recommend it especially if you are Mennonite as it gives an interesting point on view of the Mennonite experience of immigrating to Canada. At one point the main character, Katarina, wonders who lived on this land before it was given to them. I too have had this question and have wondered what to make of the fact that people were displaced to make room for my ancestors.

I really liked this transcript from the CBC Saskatchewan radio show Blue Sky. On the anniversary not-guilty verdict for Gerald Stanley in the death of Colten Boushie, they had guest Michael Cappello, who teaches anti-racist education at the University of Regina, come to answer questions that the discussion had engendered. He said,

“It is surely possible to honour and respect the work and lives of the (mainly) European folks who initiated and shaped this settler-colonial state…We can honour early settlers while contextualizing the particular policies that made that settlement possible. It takes nothing away from anyone’s ancestors to tell the whole story, including the offer of cheap/free land or the peasant farming policy. That the success of European settlers in this place also required the displacement and disappearance of Indigenous people is a necessary part of telling this story in an honest way.”

I can be proud that my ancestors were invited by the Canadian government to farm, and also know that other hard-working farmers were not welcome in Canada because of the colour of their skin. I can be proud of what they accomplished while knowing that the land they paid 10$ for (the equivalent of 250$ today) is now worth a least a million dollars. It does not take away from their hard work to know that the people who were living there for thousands of years before my ancestors came were moved to make way for them. To know these things only adds to the fullness of my knowledge about my ancestors, which is the goal of any genealogist. It is, after all, a part of the Genealogical Proof Standards, the gold standard of genealogy research, that our research is exhaustive.

What is the takeaway from this? Certainly, it is not that we should feel guilty. As Professor Capello says, “guilt/blame compounds the problem.” Instead, he suggests, “It becomes important to consider how our relative positioning to the realities being discussed shape how we can hear/understand/act on the information we are being offered.” As a genealogist, I always wonder how much my ancestors and what they went through shapes who I am as a person. What I believe Professor Capello is saying here is that the knowledge of the advantages our ancestors had should also shape our understanding of the way the world works today. We can only know these things if we are open to hearing them. Finally, we must carefully consider what to do with this knowledge once we have acquired it.

I hope this is the first of many posts on what I am calling Decolonising Genealogy. I hope to learn more about decolonizing in general, and apply that knowledge to the field of genealogy. If you’re interested in decolonizing your knowledge of Canadian history, I highly recommend you start with this free online course.

Before there was social media there was just media

As part of my Ancestry membership I have a basic membership to the website Newspapers.com. I upgraded to the premium membership when I realized that I did not have access to many of the newspapers. Recently I broke down and got a membership to Newspaperarchive.com. While Newspapers.com has newspaper archives for the newspaper where I currently live, Newspaperarchive.com has newspaper archives from where my ancestors used to live. So you see why I opted for both.

I’ve talked about how useful Obituaries are before, but since I found a couple of interesting articles doing research for someone, I’d thought I’d share how newspaper articles can give us information beyond birth, marriage and death.

John Romans was the proprietor of Waverley House, a “well known and first class” boarding house (if the ads are to be believed). I have him on one census record and I have his death record, as well as in a handful of Halifax directories. If I ever get to Halifax, I can research probate and land records at the archives, but other than that, as he died in 1872, there isn’t much else to find on him during this time period. We don’t know how he came to be the owner of this hotel, and even if we find the land record showing the purchase of this property, it still doesn’t give us much detail about who John Romans was. Enter the newspapers.

According to a letter published in two parts Halifax British Colonist on October 16 and 18, 1851, John Romans was dismissed from his post as overseer of the Distilleries in Halifax. He was hired to work for the Distilleries six or seven years prior, his job previous to that being the Collector of Excise for the District of Truro. The letter writer goes on to discuss what a great job Mr. Romans was doing in managing the facility, how he asked for a raise for his good work, received it, continued to increase revenues for the business, asked for another raise given that he had to “walk not less than 15 miles every day wet or dry, summer or winter” (no word on whether it was uphill both ways). He was not given that raise, and from what I understand of the letter, due to politics at the time, was later dismissed from his post. The letter writer goes on to talk about how the distillery has since decreased its revenues. It was signed by “one of the people.”

Given that Mr. Romans had “a large family to provide for, and no sympathizing funds to fall back upon,” what was he to do?

Luckily, his wife, Martha Romans, had opened up a boarding house:

Grand Parade is a civic square located in Halifax. The property that she bought was located at 8 Barrington St, the former property of Chief Justice Blowers, according to an advertisement in Halifax British Colonist November 1, 1851.

I’m not sure at what point John decided he, and not his wife, was the proprietor of the hotel, as we can see in this ad from the Halifax Citizen May 20, 1871:

So now we have a much fuller picture of who John Romans was and when he got into the Hotel business. That was certainly worth the price of a subscription.


Ancestry has unveiled a new DNA tool and I have thoughts. DNA circles has been replaced with something called Thrulines. Thrulines attempts, based on all the trees in its database, to figure out where your DNA matches fit into your family tree.

In order to use Thrulines, a few elements must be in place. Obviously, since it’s DNA related, you have to have taken a DNA test. You also have to connect the DNA to a family tree which is searchable (searchable trees can be public or private). The tree must be built back at least four generations. This means that Thrulines won’t automatically be useful for adoptees and others who aren’t sure of their DNA heritage -but it’s still a boon to those working to figure that out. It also still disadvantages those who don’t have a lot of DNA matches, whose DNA matches don’t have trees, and, because it’s using all the trees in its database, not just trees with DNA matches attached to them, people who come from populations that don’t have a lot of family trees from those particular populations.

However, when it works, it’s pretty cool. Here’s an example of a Thruline I have that I was impressed by:

I am related to these three people through my maternal grandmother. I don’t have them in my tree, only their grandparents: the siblings of my grandmother. Still, Thrulines managed to correctly place these people in my family tree. To do this it not only had to piece our four trees together -it also used information about how much DNA we share (which can be anywhere between 45-515 cM for second cousins, according to my favourite chart). It’s interesting to note that in my list of DNA matches, the cousin with the lowest amount of shared DNA is in the third cousin category, while here they are listed correctly as a second cousin.

Thrulines can also give you potential ancestors based on shared DNA matches who have people in their tree that you do not. And here’s where it gets problematic in the same way the DNA circles were problematic. Ever heard the expression “garbage in, garbage out?” On the one hand, I don’t want to be a source snob. There’s a lot of good information out there and crowdsourcing sometimes does a good job of verifying it. On the other hand, I want to shake everyone who has identified the wrong Hannah as our ancestor and show them the records that I have with Hannah’s correct maiden name. This only bothered me a little bit before Thrulines, but now all I see for potential ancestors is the incorrect Hannah and her ancestors.

Here are a few other things to remember: absence of evidence is not evidence. Just because you have no DNA matches in your Thruline doesn’t mean that there aren’t any or that the line is incorrect (check out my post “Is This Normal?” if you have concerns). My aunt hasn’t connected her DNA to a tree, so my dad doesn’t have any DNA matches in his father’s Thruline. It’s also possible that no cousins have tested along a particular line, or that there are very few cousins who could have tested. It’s also possible that there are cousins out there with whom you share no DNA. Even evidence may not be evidence sometimes. My mother has two distant matches in a Thruline to her 5th great grand father. While it looks good on paper, the DNA might actually be from another unknown common ancestor. I can’t consider it “proved” by this that that man was actually our ancestor. See also: garbage in, garbage out. If a person has placed themselves incorrectly in their tree or their tree has errors, the conclusion that Thrulines draws from it will also be incorrect.

Overall, I can see the potential in Thrulines but it’s not quite there yet. While it’s a little more advanced than DNA circles, it still has some of its flaws. However, it has proved useful even though it’s still a little clunky to use. I hope Ancestry continues to improve both the user interface and the connections. It would be nice if we were able to reject some of the potential ancestors and never see them or their lines again. I hope it also encourages people to connect their DNA to a tree, no matter how small (and not just make a tree but connect their DNA to it!). Most importantly, remember that there are no magic wands.

Updated to add: you can provide feedback. No telling what will be done with it, but hopefully it will help!

Clustering at Genetic Affairs

Clustering is all the rage! It all began with the Leeds method, a way to manually cluster your matches using the shared matches functions. It involves making a spreadsheet and colour coding your DNA matches until you have groups of matches. If you’re lucky, you end up with 4 distinct groupings, one for each grandparent. Highly suggest following the link and trying out this method for manually clustering your DNA matches.

Of course, it was not long before people realized that this could be done much more quickly by having a computer do it for you, and a few programs for automatic DNA match clustering came out. The one I’m talking about today is from Genetic Affairs. The first 200 credits are free and it costs 25 credits to run an autocluster. You can also have it send you notifications on new matches. You can run one autocluster a day during your free trial, and once your free trial is over (or you want to be able to run multiple clusters in a day) you can buy a subscription for a certain amount of credits per month depending on how much you pay (starting at 5$ a month). It works with DNA matches from Ancestry, 23&me and FTDNA.

Here’s an autocluster I did for my mom. I had to fiddle around with the settings a bit to get the optimal chart. I set it based on a max number of centimorgans that excluded some of her close cousins once removed because they ended up being a part of multiple clusters. I also lowered it to catch more DNA matches. I don’t want to give specific numbers because each case is different, but if you look at your DNA matches and see who you want in the clusters (so you can identify the cluster) you’ll be able to check how many cMs that person has and figure out where the cutoff should be. You’ll also be able to see depending on how many DNA matches you have how much you want to lower the setting -make it too low and the chart becomes unreadable. It was frustrating to do only one chart a day so I did end up getting a subscription. I ended up with 5 distinct groupings (technically that little purple one should be part of the red). Each square represents a DNA match (the darker squares are where the person matches themselves). I cropped out all the names which would appear at the top and the side of the chart that identify these matches. You can see that there aren’t a lot of DNA matches on my mother’s paternal grandfather’s side, whereas her paternal grandmother’s side is more prolific. You’ll also notice that I have two separate clusters for her maternal grandfather. I have no idea who his father is, but I do know that in the green is a DNA match who is descended from my great-grandfather’s half-brother. I suspect then, that the brown cluster holds the answer to his paternity. Exciting! At the bottom of the chart (not shown) you get a list of the members in each cluster, hotlinked to the match summary on the original website. It also shows you any notes you have made on that match which is super helpful.

Here is an autocluster I did for my Dad. My dad’s heritage is endogamous, meaning that he comes from a heritage group that lived together and intermarried for many generations. If you’re from a community like this (think Jewish, Irish, French-Canadian) you can see it in your DNA results. For one, you will tend to have a lot of DNA matches, because everyone in that group is related to to almost everyone else. For two, the amount of centimorgans you share with them will be skewed. I have a match that should be a third cousin based on the amount of centimorgans, but is actually a 5th cousin in three different ways! When I was setting the chart settings here, I was much more conservative. I raised the minimum and lowered the maximum. And I still got something that is pretty much unreadable. While you can see some clusters in there, the grey dots mean that people in those clusters are matching people in other clusters. So if you are from an endogamous community, clustering is probably not going to work for you.

If you think my cluster is going to be a nice mix of mom and dad, you’d be wrong. As you can see, my father’s endogamy pretty much washes out my maternal DNA matches. I can’t adjust the setting because then I’d lose my maternal DNA matches. I’m just really thankful both my parents agreed to test so I can see the differences!

I hope this was informative and gives you an indication of whether or not clustering will be useful for you. I can see already that it was useful for me: I’m pretty excited to tackle the DNA matches in my mother’s brown cluster and see if I can figure out who my 2nd great grandfather was!


My grandmother collected obituaries. I imagine as one gets to be a certain age, it is kind of inevitable to have a collection of them. After she passed away, my uncle sorted through them. Some he couldn’t figure out why she had kept. Some were former colleagues, or family members of former colleagues. One obituary she had kept was a person she had never met who had died of a condition she herself had survived.

When I went to sort through the box of pictures she also left, I could see why she liked obituaries so much. The few pictures she had managed to label had stories on them. A picture of her husband and her sister at his birthday party also mentioned my cousin who was born on the same day, although I doubt he was born when the original photo was taken. A picture of her uncle mentions the TV that also happened to be in the picture, and whom she gave it to after the uncle passed away. I understood why she didn’t label her pictures – there was never enough room on the back of the picture to write down all the things that came to mind when she looked at it. Some people had little patience for my grandmother’s rambling stories, but I loved how her mind worked and how it made connections between things that people with a more linear mindset would never think of. I believe the reason I love genealogy so much is because I inherited some of that way of thinking. Case in point, genealogists love obituaries as much as my grandmother did. Not only do they usually contain a picture, they also have the person’s life story, key dates, and family members in them. All of the connections are right there in one document.

IMG_5575My uncle put all the remaining obituaries in a photo album which my family affectionately called “The Book of the Dead.” I had just started my foray into genealogy when my grandmother passed, and I found this book invaluable as I began to create a family tree, especially since the obituaries named living relatives I had never met. If I were to ask someone what the best way to invade someone’s privacy is, I’m sure an obituary wouldn’t even make the list. However, when I work to help adoptees connect with their biological families, one of the main tools I use is obituaries. If I am trying to fill out a family tree, a quick internet search with the name of the person, the year they passed away, and their location will usually bring up an obituary (especially if they had an obituary published after 2002). While a lot of people are up in arms about Facebook and privacy, I have never heard a person consider how they are compromising their privacy by appearing in an obituary.

I don’t want to be the privacy bogeyman, and I certainly hope this doesn’t make anyone reconsider memorializing a loved one with an obituary (although everyone would do well to check their Facebook privacy settings). It would be a different story if the company that publishes the obituaries online was actively using your data for profit. While I do want people to consider the ways in which traditional privacy-busters are considered acceptable, I mostly just wanted to muse about how my grandmother recognized how incredibly useful obituaries are.

What’s the use of a chromosome browser?

Ancestry doesn’t have a chromosome browser and I think it’s part of their success. Their idea is to break down genealogy into something easily digestible that the majority of the population can enjoy -no special skills needed.

What happens when someone leaves the protective world of Ancestry and sits at the table with people who have long since left that world (if they were ever in it to begin with) is a lot of confusion. Today I’ve seen multiple questions about chromosome browsers so I thought I’d take a stab at some chromosome browser basics.

First of all, what is a chromosome browser? This is a visual representation of all your chromosomes, of which you have 22 pairs, plus one that is usually included even though it is slightly different. Here it is referred to as number 23, but it is also called the X chromosome. This particular chromosome browser is from FamilyTreeDNA.

I think chromosomes are kind of cute. I love the visual representation of the “pinch” -also known as the centromere, illustrated below where the red dot is (image from Wikipedia).

I’m telling you about the centromere not only because it’s fun to know big words that impress people, but because I’ve seen the question more than once regarding Gedmatch’s chromosome browser (if you don’t know what Gedmatch is here’s a post I wrote about why it’s so useful).

See that vertical pink line right around 123M? That’s how Gedmatch visually represents the centromere. The centromere doesn’t change anything or require you to take anything into account when looking at the chromosome browser, but it’s good to know what it is since it’s being visually represented.

Depending on which company’s browser you are looking at, you will either have to select matches to view on the browser (FTDNA or Gedmatch) or it will automatically appear when you are reviewing a match (23&me or MyHeritage). If you and someone else share DNA, you are related in some way. But how?

The most common question asked is, “how do I know which matches are on my father’s side and which are on my mother’s side?” It’s very important to remember that you have a pair of each chromosome: one you received from your mother, one you received from your father. If you go and look at the picture of the chromosome browser, you are unable to see the pair. That’s because it is unable to distinguish between your maternal and paternal chromosome, so it mashes them up into one. So the short answer is, you can’t tell just by looking at a match on the chromosome browser which side of your family the match is on.

Can you figure out which side of your family a match is on? Yes, I you have another match you can compare it to. For example, if I have an unknown match who is also a match with my great-aunt, SR, then I know that the unknown match must be in the branch of my family tree that I share with SR. If you are coming at this with absolutely no knowledge of your paternal and maternal sides (ie in the case of adoption), you might be able to figure out groups of matches but have no way to assign them to a side. And woe to you if your father and mother come from the same, close-knit ethnic population! We sometimes forget that there are not two but three answers to the “which side” question: father, mother or both.

So what is the use of a chromosome browser? If you and at least two other matches share DNA in the same spot on the same chromosome, that means everyone that matches in that spot share a common ancestor. The group can now work together to see if they can figure out who that ancestor is. Keep in mind that in order for this to work, all three people have to be related to each other (person A has to be related to person B and person C, and person B also has to be related to person C). This is called triangulation. MyHeritage has a nice feature: when you are reviewing a DNA match, you can see a special symbol next to some of your shared DNA matches (circled in red, below). This means that the three of you triangulate.

If you understood all that and you’re interested in learning about how to (imperfectly) do triangulation at FTDNA and how to do it (perfectly) at Gedmatch, you can read my post about that here. If you’re still feeling uncertain about working with your DNA, I’ve got a lot of basics skills posts for you to read; check them out here.