Archives, Artists, British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Paintings, Photos, Research, Vancouver history, Women, women's history, Women, Women's History, Vancouver History, Lisa Anne Smith, Michael Kluckner, Nursing History, Midwifery, Journalism, Early women travellers, Women writers

A picture – the proverbial 1000 words

Red Cross booth 1918
Red Cross booth at a war-time carnival in Vancouver. Image by James Crookall, circa 1918. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives (photo 260-1048)

 

As with paintings, a photograph can give so much information about a place and its people and they are well worth the time and effort of tracking down. But stay focused or set a timer for yourself because it’s easy to unintentionally spend a lot of time on this kind of research.

Like many people, I am fascinated by historical images and find that as I work on my novel, set in Vancouver 1885-1913, I return to archival photos, either online or in person, to review scenes that help me re-imagine and hone the details of my story to bring it further to life.

This picture from a WW I era carnival in Vancouver in 1918 is a great example of the kind of detail I love. I can see the fashion of the time, including hats, hair-styles, nurses’ uniforms, street lights. Even the price for admission to some event at this carnival.

It gets me thinking how tenacious people are, trying to carve out a semblance of normalcy during times of war or disruption. There is an inherent seriousness to this carnival scene with the Red Cross as its focus.

So as I let my imagination go with the idea of setting a scene there with all the carnival’s inherent energy and sensations – the smell of popcorn and feel of it getting stuck between your teeth. Or getting sticky fingers from eating candy-floss. Of watching out for horse manure on the ground. And hearing the sound of children squealing as they come over the top of the Ferris wheel. The music and the hucksters.  The coloured lights as darkness falls.

And what was that 10 cent attraction?

A temporary reprieve from the worries of loved ones on the front.

Because there’s a good chance the people in the picture had lost someone close to them, in the Great War, the name given to WW I at the time. Or had a family member on the battle front. Or missing.  The Red Cross stand and its link to the war brings all the frivolity back down to earth and speaks to what’s really on everyone’s mind

You can write an entire scene of a novel, or a play, or a movie – maybe even an entire story based on this one picture.

As a writer or artist of any kind, these are the real-life images that you can hold in your mind’s eye as you ponder your scenes and characters, absorbing historical details and events almost intuitively.

As for the nuts and bolts of doing photo research itself, I’ll come back to that next week.

 

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The Imperial Automatic Voting Machine Company

space contraption
Artist: Chanut is Industries License: CC Attribution 3.0 Unported

 

In Vancouver in 1903, a company called The Imperial Automatic Voting Machine Company was looking for investors to raise 250 thousand dollars, issuing shares for a dollar each.

The mood in Vancouver was ecstatic that year following the depression of the 1890s, and along with all that money came the a period of scams and reckless speculation.

I wonder what that voting machine was like and how it worked –  if it ever even came into being.

Less dramatic, perhaps, but interesting in a different way,  the city directory where I found the Imperial voting machine company also showed me that on Hastings Street – what is now downtown Vancouver – a couple of blacksmiths, a couple of Chinese laundries, and a few warehouses. Even a foundry with a few boarding houses interspersed here and there.

A little further away there was a harness-maker, a prospector, a steam-boatman, a cannery manger, and a shingle sawyer.

Not the kind of people who live in the city today!

All this I found in the collection of BC Directories 1860-1955 which are available online through the Vancouver Public Library.

And here is a link to a collection of directories covering Alberta, Manitoba, and Northwest Territories Directories going back to 1878.

And another link to locating historical directories across other Canadian jurisdictions. The years vary. Links to Canadian historical directories

Directories exist in almost every other jurisdiction in the English-speaking world and possibly elsewhere in some format, but that is beyond my ken.

If the above links aren’t helpful for your research, do a google search using the term, “historical directory” and the name of jurisdiction.

 

 

 

Administrative records, Archives, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Record keeping, Records management, Research, Vancouver history

Archival records weren’t created for future researchers

archive image
some archival documents are hand-written in an old style which adds to the challenge of reading them

 

An archives is, often and strictly speaking the records created in the course of the daily work of a business, society, church, club, or government agency or department. 

These records include documents such as letters (correspondence), minutes of meetings, work-flow documents, registrations forms, records of employment. cemetery registries – all that kind of stuff.  

They are the tracking, book-keeping, and monitoring documents created by, for example finance department could  know who to send the property tax assessment to. Or so that plots in different parts of the cemetery were assigned to the next person to be buried there. Or so that the health inspector knew who the owner was if  a customer complained about the cleanliness of a restaurant.
The department or organization that created these records probably had no thought to researchers of the far future who might use them as a means of tracking down relatives,  figuring out the comparative value of land over time, or compiling stats on tuberculosis deaths in a given year. 

They collected information and instructed their staff to manage it based on what that administrative department found most useful or pertinent at the time and for the purpose the records were intended.

They would have been compiled in a way that made sense at the time based on their needs and uses, something that may be unclear or even illogical to a present-day historical researcher.

Documents could have been organized according to address, legal address, or name of an applicant. They could be in chronological order based on the date someone applied for a building permit. Or they might be arranged in some combination of these.

More next Saturday.

 

 

 

 

Administrative records, Archives, British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Record keeping, Research, Vancouver history

Archival research – where to start?

directions

 

If you realize you’re at a point in your research that you need to use an archive the first thing you need to do is figure out which, if any archive, will hold the records you need.

Because archival collections are, strictly speaking, collections of one-of-a-kind, original documents (artefacts), it follows that they’ll only be found in one place (with a few exceptions of copied artefacts).

This post is the first one to help you figure out which archive to go to for your research,  starting with an overview of areas of responsibility between municipal, provincial, and federal jurisdictions in Canada. And since I’m most familiar with the archives in my home-town of Vancouver and my province of British Columbia (BC), I’ll be using many examples from these repositories.

I’ll try to make this as simple as I can 🙂

startledcat
Hang on – this stuff gets dense!

 

The majority of archives fall under the jurisdiction of some level of government – whether municipal, provincial, federal in Canada – or some other division of power in the country whose records you are seeking.

You’ll need to know which level of government is responsible for what in order to know which archive will hold the records you want to look at. 

For example, you’ll find the administrative documents that were used to run the various departments of the Vancouver’s city government from the date of incorporation (April 6, 1886) at the city of Vancouver archives. 

These will include records created by the city’s departments, committees, and councils including police, fire, planning, engineering, parks, city manager, etc.

At provincial-level archives you will find administrative documents that were used to run all the various councils, committees, and departments of the provincial government from the date of formation of that province.

In British Columbia the provincial archives is now officially called the British Columbia Archives and Records Service (BCCARS) .  

The records at BCCARS includes those created by departments that have carried out responsibilities that fall under BC provincial jurisdiction, as determined, with some exceptions, by federal law.

In a nutshell, here are the areas of responsibility of provincial governments in Canada. Bear in mind that division of responsibility have changed over time so you may need to do some preliminary research to ensure you are looking in the right archive for the time-period you are researching.

But here they are, currently;  with some exceptions depending on the jurisdiction (particularly Quebec)

  • internal constitution
  • taxation for provincial purposes
  • municipalities (in BC, Vancouver is its own legislative entity called the Vancouver Charter). Other municipalities in the province have their powers and responsibilities but these are legislated under the BC Municipal Act.
  • school boards
  • Hospitals
  • property and civil rights (their largest area of responsibility)
  • administration of civil and criminal justice
  • penalties for infraction of provincial statutes
  • Prisons
  • celebration of marriage, provincial civil service (aka vital stats)
  • local works and corporations with provincial objectives

For federal government records, on the other hand, you will need to consult with the National  Archives of Canada (officially called Library and Archives Canada) to find records that fall under Federal jurisdiction.

Here are the general areas that the Canadian federal government is currently responsible for:

  •  trade and commerce
  • direct and indirect taxation
  • currency
  • the postal service
  • census taking and statistics
  • national defence
  • the federal civil service
  • navigation
  • fisheries
  • banking
  • copyright
  • Aboriginals and Indian reserves
  • naturalization
  • marriage and divorce
  • criminal law
  • penitentiaries
  • interprovincial works and undertakings.

 

If you (brave researcher) want to delve further into this, here is the link to an article from the Canadian Encyclopedia about the division of power between the Canadian federal government and the provinces.

For countries other than Canada – comparable divisions apply but you will have to determine that from your own governmental websites.

Enough for now?

 

 

 

Administrative records, Archives, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Record keeping, Records management, Research

An Archive is not a Library

library

Ok – so you’re doing historical research on an issue, person, building, or place and realize you need more specific or unique information than you’ve been able to find in books and on the internet.  

It’s probably time to find out if there’s something in an archival collection that would help.

But what the heck is an archive?

The Oxford English dictionary defines an archive(s) as:

1) A noun

“A collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people”

and

2) A  verb “To place or store in an archive”

Archives used to have a very specific meaning – though still obscure and  unfamiliar to most people – and referred to a physical place where original one-of-a-kind physical documents were kept.

But in the past 20 years or so, the term has become muddied because old or obsolete electronic documents are now frequently found within an archives section of webpages, databases, and other digital sites and can refer to  past issues of newsletters and magazines, old or historical emails, databases, websites, and other digital material.

This post, however, is about original kind of archive – the physical place where original (mostly paper) documents are kept. 

Of course the definition of an archive doesn’t necessarily make it easier to understand so I’m going to make a few comparisons with libraries that I think will help make it more clear.

A library is something that most of us are familiar with and have been going to since we were kids – a place to get information about something we’re curious about or need to research. But that’s about where the similarity with archives ends.

A library contains mostly books that have been published which means that there are probably thousands of copies of most books available throughout the world.

You can go to a local library and find the kind of books you want by looking up the author, title, subject, keyword in the online catalogue, or by browsing the shelves within the non-fiction part of the library where other books on a related subject are shelved using some kind of classification scheme. 

You can usually go right over to the shelves and help yourself to the books you’re interested in. You can take as many as you can carry to a table to look at at one time. And you can take most if not all of them home to borrow for a few weeks.

And there isn’t generally a problem with keeping your purse or bag or backpack with you in the library or with using a pen to take notes.

But mostly, you cannot do any of these things in archives.

So now that you have an idea about what an archives isn’t, I’ll delve into more into that in the weeks to come.

 

 

Archives, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Novel excerpt, Research

The Journey Begins

The past is a different place – as different as any unfamiliar part of the world. Think of ancient China or Egypt or Greece.

The food people ate, the way they lived, the games they played, and the politics and economic systems that sustained them. All are different and foreign even to those of us who live now in those places.  Yet human nature – our capacity to love, worry, hate, and fear are universal and follow us across time and across oceans.

This is a blog for people who don’t consider themselves as historians but find they have a historical project in mind or need to carry out some historical research in the course of their work; people like writers, realtors, community developers, artists, and genealogists.

I’ll write about how to navigate in the rarified world of archives and how to track down obscure documents, trying to eliminate as much jargon as possible to streamline your research.

And I’ll take you on a winding journey as I share some of my own discoveries while researching the historical novel and short stories I’m currently working on set in early Vancouver of the late 1800’s.

Things like the likelihood that there would be wallpaper in the house of my protagonist in 1885. Or how long a wagon ride took from New Westminster to what later became the city of Vancouver and  how often they went.  Or the history of typewriters and if there would have been any to buy in Vancouver by 1890. Or which streets had sidewalks and how far they went before petering out into dirt, mud, and skunk-cabbage.

Before I can put my own imagination to work to place my characters in a setting or have them  interact to best build my plotlines, I need to think about the weather, the built environment, the clothes, animals, pests, illnesses,  timing of events, and all sorts of other details.

And although I initially carried out deep research to give me the historical framework for my story, it is during the writing process that I discover the gaps.

Then it’s off to the archives, or a library whether virtual or physical, into google search, maps, images, youtube, and blogs, down to museums, or union halls, the police station, or anywhere else I can think of to track down people or documents or artifacts that might give me the information or background I need.

As a writer, archivist, and community activist I spent many years helping others and contributing to local historical projects and publications and now I’d like to help you.

So pack your bags, grab your passport, and jump aboard as we travel together, back in time.

 

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton