If you are hungry for more than just government documents in your family history research, then the Our Roots project just might satisfy that craving. A web site dedicated to preserving local Canadian history, Our Roots digs deep into local history from coast to coast.
Jackie Bell, National Project Manager at the University of Calgary, explains the void in historically accurate content that was available online:
"In 1999, the University of Calgary did a study for the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences to see what was online in terms of historical Canadian content that was vetted academically. There was very little at that time," recalls Bell.
To bridge the information gap, the University partnered with historical societies, other universities, museums, and archives to create Our Future Our Past: The Alberta Heritage Digitization Project. Alberta historical data was published online for researchers. With the success of this first project, the University of Calgary took it one step further in creating Our Roots and encompassing local English and French history from across Canada.
"There were a lot of books that were out of print, most written by families or communities, that contained a lot of valuable information," Bell says. Local histories are full of family histories, names of the local institutions, employers and more. They can then be cross-referenced to land titles, court records, tax rolls and other government records. Our Roots digitizes these books in their entirety and publishes them on their web site at www.ourroots.ca.
An editorial board comprised of scholars from across Canada oversees content. All material must have been published previously and is digitized in its entirety (no editing).
"We want it to be all or nothing," says Bell. "We are putting the information out there for people to do their own research and draw their own conclusions."
Researchers have unlimited access to the information; however, to respect copyright laws, visitors can only print one page at a time. For quality photo reproduction, researchers are advised to borrow a copy of the book through their local archives or library to make a first-hand copy. Currently there are 4000 books online and another 800 books that have copyright clearance and will be put online shortly. The project team is managing another 15,000 titles and working on copyright clearances so they too can be added to the content at www.ourroots.ca.
The search engine is the most efficient way to scan the site at present. Typing in a surname may retrieve some information, but entering the city or town will yield the best results from the database. Conversely, if you know of a published book that is not on the web site, Bell recommends you use the feedback button and notify them.
Our Roots just completed their third year online and is only in the beginning phase. Eventually the database will be consolidated with the Alberta digitization project and a new project, Multicultural Canada (www.multiculturalcanada.ca), which will include oral histories, interviews, video, and historical information in other languages.