"Valuable information"

Jul 28th, 2014

Janet Harron

"Valuable information"

By browsing through family photo albums, we create our own personal memory banks -- occasionally from events that happened even before we were born. An archive provides the same for an entire culture, enhancing a collective memory and creating cultural touchstones that bind us together.

And, unlike a library, the documents in an archive are usually one-of-a-kind.

It’s an exciting time for the Faculty of Arts’ archives, which include the Maritime History Archive (MHA), the English Language Research Centre (ELRC) and the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).

The faculty has recently jumped a significant hurdle in the race to secure the archives for the next generation of students and faculty by submitting an application to the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to support arts archives.  

“The president’s office made a significant commitment to our CFI application and will provide about 76 per cent of the matching funds needed for this project,” said Dr. Carrie Dyck, associate dean of research and graduate studies, who is excited about the possibility of a potential design lab that could incubate brainstorming around social problems. “The CFI minimum commitment for matching funds is 40 per cent. If all goes well, this key funding will go towards a new building and processing facilities. We’ve got a huge amount of valuable information in our archives – we want to be able to use it to address social questions in Newfoundland and Labrador. There might very well be significant commercial potential in the archives that we could leverage.”

An example of such commercial potential is the recent partnership between the Maritime History Archive and Ancestry.ca.

Ancestry.ca, Canada’s leading family history website, offers members access to 129 million searchable Canadian family history records. The website recently purchased two large databases from the MHA for an undisclosed lump sum.

The first database, Canada, Seafarers of the Atlantic Provinces, 1860-1899, contains almost 300,000 records and includes details from 10 major ports in Atlantic Canada and crew agreements of vessels registered in Atlantic Canada. The second database, Newfoundland, Canada, Index of Birth, Marriage & Death Notices from Newspapers, 1810–1890, contains more than 40,000 records documenting birth, marriage and death notices listed in newspapers throughout Newfoundland.

“These records represent a comprehensive online collection of historical information about the lives of people from Newfoundland and the other Atlantic provinces, and we are thrilled to share them with Canadians,” said Lesley Anderson, genealogist and content manager, Ancestry.ca. “These records are unique, and the birth, marriage and death records from newspapers in Newfoundland are helpful when identifying major events in the lives of one’s ancestors.” 

According to archivist Heather Wareham, the MHA will continue to sell the databases to their own networks, which they have been doing since they were first created.