Dear Ancestry Insider,
Robert Henry Kittson was born in what is now the province of Quebec, Canada.
The Ancestry.com indexer of the 1881 census of Sorel, Richelieu County, Quebec, misinterpreted his birthplace, recorded in French as "B. Canada," (abbreviation for "Bas Canada" i.e. Lower Canada) as British Columbia. I was surprised by this, checked the image, then the onscreen index, and lo and behold, everyone recorded as born in Bas Canada, had been interpreted by the indexer as having been born in British Columbia.
Ancestry needs to review the instructions it gives to indexers.
I have corrected the error for all the names on that image. A search for anyone born in British Columbia and living in Sorel in 1881 comes to 1,593 people! This kind of error is egregious, and correcting it should NOT be the job of Ancestry's paying customers. Ancestry needs to make a global correction of this error.
It is also apparent that whoever was doing the indexing had NO knowledge or background regarding Canada's history or geography. Surely it should have occurred to him or her that it was extraordinary that hundreds of people had been born in British Columbia yet by 1881 they had moved to Sorel, in what is now Quebec?
Jean F. Milne
Since Ancestry.com employs cheap, offshore and sometimes non-English speaking, labor to key its records I believe it employs the rule of “key what you see” with its indexers, precisely to avoid this kind of issue. Database programmers then detect names that don’t match standardized places. The database programmer writes a mass update instruction that replaces all occurrences.
A single database instruction created this mess and a single database instruction can fix it. Hopefully, the people at Ancestry who read this newsletter will inform the appropriate people to have that done.
But why did a database programmer create it in the first place? Genealogical experts warn us that to properly interpret a record, we must first understand it. For example, Elizabeth Shown Mills has written,
Accurate evaluations of evidence require researchers to have a sound technical knowledge of the materials they use. We cannot expect to pull a census and scan names or run statistics without thoroughly understanding the circumstances under which that record was created. [Several factors, including] the abbreviations that differ from modern usage [or in this case, the reader’s own language]…all affect our interpretations.1
Ancestry and FamilySearch have excellent, programmers and publication personnel with lots of genealogical experience. But they need to approach record experts whenever there is any doubt, whatsoever, that they can properly interpret a record.
Elizabeth’s warning applies to each of us as well. I’m a big believer in education. There is always something more to learn that will help us as genealogists. (The more I learn, the more I realize how poorly I measure up to the knowledgeable genealogist I have the honor to work with in this community!)
The Ancestry Insider
1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, third edition, Adobe Digital Edition, (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 2015), 21.