internet and library sleuthing
Research is not just about finding
information, it is about finding the right information, verifying it,
interpreting it and then delivering it in a format that can be used for
a variety of purposes by the client.
Good research — carefully gathered and assessed — should be the
foundation of every editorial project.
80 pages, 2006
Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, Napanee, ON (Kingston Archdiocese)
Assignment: Find the human stories hidden
inside a 150-year-old church built in the town’s Upper Canadian heyday.
Approach: Context is everything so the first
step was to acquire background knowledge of the local
community history before delving into the individual stories of the
families and clergy who built the simple but beautiful church. After
taking an inventory of the names of the church founders, the donors of
the stained glass windows and the parish priests, I delved into church
records, census data, newspaper accounts, birth and death certificates,
gravestones and other archival documents to gradually flesh out the
stories of people who had been long forgotten.
of the windows was donated in 1900 by a protestant and dedicated to his
protestant parents. The donation made sense when records showed that
his wife was Roman Catholic.
Patrick's Church, Napanee. Courtesy of Vern McGrath.
Project: Cultivating the Wilderness, 80 pages, 2005
of Lennox & Addington, Napanee, ON
Assignment: Trace the early family history of
the Parrott clan who had long since left the county for greener
Approach: Neither the client nor the Parrott
descendants had much information about the family’s origins. But
records at both the Public Archives (Ottawa) and Queen’s University
Archives (Kingston) revealed that James Parrott had a remarkable life.
He started on the Atlantic coast near Boston, moved to a farmstead near
Albany, NY, then to loyalist refugee camps in Quebec before ending up
on the shores of a bay in eastern Ontario that still bears his name.
The colourful story was revealed through land grant and registry
records, wills, business accounts, census returns, newspaper stories
and military records.
1781 military report by James Parrott in his role as a spy for the
British. The handwritten notes describe a raid deep into American
territory during which Parrott shot a former neighbour in his own
Marcus Parrott, circa. 1880. Courtesy of the Parrott Foundation.
Biography of Ontario’s First Provincial Archivist
of Ontario, Toronto, ON
Assignment: Research the life of Alexander Fraser
(1858-1936) in preparation for an entry in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography.
Approach: The Archives held Fraser’s personal
papers but little had been written about him and much of what was
written was in error —including his date of birth. Several days of
reading speeches, letters, memoes and essays provided sufficient
information to create an informative profile that showed how he grew
into his job and influenced archival policy during his 33-year tenure.
urgent love letter written by Fraser’s young bride three days before
the pair eloped in 1889.
Alexander Fraser, circa. 1910. Courtesy of the Archives of Ontario.
of an unknown aboriginal serviceman
Capital Commission, Ottawa
Assignment: Identify a Canadian aboriginal
serviceman from the Second World War whose body was never recovered so
that his story could be told at the National War Memorial.
started as an interesting
research challenge because there was no guarantee that Canada had
actually lost any aboriginal servicemen whose bodies were not
recovered. Common sense suggested searches of Air Force casualties were
most likely (aboriginals were not allowed in the navy during the war).
Luck and persistence on a long internet search revealed the name of
only one airman from an Ontario native reserve who was lost in 1943
somewhere over the English Channel. Armed with Elmer Paudash’s name, it
was then possible to track details of his military training and details
of his family history.
was descended from a long line of warrior chiefs and had an uncle and
grandfather who served during the First World War with distinction.
War Memorial, Ottawa. By Frank B. Edwards