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    As probably everyone in the Society knows, there are two forms of data on baptisms, marriages and burials in the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador at The Rooms.

    The first and most obvious is a photocopied set of the church register for the denomination and place of interest. This is an incomplete collection because not all churches have contributed copies of their registers yet and many church registers have been lost, damaged or destroyed over time. In most cases, even when a photocopy of a church register does exist at The Rooms, it does not cover all the years of existence of that parish for one or both of the reasons above.

    The second, the so-called Vital Statistics, is even more sporadic. Prior to 1891, churches were not obliged to forward to the government details of births, marriages and deaths which were recorded in their registers. So such events that took place before that time may or may not be found in the collection of Vital Statistics at PANL in The Rooms.This is because, in the early part of the twentieth century a government project was carried out to attempt to fill in this blank through voluntary returns made by individual churches. Most did not participate even though there was a small monetary incentive to do so. Furthermore, since the returns were in the form of handwritten transcriptions of the registers then on hand, they suffered from the same weaknesses described above for the registers themselves and the added weakness of errors and omissions made in the transcription. No vetting against the original registers has ever taken place.

    So the status quo in Newfoundland is that family history researchers and genealogists are limited in tracing their families by the weaknesses inherent in these two data sets. Original registers in churches are difficult if not impossible to view, simply because clergy see no liturgical reason for allowing such access and there is therefore no incentive for them to do so. I have yet to hear of anyone who has been successful in gaining access to an original register from any of the major churches in the province to assist in their research.

    Which brings me to the point of this Forum addition.

    Should not the Society be attempting to fill this glaring void by lobbying the churches across the province to come forward and allow access to their registers for microfilming in cooperation with PANL? This is particularly important in the case of churches that did not participate in the Vitals Statistics returns and those that have never before submitted their registers for photocopying by PANL.

    Your thoughts on this?

    As an additional enticement to members to join such a lobbying effort, I would mention one more fact that few may know but that may seriously affect their research.

    The oldest church records in the province are those held at the Anglican Cathedral, dating back into the mid-1700s. However, what apparently has been a carefully guarded secret is that the photocopy of the church register that is available at The Rooms is not of the original register. It is a photocopy of a handwritten transcript of the original register of unknown vintage. This means that it is prone to the same transcription errors that the Vital Statistics collection suffers from, including errors and omissions. Since a healthy portion of genealogists have been using this source as their “primary” reference and resource to support their research findings, they have, in effect been deceived or are deceiving themselves, since this is NOT a primary source at all!

    Again, I would welcome thoughts on this conundrum and how to solve it.

    Chris Morry

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