This post is the first in what we plan to be an on-going series on sources for primary source research on the web. I’ve decided to begin with a favourite of mine, and also one of the more difficult to navigate: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.
Between 1998 and 2001, 43 county atlases were digitised by researchers, librarians, curators, and students at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. They digitised the pages of atlases found in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections and recorded the names and properties on the atlases in a simple, searchable online database.
What you’ll find:
The database contains scanned copies of the atlases as well as the names of individual land and business owners. It also provides a brief overview of the origins of the atlases and title page information for every atlas included in the project.
How to use it:
I found it somewhat challenging to navigate the website and discover the full extent of the information contained within the database. The Home Page, In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project, gives your four options to choose from: Project Overview (background information on the origins and methodology of the digitisation project); County Atlases (information on the creation of the 19th century atlases); Search; and Project Credits (a list of the people involved in making the database).
Search gives you two main options: People and Maps. It also includes two new options not found on the home page: FAQ and Abbreviations (useful for interpreting the search results). By clicking on People, you can search by one or more of the following terms: Last Name, County, Township, Town, Birthplace, and Occupation, and whether to restrict your results to an exact match for the last name and to only results with an attached image. By clicking on Maps, you are taken to an interactive map of southern and central Ontario. Click on a county to bring up an interactive map of the county, in which you can find more details maps of individual townships, or choose from a drop-down list of counties, townships, and towns.
The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project is an excellent resource for individuals interested in researching their family history. If you had a male land-owning ancestor living in Ontario between 1874 and 1881, it is worth making a quick search of their last name to see if they are on there. Prominent individuals also paid to have biographical information, business information, and portraits of themselves or their homes included in the atlas, and so it could also provide information on prominent individuals in their communities. The descendants of Loyalists (of particular interest to those of conducting research on British and American colonial history!) can also be found throughout the atlases.
The database clearly shows its age, but the information and images contained within make it worth struggling with the minimal options, buttons, and lack of menus. The search function is fairly straightforward and gives you detailed information (where possible) and results that link directly to a close-up image of their property on the relevant page of the atlas, as well as a zoomed-out image in which to situate the search results.