The first page of 1921 national census shows details of Saanich residents.

Mysteries of Saanich generations past uncovered

Ancient census data helps Saanich historians recreate neighbourhoods

Kept under lock and key for 92 years, the 1921 national census was released this summer by Library and Archives Canada.

The dense historical information, handwritten on nearly 200,000 individual pieces of paper, is providing Saanich Archives – and other similar organizations Canada-wide – with a monumental task.

“It’s difficult for people to manoeuvre their way through the image files and find who they’re looking for,” said Saanich archivist Caroline Duncan. “What we want to do is find all the census information for Saanich, transcribe it and enter it into an Excel spreadsheet so people can search through the data.”

For Saanich – in 1921 it was divided into seven wards – there are 215 pages needing to be digitized. Each contains details about 50 residents, including their name, age, country of birth, year of immigration, occupation and ability to read and write.

In total, enumerators in 1921 asked 35 different questions of Canadians.

There are also still pages left to be transcribed from the 1911 census, released a decade ago, Duncan said. “We want to tackle these two in tandem. This project ties in with our upcoming (project), ‘Saanich Remembers World War One.’”

“The census data allows us to see a picture of Saanich in 1911, a family in 1911, and we can see from attestation papers that a member of that family left Saanich and served in World War One. Then we can look at that family again in 1921.”

Digitizing the information will allow genealogists and historians to search the Saanich information by name or neighbourhood, making it easier to wade through and find information.

Saanich Archives is looking for residents to volunteer to transcribe the census images. Interested parties must have access to a home computer and should have experience using Microsoft Excel.

“By doing this ourselves and allowing local people to transcribe the information, people can connect to their neighbourhood and develop a sense of appreciation of the history of the neighbourhood,” Duncan said.

“Saanich already has a really strong sense of community and by working on a project like this, volunteering, people can really build on that.”

The archives will host an orientation session this month to outline, step-by-step, how to read the handwritten information and properly transcribe it.

For more information or to volunteer, contact Duncan at archives@saanich.ca.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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