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  • Writer's pictureColleen Murray

Free access to The Catholic Register

I will admit that I had no knowledge of The Catholic Register newspaper prior to learning that they were offering free access to their publication to mark their 125th birthday. As it turns out, this is an excellent resource for Catholic-Canadian Genealogy.

I was uncertain as to whether The Catholic Register would offer only news of the church, and therefore whether it would be useful in finding genealogical information on my family. Although there are plenty of details on church events, Catholic clubs, and Bishops’ opinions on a variety of topics, the early Register was first and foremost a newspaper. The digitized copies begin in 1893, and early subjects include obituaries, articles on world events, fictional stories, articles on “women’s topics”, and the usual advertisements for corsets and medicinal cures.

The newspaper was Toronto-based, and so the bulk of the personal news relevant to genealogy centers around Toronto. My Peterborough ancestors featured occasionally in obituaries, but generally only those appeared who were heavily involved in the church, probably because they were subscribers to the paper. From the searching I’ve done so far, my French-Canadian ancestors do not appear in the newspaper. Although there are some French-Canadians mentioned from time to time, as an English-language newspaper, their target audience was the English-speaking Catholics in the area, especially the Irish. My ancestors featured in articles listing donors who contributed to the Irish Home Rule fund (The Irish Parliamentary Fund). These lists were obviously used to drum up support from those who had not yet donated, who saw the names of their friends and neighbours who had. Today, however, these sorts of lists provide me with an interesting perspective on my ancestors, including information on their opinions and finances.

In addition to news on ancestors in Canada, you may find information on relatives who stayed in Ireland. Many of the issues dedicated a page to news from Ireland, divided up by Irish County. This must have been one way that Irish immigrants kept up with what was going on back home.

The OCR technology that is used to read and index newspapers can sometimes be challenged by the deterioration or poor quality of old newspapers. The quality of the surviving Catholic Registers seems quite good, and so the OCR technology does a good job in identifying individual keywords. However, when you click on the newspapers to view the original articles, the located keywords are not highlighted, meaning you would need to read the whole page of the newspaper to find exactly where your keyword features. Luckily, since the newspapers are PDFs, once you get to the newspaper view, simply use your search function (Command F on my Mac), enter the keyword again, and it will highlight every use of that keyword that has been identified within that issue. Although I’m sure the OCR indexing isn’t perfect, in my experience so far, it is better than most.

The Catholic Register is giving away free digital edition subscriptions until March 5th, as a celebration of their 125th birthday. No credit card needs to be entered, so there is no risk of auto-renewal if you don’t wish to continue a subscription after the free trial ends.

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