By Adam A., Archives Assistant Student
Hello reader. I am Adam, the third summer student working at the Oshawa Museum. This is my first summer as an employee here; however I am very familiar with the museum as I have been a somewhat regular volunteer since 2016. Despite this I am still enjoying many new experiences; I have found leading tours to be particularly exciting and fulfilling. At the end of the summer I will return to Trent University Peterborough for the fourth and final year of my degree in History and Media Studies, and so I am eager to get as much experience out of this position as possible.
As the Archives Assistant I spend most of my time in the frigid back area of Guy House, where I work closely with Jenn, and (due to space constraints) shoulder to shoulder with Mia, the writer and subject of the previous Student Museum Musing. My work has largely been directed towards the organization and digitization of the archives. Recently I completed a new and improved finding aid for the contents of our Map Boxes (which also contain schematics!). Prior to that, I was tasked with digitizing the contents of our Photo Albums. However both of those tasks were quick and easy compared to my present task of transcribing the Oshawa Vindicator’s Births, Marriages, and Obituaries from 1863-1871, which I have been working on intermittently since the start of my employment with the Museum.
Despite having thus far transcribed more than 23 thousand words at the time of my writing this, I am still only a little over halfway through the task, and it has granted a strange insight to the past. Most of the individual entries are very short, often even abandoning grammatical standards in pursuit of brevity. There are some exceptions, such as the essay length obituary of Mr. Justice Connor, a former Lawyer and Member of the Parliament of Canada West, but most of what I’ve learned has come from the shorter ones. The first thing I had to learn was how to read them, as previously mentioned they tended to not follow grammatical norms. Instead they roughly adhere to the same formats, for instance all birth records are “[Place], [day of week], [date], the wife of Mr. [First and Last names of husband], of [a son/a daughter/twins].” These records also make copious use of abbreviations and acronyms, some more common ones being: inst. (Instant: the current month), ult. (Ultimo: the previous month), C. W.(Canada West: The portion of the Province of Canada which later became Ontario), Esq. (Esquire: a courtesy title). In addition to those it also occasionally abbreviates given names such as Thomas becoming “Thos” or William becoming “Wm.”
Furthermore, on the rare instances when it does list a cause of death it often uses an antiquated medical term like “water on the brain” or “enlargement of the heart”. On the topic of deaths it can be somewhat unsettling to see a familiar name listed amongst the obituaries, such as a priest who performed many marriages, in a way the obituaries allow one to see the blows a community sustains. Even more unsettling is number of children and infants. I had known from previous studies that infant and child mortality rates were through the roof prior to modern medicine, but I did not fully grasp what this meant until now, as those aged less than 10 will usually account for at least half the obituaries on any given week. It suffices to say that this has served as a good reminder that I am lucky to only be studying and helping others learn about the past, rather than actually living back then.
Read these obituaries and other historical newspaper articles by checking out http://communitydigitalarchives.com/newspapers.html