Friday, 16 August 2019

Director's Cut: Microfilm is the Reel Deal

When I started working at ARCAT, one of the first collections I really had to understand and be able to use was the Parish Sacramental Records on microfilm. This resource contains the information needed to answer the most commonly asked questions received by our office.

In 1964, Baptism, Marriage, Confirmation, First Communion and Death records of each parish in the Archdiocese of Toronto were microfilmed so that copies of these records could be retained by the Chancery. The copies were updated several times between 1964 and 1983. In order to ensure that updates would occur regularly, the Archives began a five year cyclical microfilm program in 1993. The Parish Sacramental Records Microfilm Program ensures that the Archdiocese of Toronto is maintaining a backup copy of our most vital records. You can find out more about the program here.

Photograph of 1863 Baptisms in the original 1850-1901 Baptism and Marriage Register of St. John Chrysostom Parish, Newmarket

Accession 2010-009

ARCAT Staff Photo

Photograph of the microfilm copy created in 1964 of the same page of 1863 Baptisms from the 1850-1901 Baptism and Marriage Register of St. John Chrysostom Parish, Newmarket

ARCAT Staff Photo

Why Microfilm?

We are often asked why we still use microfilm technology for this program with the plethora of digital solutions available. The answers are simple: digital records are even more fragile than the original handwritten registers, and technology is constantly changing.

One analogy I use to illustrate digital fragility is this: imagine taking a pen with a sharp tip and deliberately slashing across a page of a paper sacramental register. You may have marred a letter or two, but overall the information on that page and in the rest of the book will still be completely legible. If you did the same thing to a strip of microfilm, you may have to repair the affected area and you will likely have trouble making out a word or two on the page, but again, overall the information is still intact. Now, imagine slashing a disc or other electronic storage media with a sharp object. You may have gotten lucky and only corrupted one record or one image of a whole page; but, the more likely scenario is that you have rendered the entirety of the information stored on that media inaccessible or indecipherable.

Furthermore, accessing the records becomes increasingly complicated as you upgrade technologies. So many things have to work in order to view electronic records, with the most basic need being electricity; in a power outage, microfilm could, if necessary, be read with a light source and a magnifying glass. The equipment and programs used to create, store, and use digital material change very rapidly and older technologies quickly become obsolete. To save information long term, it needs to be constantly migrated to new digital formats and new hardware. So, if you were to scan a baptism record from today, there is no guarantee that the information from the digital copy will be accessible by the time the child is requesting a copy for their First Communion, let alone their Confirmation or their Marriage perhaps 20 years from now. Sometimes, as in the case of microfilm technology, the simpler solution is the longest lasting.

As with most things in archives (and life for that matter!), context is key. The purpose for creating the copy needs to be the first thing you consider when deciding the method you will use for your program or project. While electronic copies of the records do indeed facilitate the sharing of information for day-to-day administrative purposes, they are not the best solution for long-term storage. The primary purpose of our Parish Sacramental Records Microfilm Program is to create a backup copy of our organization's most vital records, so the copy needs to be considered as stable and viable in the long-term as the original. Microfilm will easily last as long as the original sacramental registers, and it is even harder to destroy than paper.

Another benefit of microfilm is that you are not limited to that format alone once the process is complete. Digitizing microfilm is a fairly simple process with the right scanning equipment. There are dioceses running similar programs who have chosen to have their vendor create both a microfilm copy of the sacramental records as the vital records backup and digital images for simplicity of access at the same time.

One of the most satisfying outcomes of this program is that the Archives staff are able to use the microfilm copies to facilitate searches for sacramental records when individuals don't know where their sacraments took place. For more information on how we conduct searches for a sacramental record, please see here. Our reference statistics consistently show that sacramental records searches make up almost 1/3 of our total reference requests and nearly 50% of our external reference requests.

So, the next time you think analog technology is dead… just remember that when archivists are thinking in the long-term, we aren’t thinking about 5 or 10 years from now. We are considering how to keep important information accessible for as long as possible: as in 500 or 10,000 years from now!

Gillian Hearns, Director of Archives and Privacy Officer, viewing the microfilm.

ARCAT Staff Photo 

Friday, 2 August 2019

The Archdiocese goes to the Ex

The opening day of the 140th Canadian National Exhibition is only a couple of weeks away. As we look to enjoy the final weeks of summer, we wanted to share some ephemera and correspondence about the C.N.E. from our collection.

Cardinal McGuigan and Archbishop Pocock were often invited to attend the inaugural day ceremonies and accompanying luncheons during their Episcopacy. Busy schedules (and later in life declining health) meant they often declined the invitations, yet we know that Archbishop Pocock attended at least a couple of the opening day celebrations.

Archbishop Pocock sits third from right at the opening day ceremonies
at the CNE bandshell, August 15, 1974


In 1965, the organizers must have realized that the head of the Catholic Archdiocese would not very well be bringing a wife to the event. "Lady" is crossed out and "Guest" added in. Cardinal McGuigan would have had to decline the invite due to his declining health.

Invitation to attend the inaugural ceremonies, 1965, addressed to Cardinal McGuigan

ARCAT Chancery Office Files : Canadian National Exhibition

Archbishop Pocock was invited to attend on opening day in 1969 when he was still Coadjutor Archbishop. He agreed to say grace before the luncheon that day and we have a draft of the prayer he intended to say along with a letter from the President of the C.N.E. expressing his thanks.

 "Eternal Father, gathered here to open the ninety-first Canadian National Exhibition we humbly offer you our thanks for all the blessings you have given to our beloved country; the beauty of its landscapes, the richness of its soil, the wealth of its resources, the dreams and sacrifices of its founders, the dedications of its leaders and of all who try courageously to guide it towards its destiny in justice, in unity and in peace. we thank you above all for our spiritual heritage, our faith and our dependence on you, our Lord and creator.

We ask your forgiveness for our shortcomings and we earnestly ask you to make of us a free people; free of selfishness, free of discrimination, free of greed, free of separation one from another.

On these historic grounds we now place on display the first fruits of our minds, our hearts and our hands; the achievements of the arts, of science, of industry and of agriculture. All of these we offer to you, our Lord and Master, with the earnest prayer that we may use our talents and resources in your service and in the service of your people here in Canada and throughout the world.

As you have blessed us so abundantly, so make of us a people dedicated to the highest ideals of social justice, of mutual understanding and love and grant us the effective determination to live at peace among ourselves and with all nations. This we humbly ask in your holy name. Amen."

ARCAT Chancery Files: Canadian National Exhibition

The Archdiocese also ran a Catholic Church Exhibit for the C.N.E. at least once. This pamphlet from the exhibit is from 1964 shows what the exhibit would have looked like. Interesting items on display include the sandals worn by Pope John at his coronation.

ARCAT Chancery Files: Canadian National Exhibition