Behind the Scenes: Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics
Are you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next batch of Vital Statistic records to be released? A seasoned researcher will know that we release a new batch of these records every year. Have you ever wondered why they are staggered like this, or why they aren’t released until June? The short answer: it’s a huge amount of work. Darlene has the longer answer, below.
In my 30+ years of working at the Nova Scotia Archives, the most daunting task that I have undertaken is the organization and arrangement of the initial intake of Nova Scotia’s Historical Vital Statistics. In 2004, the Archives became the custodian of all Vital Statistics records (births, marriages, and deaths) prior to 1908. This required Archives staff to collect, index, rehouse, and describe 880,000 records. Preparation for the transfer of these records entailed going to the Vital Statistics office, which was then located at the Joseph Howe Building on Hollis Street. When I arrived at the office I was shown where the records were stored - nearly fainting at the volume! The amount of records was initially overwhelming, but I took a deep breath and came up with my first plan of attack: look at the records and determine how they were organized. Several systems were quickly discovered. The Deaths, located in an old bank vault, were well organized chronologically. Marriages were also fairly well organized, but needed a little attention. It was the Births that would be troublesome.
The Birth records were housed in locked ledgers that could be up to 20 cm thick. Turning a key in the ledger’s spine allowed it to open and close, permitting pages to be added and removed. Within these volumes were Delayed Birth Records, which were not filed chronologically by birth date, but as the births were registered. This meant that a record from the 1840's could come right after one from the 1930's. We were only allowed to take records dated before 1908, so I started meticulously combing through the ledgers and separating all pre-1908 records for archival retention. Once this first chore was completed the records were shipped to the Archives for further sorting and eventual scanning.
Thanks to a 2006 amendment to the Vital Statistics Act, the acquisition of birth, death, and marriage records now happens annually as new records are released to us. Each January we make the trip out to the Nova Scotia Vital Statistics office to acquire the next batch of records. Once we get them to the Archives, it takes three to four months to get the records organized, rehoused -removing paper clips, staples, into acid-free folders and boxes - then prepared for scanning and indexing. I’ll save the details of scanning and indexing for a future blog post!
If you have done any work on your Nova Scotian family history, you've probably used these records. Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics is our most-visited resource, both because of the richness of the information and the ease of the searchable database. The new batches of vital statistic records are released every June, with over 25,000 entries in each batch. This year's offering was released on June 20th. The role out of the new records is always a proud moment for us, and an exciting one for genealogists! Happy Searching!