Qualicum Beach Family History Society volunteer Liz Clapp reads off one of the obituaries while Leslie MacDonald enters the obituary information into the society’s database. The society has been working to digitize The NEWS’ obituaries over the last 10 weeks. — Lauren Collins photo

Qualicum Beach Family History Society ‘plugging the gap’ in local history

Volunteers have been digitizing local obituaries

After looking at more than 1,000 obituaries, Joe Forsyth has noticed a few trends.

“It’s interesting how many people have had more than one spouse,” he said. “Not every spouse gets a full mention. It’ll say, ‘predeceased by her first husband,’ that’s it, and ‘survived by her loving husband, John.’ Who was the first husband?”

Forsyth, and a handful of volunteers with the Qualicum Beach Family History Society, have spent the last 10 weeks digitizing The NEWS’ published obituaries from 2002 back to 1998. Forsyth said they’re halfway through the work now, with obituaries from 1997 back to 1992 left to be digitized.

“We’re doing 1997 now and we’ve got just over 1,000 online,” Forsyth said. “It’s slowed down now because we’re into summer. It’s going to take longer to do the second half, but they’ve done amazingly well.”

Forsyth said he got the idea for this project from the family history society, which has spent three years photographing all the headstones in the area and posting them online to canadianheadstones.com/bc.

“People saw a headstone for their ancestor or someone they knew of and they would write to us and say, ‘We saw the headstone, thank you very much for photographing it. Have you got any more information about this person?’”

But the society would only have information if the person was famous or a local pioneer, Forsyth said.

“If the person died after 2002, there’s a good chance you can find something out. If they died before that, game over,” he said.

After contacting The NEWS, Forsyth was told the paper’s archives had been bound and donated to the Parksville Museum.

He then asked the museum if they would loan the society the bound copies of the papers dating back to 1992 to work on digitizing the obituaries.

The museum agreed, Forsyth said, and the society began its work.

“It’s been fairly painless,” he said. “Basically, we have two people who work as a team; one reads the obituary and the other types it into the database then the person who’s reading can see it on the screen.”

Forsyth said at the end of each session, the teams will submit the work which will then be sent to the webmaster to be put on an excel spreadsheet, with Forsyth giving the work a final check.

Leslie MacDonald and Liz Clapp, two of the volunteers working on Tuesday, July 4, said the volunteers realized they had to start looking through each page of each edition because they began noticing a few “renegade obituaries.”

Each obituary entry into the system includes the last name of the deceased, first name, maiden name (if it was a woman), obituary date, date of death, date of birth, burial place and name of spouse if there was one.

“I am surprised at the number of times that they don’t mention the husband or wife of the person who’s died,” Forsyth said. “It will say, ‘Joe died and something about his life and his children and grandchildren, and the wife doesn’t get a mention or the husband doesn’t get a mention. You kind of wonder what’s the family dynamic there.”

Forsyth also said a lot of obituaries don’t include date of birth and “probably 10 per cent” don’t include the date of death.

By combining this work with the headstone photographs, Forsyth said the family history society is “plugging the gap” for relatives of people who died in this area.

To see the work the family history society has been doing, visit www.qbfhs.ca and look under the tab ‘Genealogy Toolbox.’