There is a world to discover out there! This project has only begun to document the more than 600 stories of United Church Deaconesses. In addition to sharing with us what you already know about any of the women identified in this site, your research into individual women, or the ministries where they served would be most welcome. PLEASE, share the results of your research and any original documents you may come across or copy, including photos. Please also ensure that you have obtained the permission necessary for posting biographies and other documents on the website.
Please contact Caryn Douglas (Contact Us) to discuss possible research subjects. There might be some snippets of information to share which could help launch your research as well. She is also VERY WILLING to give you specific suggestions on where to look for information for your subject.
Below are some research methods to consider:
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- The Internet
- Call for Information
Take a good look around at the resources available here. As the site is under construction, come back later to see what might be new. Under the RESOURCE tab in both Original Documents and Resources there are some basic historic documents which can help to orient you. Many women are mentioned in the Historic Newsletter of the Association of Professional Church Workers, it is a good place to start. Check to see if her yearbook or graduation bulletin is posted, for example. A biography from a contemporary of your subject, or from the same geography might give you some background. A bibliography of additional resources will be appearing soon!
Search for the woman by name. If it is a relatively unique name that helps. Try including “deaconess” in the search. Try searching for “Miss Jones deaconess”, often in early years the women were addressed only as Miss. If you know where she was born or raised try searching for her surname and the town. If she marries search under her husband’s name. If you find any other family, search for them.
Search the places that she worked. A search on the mission or congregation might reveal something.
Search for context. For example, if she was in Regina in the early part of the 20th century, see if there is a website on Regina’s history, perhaps a history in pictures. A case in point is Jean McClelland Menzies who arrived in Regina in 1913 after a catastrophic tornado leveled much of the city. Following up with a search on that storm helped in constructing the context for her first year of ministry. (Her profile) Let your curiosity take you from one place to another. Don’t forget to keep good records of the sites so you can easily find them again for future reference.
Search Genealogical Sites There are many sites providing resources for genealogical study. A quick google search will bring up the big ones, such as Ancestory. Some have a limited search function for free, but require membership to do more advanced searching. Sometimes there are free trial memberships, offered periodically. Take advantage of those if you are only wanting to search on one individual. Another option is to use these sites and other databases from the library or some archives, where access is free.
Archives are a remarkable source of data. Unfortunately only some of the holdings in most archives are catalogued on line, although they are increasing. There are National and Conference Archives in the United Church (click here for a list). Contact them in advance to discuss your interest and they may be able to help focus your search. Some of the archivists are very familiar with the holdings and may be able to direct you to material.
The cataloging system is different in each archive so you will need help finding things. That is customary and the archivist expects you to need assistance. Here is the best advice: take good notes and be precise about where you found material. It can be really hard to go back and find something when you have looked through mountains of paper! Keep records of all the boxes and files you have examined too, so you are not duplicating your effort.
You can arrange to have copies (either scanned for pictures or photocopied) made of things. There is a cost and this varies from archive to archive (from $1.00 per page at the National Archives, to .25 per page at some Conference archives, and scans range from $15 to $50 or more). Here is another hint: When your picture or copies are delivered they will only be identified by acquisition number, so when you order the copies make very good notes about your request. Record the acquisition number and any other information needed to identify the copies and their context. For example if you are getting a few pages from a book, also get the title page copied; if you are getting pictures of several church buildings be sure to record which building has which acquisition number, this will save you hours of time later when you can’t identify which building is which!. Another hint: don’t let the cost put you off from copying all the material that you think you may need. Consider the cost of having to return to the archive, and your time when weighing the cost of getting the information that you need.
PLEASE, if you do get copies made of documents, such as, for example, The Woman’s Missionary Societies, Missionary Monthly, August 1943, consider sending one to us. As long as the document is in the public domain, and appropriate to UCC Deaconess History, we will post it on this site making it accessible for future researchers. If you are able to do this you will not need to wait until you get to heaven to have your reward. We will thank you profusely.
Toronto Archives The General Council (National) Archives, and those for Toronto, London, Bay of Quinte, Hamilton and Manitou Conferences are located together in Toronto. You can search their general catalogue through
and their picture catalogue through
These search engines are not entirely user friendly, but they can help. Be imaginative in keywords, the system is very inconsistent. If you find material that is incorrectly labelled (there are fonds identified as Deaconess which aren’t and there are fonds for Deaconesses that don’t have that keyword, for example) make a note and let the archivist know. They are interesting in making their records more accurate.
Personnel Files Church archives have Personnel Files, that may or may not be included in the online catalogue. Ask if there is a personnel file for your subject. Some of the files are public and some are restricted. If there is a restricted file discuss this with the archivist. They may allow you to examine it under certain conditions.
Some congregations have an archive and an individual or committee of archivists or historians. Congregational histories can be an excellent source of information about individuals and about the context of their ministry. Don’t forget to ask if there are pictures on the wall of women who worked there, or who might have been a candidate from that congregation. If the woman served overseas, check to see if there are gifts that she sent back which might be on display.
Churches often have copies of General Council Yearbooks, General Council Record of Proceedings, Conference Directories, Conference Annual Meeting Record of Proceedings, and other church publications. These books are also available in the archives but might be more easily accessed through a congregation.
The Centre for Christian Studies has vertical files called “Persons Files” and may have some information. The also have holdings in their library on diaconal ministry and diaconal ministers. (Centre for Christian Studies Library) Other theological libraries have similar kinds of resources. In addition, they may have Church records (such as those mentioned above) and other church publications which could be borrowed or copied.
Public archives may have holdings on individuals, or the ministries in which women worked. Check online as some have pictures available that way. Some public archives allow you to photocopy and scan equipment to use yourself, which can be less expense. They may also have computers for public access to genealogy sites and databases such as census records.
Canadian Theses can be searched through the National Library Website. More recent ones are available electronically in full text.
Theological School Libraries are mentioned above. Public libraries may have some resources. Check out the main reference library in cities. They often have vertical files and clipping files. If the woman or her work site is notable in some way (for example if it is a heritage building, or an inner city mission, if she won a public award) there could be holdings. Church libraries are another source.
University and Public libraries also provide access to electronic databases where you could search for scholarly articles related to your subject, their work or their work context. For example, if she served in an overseas mission, search for articles on missionary work in that country. Ask the librarian for assistance.
Interviews can be conducted on the phone, via email or in person. If your subject is deceased you may be able to interview people who knew her. There are lots of resources on oral history to support this research method.
Call for Information or Crowd Sourcing
Utilize the internet, including Facebook and other networks like congregational, Conference or Presbytery mailing lists and newsletters to seek out information. Be prepared for the response, it might surprise you.