HomeManitoba AffidavitsAmbiguities and Irregularities in Manitoba Act Affidavits Data

Ambiguities and Irregularities in Manitoba Act Affidavits Data

Both during the creation of the affidavits and the subsequent digitization of this data, there are several sources for the introduction of errors. Ambiguities and irregularities can be introduced into the data from a number of different avenues, including the applicants, the commissioners or clerks, translators, and present-day researchers. For example, if the applicant did not understand the question, did not have the information being requested, or were reluctant to provide certain information, the data extracted from his or her application would not be complete or consistent. Other examples of potential for ambiguous or irregular data include the following: commissioners and/or clerks could have misspelled a name, recorded a wrong date, or omitted certain information they did not deem relevant; translators may have mistranslated information or generalized specific information; and present-day researchers may misread the writing on the original document, mistype information into a database, or enter estimated dates. The time-consuming process of databasing archival documents includes a rigorous system of verification and correction to minimize researcher errors; however, researchers are limited by the quality and condition of the original archival document.

A common irregularity concerns the inconsistent spelling of birth names. French, English, and a variety of Aboriginal languages were used throughout Canada at the time these affidavits were generated. Literacy was not as wide-spread at that time as it is today, and consequently consistent spelling of surnames cannot be expected. It would seem that Commissioners and/or agents often recorded names as they heard them or knew them. An individual could have been identified by more than one last name, since some Métis individuals had an official last name that was different from the name he or she used within his or her community. Furthermore, it is difficult to ascertain whether the last name of a woman written on her affidavit is her maiden or married name unless the last name of her husband or father is provided on her affidavit. 

Another problem occurs when general geographical references are used. The ability to map this data onto contemporary maps is a vital aspect of the research project. Several challenges exists for using place names from archival records: inconsistent spelling, same name for different locales (i.e. Whitefish Lake, St Laurent), same locale but different names, 19th century local names were not always recorded, and names have become obsolete and were replaced.

Finally, dates within the database can be ambiguous. Often, Métis individuals did not know their specific date of birth, marriage, death of a family member, residence, etc, and therefore gave an approximation. Sometimes, specific information was given by the applicant in a non-specific manner, e.g. “My son was born just before the trouble in Red River” could mean that the son was born in 1868, 1869, or even in 1870, depending on which “trouble” the applicant was referring to. In order to represent this information in the database as a date or year, researchers must make educated guesses as to what the applicant is actually referring.