by Maurice Y. Michaud (he/him)
There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.— David M. Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, 2009
The webmasters of the Memorable Manitobans section of the Manitoba Historical Society website offer this moving quote as their inspiration. Although I did not start this project with that thought in mind, I do believe that this labour of love has become my attempt to recall those persons who forged our political history and to ensure that our history in the making is accurately recorded as it is happening.
My goal, as grandiose as it might be, is to get the exact dates of birth and death, if applicable, of everyone who has a full profile in PoliCan. About 93% of profiles (i.e., 14,385) are for persons who have been classified as "Winners," but the remaining 7% (i.e., 1,136) are profiles for people who have never been elected at the federal or provincial level but were worthy of having one (like a mayor or a perennial candidate).
For all profiles, the date of birth is problematic 2,398 times (or for 15.5% of the profiles), specifically:
→ completely unknown. → 878.
→ partially known. → 1,520.
I can make peace with the idea of not getting this information for the unelected, but not being able to get it for the elected is... driving... me... NUTS! Having said that, I can be reasonable. For people elected 100 years ago or more — that is, say, prior to the 1920s — a year of birth might have to be "good enough." To illustrate...
There's a man named George Crawford who has a winner's profile in PoliCan, even though the last election he won was well before Confederation, namely in 1851 for the seat of Brockville in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. However, he was named to the Senate at the beginning of Confederation and, moreover, he had two sons — James and John — who did get elected to the new House of Commons. If neither the ParlInfo nor Find a Grave websites can tell us more than the fact that "Dad" was born in 1793 in Manorhamilton, County Cavan, Ireland, it's probably safe to say that not even the most intrepid researcher will be able to find a more specific date 230 years later.
In late July 2023, there were about 15,450 detailed profiles within which there were well over 35,500 links to external online documents. For the following three months, aside from daily maitenance and adding new results for seven by-elections and two general elections, I went through each profile. When I started, the birth year was missing or imprecise for 2,613 profiles. By the end of this revision, I had reduced the number without a birth year by 180 and the number with an imprecise birth date by 65, although I also found many imprecise or missing dates of death, and managed to pick up a handful of minor coding mistakes. While I don't regret that effort, the fact I only managed to reduce the number of problematic birth dates by 245— for a net improvement 9.38% — does suggest that getting the rest will be difficult, if not impossible.
For politicians from long ago, the explanation, perhaps, is that the info has been lost through time or, more iikely, it is hidden in difficult-to-access vital statistics records. For example, the Legislative Library of New Brunswick has a "browsable alphabetical database of Members of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick. Each entry includes when possible; elected / defeated / retired / resigned dates, riding, positions held in government, biographical information and pictures." The problem is that this database, whose description almost has me drooling, is in-house. It took my friend Brad's sleuthing abilities to find the info for just one of those New Brunswick MLAs for whom I had nothing: Hiram Dow. Brad even sent me a selfie with his dog Chester next to Dow's grave.
But what baffles me is that it's often harder to find that info for people who have been elected in the last decade or two. Of the 1,107 currently in office, the date of birth is only an estimate for 245 of them, and it's completely missing for 360 of them, for a total of 605 problem cases (or about 55% of people currently in office). Friends who have supported me through this project have wondered, especially with regards to politicians who are still alive, if privacy laws might explain why this info can sometimes be hard to find, but I don't buy that argument. In some jurisdictions, elected politicians must divulge their assets and liabilities (with exact numbers redacted when posted publicly) and the financial institutions in which those are held, so one's date of birth seems like a trivial bit of info in comparison.
My minimum threshold is this: Although I am identifying 2,398 profiles as problematic in terms of the subject's date of birth, the emphasis needs to be placed on 32.5% of those — the 780 elected for whom not even the year of birth is known, of which 46.2% (or 360) are currently in office.
When I will have implemented "The Friends of PoliCan," they will have an interface in this website to submit to me their findings, but for now, you can already search for those persons who are driving me (a little bit more) insane, and you can email me any info you can uncover, with supporting evidence that can be attached to the person's profile. I am assuming you have easier access to information pertaining to your own province, so the filters should help you focus.
There are two categories of people who bedevil me. The first and larger, which I consider a priority, is the one for those whose date of birth is either unknown or only estimated. The second and smaller, which is less of a priority because it is strange and likely much more difficult to resolve, is the one for those whose date of birth is known but not their date of death (and, given the former date, they most certainly are dead). Although most of those in this second category have been classified in the 93% group ("Elected"), I am less concerned because their date of birth is more significant (e.g., to figure out their age at election, etc.). All that being said, I will be adding a "little hope of getting more info" field to profiles so that we can weed out those for which... well, we will have tried but won't get more.
First category: Incomplete birth dates