Researchers increasingly use millions of individual-level records to construct new social understandings in which individuals contribute to the emergence of broad processes and structures, and collective patterns condition individual experience. The new digital resources are even more useful if we can identify the same person in different record collections. Recognizing the same person in multiple sources, over and over for many different people, provides rich evidence about social mobility in the past and the origins of social inequality (Long and Ferrie 2013). Tracing the life outcomes for children of poor mothers who received social support allows us to understand the impact of the first social welfare programmes on the working lives, health, prosperity and longevity of both mothers and their children (Aizner et al 2017). Examining victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic in earlier censuses provides insight into which kinds of people and households were at greatest risk of premature death (Gagnon et al 2015).

Integrating long-term or historical data is particularly challenging. In a world before universal personal identification numbers, by what methods do we link, systematically, the records of people in one source with a different set of records describing some or all of the same people? This workshop for brings together researchers from History, Economics, Geography and Computing Science to exchange and advance knowledge about linking strategies and the use of linked data. Some papers at the workshop will explore new techniques to accomplish this, other papers will discuss metrics to assess the quality of the linked data, and yet other papers will illustrate what can be learned from a methodologically-sensitive use of the linked data. We also consider the institutional and policy commitments needed by Canadians to build and sustain national data infrastructure in this area.

The organizing committee for The Systematic Linking of Historical Records consists of: Luiza Antonie (U of Guelph), Peter Baskerville (U of Alberta), Kris Inwood (U of Guelph), Kees Mandemakers (International Institute of Social History), Hamish Maxwell-Stewart (U of Tasmania), Gunnar Thorvaldsen (Norwegian Historical Data Centre). The College of Arts and College of Business and Economics, the Departments of History and of Economics, and the School of Computing Science at the University of Guelph provide generous financial support.