Saturday, 7 December 2013

Family History

I sat down to work on some sewing the other evening with the idea of finishing off a Christmas project and then making cookies afterward. I relish having free evenings like that, because they don't happen often. Usually there's piano lessons or band practice or somewhere my son needs a ride to. A few minutes after I sat down, my husband's music student arrived and my husband, who was trying to slip in a little genealogical research online, went to teach the music lesson and asked me to please just finish looking at this one Web page for him and then shut the computer down. So I set aside my sewing and went to finish the little research task for him.

About two hours later I realized I was still online, cookies unmade, sewing abandoned, and bedtime approaching. I had gotten hooked instantly and had spent the evening plowing through buckets of stuff on and filling pages and pages with notes. I managed to find the maiden name and parents' names of my husband's great-great-grandmother, something he'd been hoping to find for a long time. I might have found her husband's immigration record, though that still has to be verified. And I had unearthed a family puzzle: a Theobald marrying a Theobald. Cousins, one assumes...

When I was about thirteen or fourteen, family history was my passion. I spent hours at the library looking at microfiche and copying down the research my parents' families had already done. That's about the time when I developed a love of bagpipes and all things Celtic. I ended up playing the pipes, doing a semester in Wales to learn Welsh, and marrying a piper. If you think about it, the whole course of my life was affected by my interest in genealogy.

I've found some interesting stories along the way. There's the ancestor who got hit by a train and wasn't found for three days. There's the one who sang for Queen Victoria, and the one who sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (now why didn't I inherit those genes?). On my husband's side the stories are a bit wilder. There's the man who fell off a hay wagon onto a pitchfork and took two agonizing months to die. There are the illegitimate children, the orphaned Bernardos children, the grandmother who chased away a bear with a broom, the grandfather arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, the one who got drunk and shot holes in the laundry with a rifle as his wife was hanging it out on the line to dry. Boy, life seems kinda boring nowadays in comparison, doesn't it?

Over the years I've tried to make time to follow the family history passion. My office is next door to the Provincial Archives, so I can fit in research on my lunch hour. We've spent many a weekend poking through old cemeteries around Ontario while our children ate fried chicken and played Frisbee among the headstones. We put together extensive books about the family and organized reunions with long-lost relatives. I even wrote a fiction novel based on my husband's great-grandmother (The Ties that Bind). Now that my kids are older and I have more free time, I hope to do even more. My family is out there waiting for me to find them. And finding them teaches me more about myself.

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