Exploring History

Shaking the family tree

It is said we need to study the past in order to understand the present, and to prepare for the future.

Many believe that. As kids we get a healthy dose of history in school and all the way through the grades.

We study B.C. history, Canadian history, Roman history, world history and more wars than you can shake a stick at. It’s amazing what the university history departments now offer; the history of sport, of witchcraft, of sexuality. You name it and someone’s probably studied the history of it.

As we leave academia behind, many of us become enamoured with local history. Most communities have museums and/or archives. Books about local communities tend to sell well within the community.

Taking this look at history down another notch and getting personal, many of us want to know where we came from. The cabbage patch or the stork brought you might suffice for a few years, but once we get past where babies come from, we want to know more.

Why people get excited about genealogy is a bit of a mystery. If you’re intrigued about the history of sewing machines, it’s probably because you’re interested in sewing or you collect old machines.

Why you would want to know who your 14th great-grandparent was isn’t as obvious.

There seems to be three or four different interests of those who get enticed by this hobby. Some are hoping to find that we have a famous ancestor or two. Others are more interested in connecting with second, third or even more distant cousins. There’s a group who find enjoyment in learning that they share a great grandparent with famous people. The largest group studying genealogy is probably those of us that just want to discover our roots and distant nationalities.

The Internet is really helpful for those who research their ancestry.

There are free websites and pay websites, both with vast databases. Most have message boards filed under family names. In my case, I left a message with my great-grandfather’s name, birth date and the names of all his siblings. My father’s family had emigrated from Sweden. About three years later, I received an e-mail from Bo Noflanders, a Swedish genealogist, who was related to me by a half-brother in the 1600s. Bo was able to send me the family tree back to the year 1425 for my Dad’s father. It was written in Swedish, but not too hard to read. I was able to send Bo some more recent family history on our side along with a photo, which he published in the Swedish Genealogy Society magazine.

My other three grandparents didn’t prove too easy to trace. Fortunately, my cousin, who is also bitten by this bug, finally found the name of my mother’s great grandmother.

It turns out that her family members were early pioneers in Virginia and Indiana, and had fought in the American Independence Revolution of 1776.

In 1981 many members of this family still lived in the same area and they formed the Nail-Ray Family Association, whose purpose was to research our family history and reach out to distant cousins like myself.

They meet yearly and do historical tours and share research findings. In 1982, there were 12 of them, now there’s more than 100 getting together to “shake the family tree” as they like to put it.

The work these people have done is truly amazing and has made tracing more of my roots easy for an armchair genealogist like myself.

We do have a bunch of famous ancestors, but I got more enjoyment finding out that my great (x5) grandfather grew up on the property next to and hunted with Daniel Boone.

Many towns, and cities and churches are now posting online lists of births, deaths and marriages from their early days. This is often done by historical groups and chambers of commerce. Why?  One reason is because it fuels tourism. People like to retrace the roots of their family and visit places previous generations lived. It can be a profound experience to walk the trails blazed by our forefathers.