My family tree was a fascinating project, though not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. (Intrusive note: This was before the Internet provided historical information and genealogical lines. Everything had to be done by snail mail.) Originally, I was apprehensive about finding skeletons hidden in our family closet. It can be both humbling and a source of pride to learn your origins. It gave new meaning to the phrase, “You’ve come a long way baby.” when I learned one great grandfather was a gelder.
My husband doesn’t seem to have inherited many of his ancestor’s characteristics. One of his great-grandfathers was a scavenger and yet I can’t convince him to wash out the milk bags for reuse. Several were blacksmiths, yet he’ll only put a carrot on the fence for a horse because it slobbers when it eats from his hand. One great grandfather was a lighthouse keeper, which may be why it was so easy to convince him that changing burned-out bulbs was his job. Then again, several were domestic servants and that skill seems to have gone by the way of the dinosaur.
Many of my ancestors were well known for the determination, strength of character, and powerful tempers. A great grandfather used his squaring axe m split the bar of a local tavern with one massive chop. I guess the beer was warm. He was well known for the quality of his work and his temper. My husband always nods when I share these discoveries and makes no comment. They were laborers of the earth, miners, farmers, and lumbermen. This may explain why I keep digging up portions of the lawn for new areas to grow weeds.
One thing that always scratched at my mind was, why did the different lines in my family come to Canada? Don’t get me wrong. I love this country. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. But leaving a small island with hundreds of years of family history for one of the biggest wildernesses in the world seems rather drastic.
My family started arriving in 1775. No one came for Klondike gold. They would have been happy if the mice had left them a few potatoes. This does give me leverage with my son. “Eat your vegetables, dear, and be grateful you didn’t have to fight the mice for them like your great great great great uncle did. You could be reduced to eating boiled beech leaves instead.”
History offers some hints as to why they took the great risk. The Highland closures, the Napoleonic wars, and widespread famines may have encouraged them to ride overcrowded and under stocked ships. What would it take to make me leave my home for a wild, strange place where people did not speak my language? Yonge Street doesn’t count.
I would have to resign myself to be permanently lost. I still use a city map when I venture off the main roads in my own city. I’d have to build up those walking muscles, since I couldn’t carve a canoe out of a tree without power tools and probably not even with. My family would have to get used to living off lettuce, beans, and zucchini since those are the only vegetables I have any real success growing.
One thing I would do though, is leave a record of my birthplace for future generations. Genealogists know that family lines are also often lost when emigration occurs. In Canada, a country where provinces are generally larger than most European countries, a movement from west to east can even cloud the trail. I truly appreciate that back in the days of letter writing, people generally wrote the full date in the place the letter originated from. Today’s generation isn’t as meticulous. Their great-grandchildren will not thank them for.
“Oh, look,” one will say. “A letter written by great Nana so-and-so. September 5. Most of it is smudged. Written with the blue felt marker. She mentions treeplanting. Do you think that’s when she lived in the country? Or during her protest years?
More and more people send letters by computer. Unless the recipient prints them out saves them, as unlikely as Sea World setting Shamu free to live with Willy, there will be no record once the delete key is pressed.
Remember 45 records and tapes and singletrack Betamax? What if you want to access something that is recorded on these devices? You shrug, that’s what. The hardware is becoming nonexistent. What will happen when our descendents want to access all the family records now on Mac and Apple and IBM?
“I saw an actual disk drive at an antique sale,” T.J. Jones IV will say. “If only I had access to some old-fashioned electricity.
I wonder if he’ll force his children to eat their food crystals by saying, “Clean up your plate and be grateful you didn’t have to face an actual checkout line to get it like your great great great great grandmother.”
August 1, 1993
Chronical-Journal Regional Newspaper