Over the past 30 years, I've done an extensive genealogical search and have completed my family tree as far back as I can. I was inspired in this effort by my grandmother Dora, who died last year. She had an impeccable memory and loved to talk about family connections in the rural area where she spent her entire life.
It was her conversations with my mother (who is also a wealth of local family knowledge!) that got me started, in my childhood, documenting their memories and then wondering about the people who came before.
The oldest branch I've tracked on my family tree goes to 1590 in England (an 11th great grandfather), while others extend back to Wales (1749), Scotland (1755) and Ireland (1700).
Much of my family tree has been relatively easy to track since almost all the various branches of my ancestors eventually settled in the same (nearby) small towns in eastern Canada in the 1700's and 1800's. Thus several generations were raised in that same area and many recorded sometimes detailed family histories. So the area where I grew up was home to my ancestors for 100 to 200 (or more) years.
It was interesting to learn that the earliest contingent of my ancestors came from Britain in the 1600's and settled in Massachusetts (mainly Topsfield, Ipswich and Lynn). I have not researched their arrival (by boat from England), but they lived in this area for a few generations before coming to Canada in the mid 1700's. A few others arrived in Connecticut and came to Canada via New York and New Jersey.
Some notes from my myriad files
Several of my ancestors who arrived in the US fought in the American Revolution (on the American side). They later came to Canada, still part of the British Empire, as "Loyalists" (loyal to the British crown).
Notes from a local genealogist "back home" (Olive Long) who died last year. I got a ton of great information from her.
All my remaining ancestors arrived directly in eastern Canada in the mid 1700's and 1800's from the British isles - England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. There is a fascinating variety of stories and places of origin amongst these early settlers.
My grandmother Dora (left) with her mother Minnie Murphy and sister Georgia (who died as a child). My grandmother inspired my interest in my family tree. Minnie's ancestry was Irish - she died when my grandmother was only 18. My grandmother's father was Welsh - he died when my grandmother was almost 3. I think my beloved grandmother clung to family so much because her own parents died when she was so very young.
Naturally, like any good family historian, I've looked for juicy gossip in the family tree.
Sadly, I didn't really find much family dirt, but I did come across a few interesting tidbits:
- There's only one non-British person in my as-documented family tree. This is a fourth great-grandmother, from the Netherlands!
- My fifth-great grandfather was Inuit (of Dorset descent). The Inuit are a distinct group of aboriginal Canadians. His wife settled briefly in Newfoundland after her arrival (with her parents) from England and they married. I thought it was very cool to learn I am 1/128th Inuit (yes, we have 128 great-great-great-great-great grandparents, which puts things into perspective).
- I discovered that 4 of my 8 great grandparents are related to each other, each descended from a common ancestor (Richard Price, 1734 Wales). My mother was mortified when she learned that she and my father are distantly related (which David says means I am a hillbilly - haha!). But of course this happened frequently in areas with old settlements where the nearest wife material was "the girl next door". P.S. Luckily none of my great grandparents are closer than 4th cousins and probably didn't know they were related!
- I have only one branch of the tree I cannot get beyond my great-great grandparents (all others I can get further back). I think it is quite funny as they were rumored to be "city people" (from a nearby city) who came to the rural area to live in recent memory (say 1900) and thus were not captured in records by the local genealogists.
The most important advice I have in compiling a family tree is to talk to your parents (!) and then talk to old people who knew your family growing up!!! I have talked to many fascinating old folks in the last few years and and drank many cups of tea in the process of compiling my family tree!
Online resources like www.ancestry.ca (Canada) and www.ancestry.com (US and International) are also invaluable. Both allow free 14-day trials...!