Becoming a genealogist

Photo by Brooke Cagle

In the 1970s, my brother-in-law showed me a family tree he had created simply by writing down — using lines and squares — his immediate family and extending each line. This intrigued me.

My first wife was from Prince Edward Island, and when we spent summers there, my favourite haunts became cemeteries where there were so many families related to my wife. For a farm boy from Saskatchewan, this was amazing.

I retired in 1996, and my daughter thought I should become acquainted with a computer to continue this as a retirement hobby.

The first program I installed was Family Tree Maker, and it still acts as my recording facility. I now have 99,000 names in my database, and all are connected as I never started any separate trees.

This way, I have one alphabetical index for comparison purposes. The program, however, allows me to create reports for any line — or number of generations — on a particular name. My sources have moved beyond the physical tramping of cemeteries to Internet sources like, Find a Grave, etc.

My first wife passed away, and my second wife arrived with a desire to learn more about her ancestry. Lo and behold, her family was partly from Prince Edward Island as well. The hunt was on!

We even found a connection between my two wives. My second wife quickly developed a great interest in this, and her knowledge of the Internet has hugely helped as we explore and discover the many branches of the trees.

All names are unique stories, but the biggest, in my mind, was an astounding discovery I made about one year ago on my maternal side. Thanks to a diligent researcher on (distantly connected to me), I discovered that my great-grandfather had an interesting past.

My grandmother — his daughter — and my mother — her daughter — never knew he left his first family in England — wife and seven children. He had changed his name, remarried and had a family of four. The oldest — born in England, and two years old when arriving in Saskatchewan in 1883 — was my great-aunt. Late in life, she required a birth certificate. When she applied to England, it was eventually determined her last name was different in the English records, and the whole story came out. I have since connected with several half-cousins who live in England.

My maternal ancestry — for all those early years of searching and not finding ancestral background — suddenly opened, and I was able to take my mother’s ancestry back to the early 1600s.

Unfortunately, my mother and grandmother had passed away and never knew of their English cousins.

As this background unfolded, I suddenly learned of a huge number of fourth and fifth cousins in southern Alberta stemming from my great-grandfather’s ancestors.

About three years ago, we became members of the Alberta Family Histories Society, the genealogy society here in Calgary. This organization has so many helpful people! They offer programs and workshops which have helped expand our areas of research.

If you are just starting out, you might want to check out their Genealogy 101 workshop which is being offered this spring. They even have small group sessions for members who use Family Tree Maker software. We volunteered with their cemetery project last summer, and this helped us appreciate the importance and accuracy of research databases.

It also gives us an understanding of how much information is available to use.

It is like a whole new life opened up for me!

If you are looking for a hobby which can quickly become a passion, try researching your roots.