Tips on how to start trac­ing your roots

Moose Jaw - - National / International News - Matthew Gourlie -- Moose Jaw Ex­press

Di­ane Mil­ton Smith con­cluded her re­marks with a warn­ing: “Be pre­pared to get ad­dicted.”

Marge Cleave quickly added: “... And to spend a lot of time in ceme­ter­ies.”

The two lo­cal mem­bers of the Moose Jaw Branch of the Saskatchewan Ge­nealog­i­cal So­ci­ety can cer­tainly speak from ex­pe­ri­ence. Both have spent a num­ber of years trac­ing their fam­ily roots and of­fered tips from their areas of ex­per­tise to help begin­ners at a pre­sen­ta­tion at the Moose Jaw Pub­lic Li­brary.

“There are so many sources of in­for­ma­tion, it can be hard to know where to start,” said Mil­ton Smith, who is the vice-pres­i­dent of the Moose Jaw Branch.

While there are nu­mer­ous web sites and data­bases avail­able, Mil­ton Smith of­fered some prac­ti­cal, old fash­ioned ad­vice: start with your liv­ing rel­a­tives -- par­ents and grand­par­ents -- and see how much they can tell you. Mil­ton Smith has been trac­ing her fam­ily roots for more than 20 years and has found rel­a­tives go­ing back to the 1700s.

“You al­ways want to find out more and see how far back you can go,” she said.

The first meeting of the Moose Jaw Branch was in 1970, but in the dig­i­tal age it seems that more peo­ple than ever are search­ing their fam­ily his­to­ries.

“I think com­mer­cially, it’s been ad­ver­tised more,” Mil­ton Smith said when asked about ge­neal­ogy’s in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity. “Be­fore that, there wasn’t so much on­line. So, you had to go to the record of­fices and make copies of things.”

While com­mer­cial sites like an­ces­ have a lot of in­for­ma­tion, there are also plenty of free re­sources avail­able as well. World War 1 records are on­line at Li­brary and Archives Canada and the World War II records are be­ing dig­i­tized. Bri­tish birth, mar­riage and death records are avail­able at ‘find­’ while In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice Cor­po­ra­tion (ISC) has a num­ber of Saskatchewan records on­line. The lo­cal branch has pho­tos of grave­stones archived and has dig­i­tized all lo­cal 21st cen­tury obit­u­ar­ies and are adding obit­u­ar­ies from 1970-98 ev­ery week on its web site (http://moose­jaw­ge­neal­ Mil­ton Smith, Cleave and Di­ane Clarke all showed some of their own re­search us­ing the cen­sus, mar­riage, birth and death records dur­ing their pre­sen­ta­tions. “There are times when you think you aren’t mak­ing any progress and you look back to where you were five years ear­lier and think ‘I learned a lot,’” said Clarke. In their pre­sen­ta­tion, they cau­tioned to be skep­ti­cal of what you find out -- the cen­sus is not in­fal­li­ble. It was col­lected by hu­mans, who are ca­pa­ble of mak­ing mis­takes and could be in­com­plete. Mar­riage cer­tifi­cates can also be in­ac­cu­rate. Mil­ton Smith said that some note that the bride was “full age” which is to mean 21, but that doesn’t al­ways mean that was their ac­tual age.

They also said to keep track of all of your sources, some less ob­vi­ous sources can pro­vide a wealth of in­for­ma­tion. Cleave men­tioned Dr. Barnardo’s Homes char­ity that housed many or­phaned chil­dren in Bri­tain. She sent away and re­ceived ex­ten­sive records of her hus­band’s grand­mother in­clud­ing her en­tire file from Barnardo’s in­clud­ing her pic­ture.

News­pa­pers, school year­books and even wills -- if they can be tracked down -- can add valu­able in­for­ma­tion. “If you can find a will, you see who they left money to and you may have a whole other fam­ily you don’t even know,” Mil­ton Smith said.

While Mil­ton Smith cau­tioned im­me­di­ately not to ex­pect to find you are a de­scen­dant of roy­alty, in­creas­ingly long-buried fam­ily se­crets -- like il­le­git­i­mate chil­dren -are be­ing un­earthed as DNA test­ing be­comes avail­able to the masses.

Mil­ton Smith said she found some dis­tant rel­a­tives on one side of her fam­ily based on DNA test­ing and was able to con­tact them.

“The DNA is still there. That’s what is fas­ci­nat­ing. There’s still a blood link even though you don’t know th­ese peo­ple at all,” she said.

Much like dig­i­tal records did 20 years ago, DNA data­bases are likely to aid ge­nealog­i­cal re­search as they grow. “I think it might be re­ally help­ful for adoptees if they find a match,” Mil­ton Smith said. “They may not find out ex­actly who their par­ents were, but they may find some cousins or other rel­a­tives that they can match-up with.” Far be­yond a list of dates and names, the joy of the re­search is in the de­tails that you learn about your an­ces­tors and the de­tails that may res­onate in your own life. It can bring the past to life in un­ex­pected ways.

“My one set of grand­par­ents came from this lit­tle vil­lage in Eng­land and my sis­ter has gone to live there now. I was work­ing in the gar­den and the church clock chimed and I thought ‘they heard that, the ex­act same sound,’” Mil­ton Smith said. “It gives you a funny feel­ing. It can be very emo­tional.”

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