My wife has always been fascinated with family trees. One activity she has often engaged in that baffled me, is reading the local obituaries. Apparently, this is normal for older generations to do, but my wife has done this since we were in our early twenties.
While history fascinates me, I am not particularly interested in my own heritage, beyond a passing fancy. I know that I am a first generation Canadian. My father came to Canada with his mother and family when he was just a young boy. My great-grandmother and her husband owned a large cartage business in Germany, until it was appropriated by the government for the war effort.
My grandmother is exceptionally proud of her hometown, which she still refers to as “the free city of Gdańsk“, despite it now being part of Poland.
My mother’s family has been in Canada for several generations, but I don’t know how many. Her mother and father moved to Toronto from P.E.I. at some point, because that’s where my parents met. Beyond that, I know very little about that side of the family and I don’t find it all that fascinating.
I am a bit of a history buff though and certainly a fan of entertainment media. So, the few things I have picked up about my family tree are the names of people who are famous, or have famous connections. It’s great, as long as I’m not the one who has to do the work to find it.
Here are a few things my wife has discovered, over the years. On her side, one of our ancestors founded New England. Through another line she was able to trace her lineage through Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States. My father-in-law’s second wife was a direct descendant of The Highwayman and is apparently banned from ever returning to the United Kingdom.
On my mother’s side, there are close ties to Lucy Maud Montgomery. In one of her books she even mentions one of my relatives driving her to a train station in P.E.I. There are also some strong indications that we may be related to Shirley MacLaine and by extension, her half-brother Warren Beatty. On my father’s side, his mother is the same generation and a cousin of Sylvia Plath, who married Ted Hughes.
So, there you have it. Family trees can be a fascinating thing, once you find people with whom you can relate. My wife thoroughly enjoys the process of researching, finding new relationships and new stories. Despite not enjoying the activity myself, I can certainly understand the rewards of knowing about our past.
How much do you know about your own past? Do you have any famous relatives, past or present? If you don’t know, someone in your family likely does. Strike up a conversation with them. You might find it very interesting.