When I met with my great-aunt Phyllis in September 2008 we were talking about genealogy and she mentioned that she had copied out a bunch of birthdates and deaths for a cousin in England. The cousin had lost the paperwork though so Aunty Phyllis was rather disgusted and not interested in copying it out again. The thing is KNOWING she had this information has been driving me crazy. I’ve been out a few times since and we talked in general terms about this but I never really got hard dates.
Sunday Mom, Dad and I went out to visit again. This time I took my laptop (under the pretense of sharing pictures from the family reunion in June) and while she as Dad were talking, I also booted up my genealogy software. Aunty Phyllis tends to skip around a LOT when she’s talking so I just took notes. Some of my favourite comments were:
"They moved to Alberta because they got free land. They must have chosen it in the dark though because it was bad!"
When I asked why her dad had moved around so much she said he "had farms that got dried out but, if they hadn't moved around he would have never met my mom and we wouldn't be sitting her today."
At one point she was talking about her dad’s siblings and she started listing them off. During this time she referenced a “birthday book” that her dad had started. I stopped her and asked her directly if I could see it. Part of me was amazed that she actually got up and got it. OMFSM I felt like I was holding the dead sea scrolls or something! I’m not sure exactly how old the book is but it was started by my great-grandfather. He passed away in 1971 and since then it’s been maintained by Phyllis. She was good at noting new births and deaths when she thought of it. I tried to start entering the data straight into my software but when I realized how long that would take, I just whipped out my camera and started taking pictures. I took pictures of every page that had meaningful data on it. When I got home I transcribed it all into an Excel spreadsheet and I have over 160 names and dates!!! Not all of those people are family but many are and a large portion of the information goes back to the late 1800’s. The best part is right at the front. My great-grandfather wrote down his name and his wife’s name and their parents and grandparents on both sides.
It is said that most people can name their parents and grandparents. Some even know their great grand parents and fewer know their great-great grandparents. With this information I have the names of four of my great-great-great-grand-parents! That’s five generations back!!! Seeing this book has saved me literally hundreds of hours of research. I still can DO hundreds of hours of research but now I have somewhere to start. And it’s not some random rabbit trail. It’s hard evidence written in my great-grandfather’s hand.
Once I examine what I have (list it and enter the people I can) I’ll print off the family trees that I have and go back and visit Aunty Phyllis again. I’m running out of time though so I have to do this sooner rather than later.
There’s rumour of a second “birthday book”. That one is for her husbands family. He had 14 brothers and sisters though…I may wait on that one…