October 14, 2013 by LeVoyageur
After a considerable break from writing on my usual topics here at The Red Cedar, I am happy to be back with new posts! My work over the past several months on French Canadian Heritage Day in Michigan has kept me occupied editing the blog Voyageur Heritage, including The Storykeepers Project, and helping with other projects such as Word of the Week…en Français!, and a new Facebook forum for Great Lakes French Canadians. Thank you for your support and for following my blog!
As a boy researching my genealogy, I remember the excitement of making a connection that extended my family tree back to my great-great grandparents. Finding not only the names of these ‘distant’ ancestors, but also where they lived along the shores of Lake St. Clair in Ontario, was a turning point. Suddenly the family’s collective memory began to stretch further back in time, rekindling memories of old-timers long passed who may have crossed paths with an aunt or uncle when they were very young.
In the early 80s we had no idea of the tools and resources that would become available to us. Although some of the collections now available online existed then, they were accessible to far fewer people who had the time, money, and means to go to wherever they were housed. Today, major genealogical databases (at prices that make them accessible to far more people) have brought the hobby into the mainstream, with TV shows documenting the family histories of the rich and famous as entertainment.
These shows can be fun to watch, but more satisfying to me is seeing the joy in average people as they begin to uncover their roots. For some, it is revelation after revelation that comes with a renewed sense of history at once personal and emotional. And in many cases, there are discoveries of details that were not only unknown, but previously unimaginable.
And perhaps the most fun of all, a phenomenon I have found particularly notable in my French Canadian community, is finding distant family connections. French Canadian discussion groups, on Facebook for example, are truly communities of distant cousins – a realization that takes many by surprise. Although having hundreds of distant cousins sharing a 7th or 8th generation grandparent is not entirely surprising, it does create a bond, a sort of understanding that we are all truly connected.
In my case, I have discovered the many family links I share with a good friend, drawing us closer as we realize the centuries that our families have had ties. And through genealogy research I have connected with close relations too – 2nd and even 1st cousins. I feel truly fortunate to have ‘met’ half a dozen 2nd cousins online in the past couple of years, and look forward to the day of meeting them all in person.
Genealogy has always been something that felt culturally meaningful to me, and came with a sense of fun and excitement. That is about as good as a hobby can get really. I’ve seen the other side of genealogy too – the know-it-alls and naysayers. And the even darker sides that overlay ideologies and racism onto family histories. Such things are a shame, and can create an atmosphere in which superiority is more important than community. Why can’t hobbies just be fun?
My community of cousins, both close and distant, increasingly helps me understand the culture we live and the cultures our ancestors came from. For this alone I am grateful. The simple joy of connecting with people who share your heritage is something that is open to everyone. There is much to be thankful for in life and today, which happens to be Canadian Thanksgiving/Jour de l’Action de grâce, I give thanks for the many cousins with Canadian roots who I’ve met through a common quest to discover our family history.