Column: Mysteries in the family history

Families are odd things and family history is often odder.

Families are odd things and family history is often odder.

I’m sure some of you have too many living relatives to worry much about former family. But those of us who enjoy poking around in the world of genealogy are often more surprised by events than we expected.

I’ve done a little research, mainly on my father’s side. It’s easier to investigate in a language you understand – the Ukrainian and Polish on my mother’s side create a challenge.

The first thing you realize when you start to research family history is that you’re always starting too late. I really wish I’d been curious when my paternal grandmother was still alive. She lived into her 90s, but when you’re young, family stories often don’t seem all that important. My father and his siblings have memories of their parents’ and relatives’ lives, but there are many blank spots.

For instance I’ll probably never know what my grandfather did for two years when he and my grandmother went to England, got married and had their first child. Did he work for his father-in-law? It was certainly not mentioned to any of his kids or at least not that they remember.

While that time period remains a mystery, I did, discover some pretty amazing things. Using simple online searches, I found a letter that my great grandfather William Thomas (Tom) Denton wrote to his hometown paper in Driffield, England, extolling the opportunities to be found in Manitoba.

The letter is a little over the top, knowing as I do that the attempts at farming were defeated by poor land and flooding. Maybe it was written soon after he arrived and he was excited by what he first saw.

My cousin Russ is the real history sleuth in the family. He started researching years ago and is the go-to guy for any family info.

A good example was his work delving into what ultimately happened to our great-grandfather.

Despite searching, Russ could never find an obituary and no one alive seemed to know what happened to him, until recently.

A few months ago in the Winnipeg archives, Russ came across an article about Tom’s retirement from the park. The article stated that the freshly retired Tom was moving to Victoria with two of his sons. Nice to know my great-grandfather was a pioneer in turning Victoria into a retirement destination.

This new info gave Russ a whole new direction and he’s since found that Tom married for a third time while here. He lived on Bethune Avenue in Saanich, and a recent visit allowed Russ to meet some descendants by the name of O’Connor.

These unexpected discoveries can really make researching your family’s background a rewarding pastime.

While I was writing this column, I was randomly typing into Google family names to see what would pop up. I quickly discovered a few new facts about my paternal grandmother’s brother, George Fowle. Then came the real surprise.

My great grandfather had come to Canada with his wife and children, as well as a half-brother, Timothy Barmby. That half-brother had one child, who never had kids of his own, so that seemed like the end of the Barmby family line here.

Except my search also turned up a family page for a Barmby brother or cousin who came to Canada at the same time, married in Winnipeg, had children and ended up in Saskatchewan.

Who knew? Well, now we do.

So now it’s back to the previous mystery: what did my grandfather do for those years in London?

Don Denton is photo supervisor for Black Press Greater Victoria.

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