14 December 2009

Evoking Memories Through Family History

It is said that memories can be evoked in many different ways: sights, smells and sounds, to name a few. While scanning my e-mail the other day, I came across a message from a prospective author and amateur genealogist. They were offering an article detailing their work on helping their spouse find his father’s family. The article subsequently arrived, but it had been misplaced in my e-mail and was recently rediscovered. I don’t want to get into too many of the details, because the article will run in an upcoming issue, but I do want to share some of what I believe is the power of family history, not necessarily your own, to trigger memories one’s past.

What struck me in the body of that completed article was a mention of my own hometown in Central Ontario, Canada. That I recognized the family name didn’t do anything to dampen my curiosity either. I suddenly found myself becoming fascinated with someone else’s family history because it triggered a particular memory: specifically of the day of my grandfather’s funeral in 1970 and going to the local shoe store with my father to buy a pair of new shoes for the that sad occasion. It also brought back many happy memories of my grandfather in life. How in the world does that have anything to do with genealogy you might ask?

A link in the article led me to a family history website that contained information on a line of the family that had settled in my home town in the late 19th-century. A great many other references to my own home town and surrounding area began popping up with great regularity: my boyhood church, familiar names of local people, historic sites and businesses of the day. Memories began flooding back and I found myself digging deeper.

Peeling back the layers, I came across a reference to a business owned by one of the ancestors in question: a footwear store. The store dated back to the late 1890s — more than 60 years before my own birth — and was passed on to a son of the owner after his death in the early 1930s. Along the way, I found references to the son’s service in WWI, along with a photograph and an image of a WWI draft card. According to the narrative on the website, the son continued to operate the shoe store until his own death in the mid 1970s.

I can barely remember the day in April 1970 now, but the stranger’s family history discovered through a wayward e-mail and the pair of shoes purchased years earlier brought back a flood of memories that have left me with a new-found appreciation of the importance of recording family history research for future generations.