Research? What kind of research?

It doesn’t seem to matter what the task is, unless it’s something I’ve done before, research has to come first.

  • Changing the needle on the sewing machine? Check the manual.
  • Removing a stain from delicate fabric? Google my options.
  • Bake a special dessert? Get out the cookbook.
  • Refinish deck furniture? Find a YouTube video and follow the steps.

My current project — creating a family tree — has been a major research project. Once I made a start, I found lots of formerly unknown sources of information.

An old family bible provided pages of family births, deaths and marriages from the mid-1800s.

Other distant relatives had information to share, such as their discovery of an abandoned cemetery and lost family gravestones.

I’m accumulating details from birth, marriage and death registration certificates that, in addition to cause of death — a surprise to me — often included names and birthplaces of parents, residence at time of death, religious denomination, and occupation.

I mentioned in an earlier post my excitement over locating forty pages of my father-in-law’s WWI military service records. I’ve gleaned all sorts of interesting albeit irrelevant tidbits, like the name of the ships he sailed on between Canada and Europe.

It’s such seemingly irrelevant information that can make the research fascinating and bring an ancestor to life again.

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For writers, it’s those details that can make our stories appealing to readers. The little bits of personal trivia that help readers ‘see’ the setting and get to ‘know’ the characters. They make the story more intimate, more meaningful.

I know this. I just have to remember to implement it in my writing!

What kind of research do you undertake in preparation for (or during) the writing of your stories?

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Making Vimy Ridge Personal

War has always seemed a very distant reality to me. As I was growing up, it existed mostly in sepia photos and scratchy news reels that preceded our Saturday afternoon matinées.

For a time, WWII separated our family when my enlisted father was sent from Vancouver to Toronto in 1945 to be a masonry contractor during the building of Sunnybrook Military Hospital for veterans (now the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre). But even that ‘inconvenience’ was short-lived when he located an apartment for us a few months later, and my mother and I travelled by train to join him.

WWI was ancient history. It wasn’t until I’d been married for several years that I heard a fleeting reference to my father-in-law having served in France. He never talked about it other than to show us a unique ‘souvenir’ — a rosary of roughly carved wooden beads and a cross that had an extra set (decade) of beads — which he’d found in a muddy ditch.

All these years later, as preparations are being made for tomorrow’s 100th anniversary commemoration in Vimy, France, we are reminded that he was a part of that battle. There is a memorial there to the 3,598 Canadian soldiers that lost their lives, but Edison Lloyd Garvin came home uninjured. He put the horror behind him (or at least kept it well hidden), married and got on with his life.

Several years ago I took a notion to google for information on his military service. All I found at that time was his regimental number and a copy of his attestation papers showing he had enlisted on September 15, 1915 at age nineteen.

Since then, the Government of Canada has been digitizing the records and, to my amazement, my search earlier this week brought up a PDF file containing forty pages — including an itemized record of my father-in-law’s entire military history.

Upon enlisting he was assigned to the 45th Canadian Battalion and on March 13, 1916 embarked on the SS Lapland for England. There, on June 6, 1916 he was transferred to the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and was sent to the field in France.

His Active Service Record indicates he remained in France until February 8, 1919, at which time he returned to England. Due to the demobilization of his troop, he left Liverpool on March 12, 1919 aboard the RMS Baltic. His Discharge Certificate was issued on March 24, 1919.

Those are the bare facts. Seeing them and all the in-between actions noted in handwriting, the cheque number of every monthly $15 payment that was sent to his mother, and in particular, seeing my father-in-law’s own very recognizable signature on the various forms, brings the distant reality much closer. Now the battle at Vimy Ridge is personal!

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Another Generation

My St. Patrick’s Day post shared bits of my family background, including photos of my two sets of grandparents. They were a big part of my life all the way through childhood. Once I was married, however, life took my hubby and me away to live in assorted provinces throughout Canada — places where the rest of my family didn’t live — but fortunately I had great memories of many gatherings and experiences that involved all my grandparents.

Robert & Ella Garvin

My hubby, on the other hand, was four years old when he remembers seeing his Grandma Ella Garvin for the last time. She was the only one of his four grandparents who was still alive when he was born.

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There are many reasons why his parents had him and his brother later in their marriage. Before his father, Edison, finished high school, World War I took him to France for three and a half years of military service. Following his discharge he worked for a year before embarking on a series of Bible College courses in preparation for ministry. After supplying pastoral care as a student in Stratton, ON, he went to a small, rural congregation in Ridgedale, SK while continuing his studies extramurally. He married Mary Elizabeth (Beth) Haines in 1924.

Grandmother Sarah Ann (Lewis) Haines

The manse in Ridgedale was little more than a drafty shack — I’m told they could lay in bed and line the stars up through a crack in the roof. Edison’s ministry there was abruptly ended by two years spent battling tuberculosis in a sanitarium in Saskatoon, followed by a long recuperation period. During his recovery, he undertook some part-time ministry and continued more extramural studies, this time from Knox College, before finally being accepted for ordination.

It wasn’t until he was called to full-time ministry in a church in Selkirk, MB that their children were finally born. Edison and Beth were both 42 years old when my hubby arrived. We’ve often quipped about my husband’s parents being old enough to be the parents of my parents who were 20 and 21 when I was born.

When writing our church’s history in 2015 I added this comment:

“Who we are as a church today is
a direct result of the journey of faith
begun by those who travelled before us.”

I believe it’s equally true for a family. Our roots have contributed to the people we are today. We exist because of those who came before us. If there’s truth in the cliche that we can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been, then it’s important to be aware of our ancestors and what led to where we are today.

So I shall muddle on in my genealogy project. I haven’t yet unearthed a photo of the fourth grandfather, William Haines, but am hoping I’ll find it in one of the many boxes still stacked in the corner of my office. Don’t hold your breath! 🙂

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Musing

More than six years have passed since I wrote about a young man in our church (see ‘Supporting a Young Singer/Songwriter’s Dream‘) … about his talent and his dream. Johnathan Booy didn’t win the CBC competition that year, but he has made great strides towards achieving his dream.

In 2015 he graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Music, and then went on the next year to complete a Master’s Degree in Scoring for Film, Television and Video Games at Berklee College of Music, Valencia Campus in Spain.

On his website his Bio says,

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best musicians around the world, recording at amazing studios such as AIR Lyndhurst in London, Budapest Scoring Stage, and The Warehouse in Vancouver.”

He’s already made good progress on his journey and I have no doubt he will reach his goals. In the world of artistic endeavours he has what it takes — talent, desire, persistence, and a humble, faith-filled heart. His music always moves me. (He’s a source of inspiration to me, too, as I putz my way towards goals of my own, in writing and publication.)

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It’s also a particular joy that he has returned to BC just at the right time to once again fill a vacancy in our church. As of February 1st he has become our pianist, choral director and Director of Music. Haney Presbyterian Church is blessed!

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When music makes me feel old…

Every so often something grinds me to a stop and makes me consider my age. Music isn’t usually one of those things. Oh, there’s always the knowing look when a particular genre turns up on the truck’s radio and I change stations because I find it jarring. Someone is bound to think, “Old fogies are in control of the radio dial again,” but I assure you I would have switched it just as quickly fifty years ago.

No, what has me thinking about my age today is the number of years music has been impacting my life.

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Even if I discount how readily family gatherings during my childhood ended up around a piano, or with a violin or melodeon, to sing favourite songs, and if I focus only on the years of my own active participation, I’m stunned. Why? Because they really add up, and I’ve never considered myself to be particularly musical.

There were the occasions while the grownups visited, when I closed myself into my grandparents’ dining room and struggled to plunk out one-fingered melodies by ear on their piano. There was also one summer during which my hubby served a prairie mission field, when a parishioner undertook to teach me some elementary piano basics on the out-of-tune church piano. And the year the organist in another congregation patiently took me through the first three Royal Conservatory grades. Ha! I was so self-conscious that no matter how much I practised a piece to perfection in solitude, I could only stumble through it during the next lesson.

So how I ended up years later leading a children’s choir can only be attributed to the sad fact that in our small congregation there was no one else capable or willing to volunteer. I wasn’t capable either, but apparently I was willing to try, and I persevered for several years.

Then, in 1994, seven months after arriving in our present congregation, I faced another plea to help — this time it was to direct the senior choir — and despite retiring four different times, I somehow ended up directing for the better part of the next nineteen years.

From my first exposure to church as a teenager when I was conscripted to join the choir, up to last year when my lack of voice and breath control convinced me it was time to stop, I’ve also sung in church choirs.

My ‘active participation’ in music leadership covers almost six decades! I must be really, really old! What’s more amazing to me, however, is that I still have only a rudimentary ability to read music. I’ve blustered my way through it all without being qualified, although I’ve certainly been opinionated.

For instance, as a choir director I have strong feelings about the purpose of a church choir. Perhaps that’s why I reacted to an article our associate pastor pointed out on Facebook recently. It offered “four functions to explain why the church choir exists” and emphasized that there was a specific order to the priorities:

“As the director of a church choir I use four functions to explain why the church choir exists. Those priorities help determine the programmatic choices that our music ministry makes. The functions are in a specific priority order, but I also believe each function is equally important as they must be present to have a vital music ministry. The four functions are to lead and enliven the congregation’s song, to sing music that the congregation cannot, to serve as a small-group within the church for faith formation, and to sing beautiful and challenging music to glorify God and to edify the congregation.”

My top priority is found nestled in the wording of her last one: to worship and glorify God and to help the congregation do the same.

You don’t want to know how many times I’ve lectured my choirs about this. If asked, they could probably repeat my words from memory: “What we do is never a performance. We’re here to assist the congregation in the worship experience.” I’ve always believed a choir’s sole purpose is to support the ministry, providing musical leadership for the corporate expressions of prayer, petition and praise.

While the author and I may differ on the order of priority, we do agree on other aspects. “A church choir’s job is not just to sing beautifully,” the article continues, “but rather it is to minister to the congregation and to each other in a variety of ways.”

I can’t provide statistics, but I’m pretty sure the majority of church choirs are comprised not of professional-quality singers but of volunteer members, many of whom love to sing but don’t know how to read music. I encouraged anyone who wanted to be involved whether or not they had technical skills. I gave out guidance on a need-to-know basis, keeping it simple for the sake of those who really didn’t care about it (or who might already know it).

4b531eb4f09c12f364035ee7ae323793A quarter rest? Ah, that would be the one that looks like a sideways seagull, dipping its wings for a one-beat rest. That’s it. Period. Some remembered the rest’s name; others remembered the seagull illustration. Either way, they understood the symbol meant not to sing for one beat.

Yes, it’s important to give our best when it comes to worshipping God with our voices, but I believe God honours the heart’s intention, not the voice’s perfection. I didn’t have the expertise to teach all the musical complexities and nuances, or to require them of my choristers. In most cases the music was learned by rote memorization and repetition to the best of our amateur ability, and then sung with joy.

That’s what I remember most about all those years participating in church music teams: that each one of us took joy in the shared musical experience of being part of a unique ministry.

Yes, that and how very many years it’s been! Goodness, I’m old! 🙂

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Advent I – Waiting in Hope

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In church Sunday morning the children were asked what they saw that was different in the sanctuary. One youngster immediately pointed to a banner on the chancel wall: “Hope”. Another acknowledged the Advent wreath with its candles. Hope was our focus on the first Sunday of Advent. As the first of the candles was lit, we read the liturgy…

We wait.
We wait in hope.
We wait for God to be revealed.
We wait for God to tear open the heavens and come down.

 

“We wait in hope for God to be revealed … for God to come down.”

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