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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I’m Irish! (but what’s in a name?

Truthfully, there’s only a part of me that’s Irish, but I’ve embraced it for as long as I can remember. My maiden name was McGuire, and I always thought my Grandfather Henry McGuire was born in Ireland. One of the things I remember best about him is all the Irish stories, true and otherwise, he would tell us grandchildren. Our official family tree, however, places his birth in West Arthurlie, Barrhead, Neilston, RFW Scotland.

Henry & Winnifred McGuire

Henry and a brother came to Canada and settled in an area just north and west of Edmonton, Alberta where a group of farmers set up the Paddle River and District Coop. A central point in the area was chosen for a store, and when an application was made to have a post office in it, a name had to be submitted. The McGuire brothers suggested Barrhead in recognition of their home in Scotland, and this was adopted.*

However, the McGuires (or Maguires) really did originate in Ireland.

“The Irish family of Maguire, the chiefs of Fermanagh since the year 1302, derive their name and descent from Odhar, the eleventh in descent from Colla-da-chrich, great-grandson of Cormac Mac Art, monarch of Ireland about the middle of the third century.”**

Maguiresbridge in County Fermanagh (Gaelic: Droichead Mhig Uidhir), takes its name from the family.

How did these Irish end up in Scotland?

John & Edith Aconit

“Irish immigration to Scotland was part of a well- established feature of early 19th century life in Ireland: the annual harvest migration. Scotland was Ireland’s closest neighbour (only 13 miles separate the two countries at one point)…

In the 1820s, up to 8,000 economic migrants crossed back and forth across the Irish Sea every year, bound for seasonal agricultural work or other temporary contractual work in northern England, Wales and Scotland….

While most of the temporary migrants and probably a small proportion of the skilled workers eventually returned home to Ireland, some chose to settle permanently….

In Girvan, Ayrshire, for instance, some three-quarters of the 6,000 population was Irish-born in 1831. By 1841, when the earliest Scottish census was taken, some 125,321 (4.8%) of the 2.6 million population was Ireland-born.

For my purposes today, it’s adequate to know they did, and some subsequently came to Canada.

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I married a Garvin, Scottish in name, but with an Irish connection I didn’t know about at the time. In a family history compiled by my brother-in-law, Murray Garvin, I learned…

“According to my father’s account, three Girvans migrated from the town of Girvan, Scotland [to Ireland]. One located in Carrickfergus, one in Stoneyford, County Down, and one at Glencoe, County Antrim, and it was from the Glencoe settler that we have our origin.”

Girvan was the original spelling of our name. That Glencoe settler was one David Girvan who had been born in Scotland in 1586. Traced through his lineage, two brothers, Robert and another David, emigrated from Ireland to the United States and then came to Canada in 1831.

“Robert Girvan, on reaching Canada, settled on the 4th line of Golburne (sic) Township, Richmond County, Ontario, taking up land and also opening a blacksmith shop.”

Robert married in 1836/38 and he and his wife Sarah Vaughan had fourteen children. Yes, fourteen! Seven of the girls were baptized, but apparently none of the boys. In baptismal records, spelling of the family name takes various forms, possibly because they were written phonetically, and, as the account suggests, “perhaps the Irish accent added to the confusion.” Two of the girls’ names were recorded as Girvin, one was Girvan, and four were Garvin, as were the parents. However, on his gravestone the father’s name is inscribed as Girvin. Our line carried on as Garvin, although we have relatives in Ontario who use Girvan. Ackk! What confusion!

Enough about names! It’s time to celebrate all things Irish. I’m ready to indulge in a little wearing’ o’ the green, and maybe have a slice of the chocolate brownies I’ve topped with green peppermint icing. It would go down nicely with a mug of Irish coffee … but I’m not sure I have the makings on hand. I suppose I shouldn’t admit to that, being Irish and all. 😉

Oh, and the photos here? They’re of my paternal and maternal grandparents. I was fortunate to know all four of them for many years, unlike my hubby who had only one of his grandparents and was very young when that one died. There are fewer photos of them but perhaps I’ll hunt them up for a future post.

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*TRAILS NORTHWEST
Barrhead and District Historical Society

**THE MAGUIRES OF FERMANAGH
By John O’Donovan

My Memory (or Lack Thereof)

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I take my mind for granted until it fails me. In my younger years it wasn’t uncommon to forget a name, or forget to pick up something I’d planned to get while grocery shopping, but at that age nobody worried about a bit of forgetfulness. In my ‘golden’ years, such lapses make me stop and ponder whether I’m losing my mind altogether. Still, I take a deep breath and tell myself that hasn’t actually happened…yet.

What brought this to mind today was the recent frustration of not being able to remember the magazines that used to carry a favourite article. Granted, it was forty years ago that I eagerly awaited each issue. The featured article was written by Marjorie Holmes and most often it was just a bit of homestyle wisdom or a descriptive observation. I loved her outlook on life and her way of expressing it on the page long before I realized she was a successful author of many books.

But could I remember the name of even one of the magazines? Nope. The harder I tried, the more elusive it became. Exasperated, I finally put it aside and left to do something else … and promptly had the names of two magazines — Family Circle and Woman’s Day — pop into my head, both of which carried Ms. Holmes’ articles. My mind likes to play games with me. Maybe it finds that kind of thing entertaining. Personally, I find it annoying.

It’s frustrating to have my body fail me as it ages, but as the quirky quotation says, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” * Way back in 2009 I posted on the topic  ‘Where Does the Mind Go?’. Eight years later I still don’t have that answer. I do know it doesn’t help to stress over it.

There’s a notebook and pen on my bedside table because no matter how much I might struggle (and fail) to sort out a particular scene in one of my writing projects in the daytime, I can be sure if there is a solution it will find its way out of my grey matter just as I’m dozing off for the night (and  I’ve learned from experience I won’t remember it in the morning). The urge to burrow deeper under the covers is overcome by the urgency to record precious words; I reach for the notebook.

It’s a contradiction that I focus most efficiently when a deadline is looming, but the one hundred billion neurons in my brain won’t cooperate when I try to force them. I know that, but still….

With Alzheimer’s in my family, possibly I’m super-sensitive to memory lapses. Do I put too much importance on the need to remember everything exactly when I want to? Maybe my problem isn’t about memory so much as impatience.

At least I can be comforted by knowing I haven’t tried hanging up my truck keys in the refrigerator or some other equally inappropriate place. But at this rate, if I’m to keep frustration at bay, I think I may need a larger collection of notebooks so there will always be one close by when my memory provides some recollection that I’m bound to forget again within moments. I’m also going to have to develop some kind of indexing system so I can locate the record of those memories when I need them.

Now, back to hunting up that Marjorie Holmes article.

~

If you’d like a good explanation about how memory and the brain work, this Science Daily article is an interesting read.

*Attributed to both Ozzy Osbourne and Mark Twain

Enduring Winter’s Blahs

dsc01298Bit by bit we’re emerging. Snow is receding and the grass is becoming visible. At the same time, I’m emerging from my germ-infested fog. I’ve had this winter’s common complaint — a cold/flu/whatever-it-is bug that has kept me inactive since before New Year’s.

I’m tired of it — the bug and the snow — but it’s hanging on, so I apologize in advance if I sound cranky. Our balmy west coast usually has a week of cold weather and perhaps once in a decade or so will get a prolonged spell of it. Back in 2008 and 2009 we didn’t see green grass here for three solid months, but that’s most unusual.

It’s equally unusual for me to get sick — at least nothing beyond the occasional mild cold. I’ve dutifully gone for my flu shots every fall for many years, and I’m sure that helped me avoid the annual misery. However, I had my flu shot this year, too, only to hear recently that it might not be as effective as it was in previous years, depending on the strain(s) of flu virus prevalent in this area. ::sigh:: Apparently I was doomed to get this.

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I know I just have to wait it out. There’s no other way to get past this winter’s “blahs”. An active not passive kind of waiting is probably the most beneficial. I’m trying to engage in activities that don’t require too much energy but that actually accomplish something worthwhile. Writing annual reports, history scrapbooking, reading my way through the TBR pile of books stacked on shelves in my office.

Often as not though, I just end up dozing off to sleep again. I’ve managed to pass at least the cold part of this bug to my hubby, so we’re a less-than-energetic twosome these days. At this rate it’s going to be a while before we’ll be ready to tackle clearing downed trees and tying up damaged shrubs and broken branches (of which there are several). It doesn’t sound like we’ll get to it before next weekend’s predicted snow flurries. Drat!

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Is it December? (Er, I mean “It’s December!”)

dsc05371It IS December! It’s been December for almost two weeks and I’ve been doing December things, just not blogging about it. I’ve been “M.I.A.” while rejoicing in the arrival of Advent, accompanying hubby on a tree-finding outing, digging through storage boxes for Christmas decorations, beginning the traditional baking spree, writing notes and addressing envelopes — all those seasonal activities that accompany the anticipation of “the most wonderful time of the year.”

This Christmas our entire family, including several dogs, are coming here to celebrate with us! It will be a faith-filled, festive, and perhaps somewhat chaotic holiday together.

Given the snowstorms here this past week and now the forecast for two weeks of frigid sunshine, there is every possibility that it will be a White Christmas, too. What more could one hope for on our usually balmy west coast?

That’s a timely question. What is our hope this Christmas … indeed, every Christmas? Throughout Advent we wait for the miracle of God’s coming, both as a babe in the manger and again in our time. Why? What are our expectations? A good question to ponder as we prepare our homes and our hearts for Christmas.

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 Hope is a star that shines in the night,
leading us on till the morning is bright.
When God is a child there’s joy in our song.
The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong,
and none shall be afraid.
Joy is a song that welcomes the dawn,
telling the world that the Saviour is born.
 ~  ~  ~