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September 28, 2010

Completing the Ancestor Picture

Are you a name collector? Just the names and dates of birth and death please!  Or are you passionate about finding details on your ancestors? Do you want to see the factory where grandpa worked in 1930? Are you fascinated by a glimpse of the bridge over a river in the town where great grandma was born in 1882?

I'm one of those who want as many details as I can find about each ancestor in my family tree. I drool over one tiny fact - for example the discovery of my grandfather (who died before I was born) listed in the City Directory for Guelph Ontario in 1917 as working for the Page-Hersey Co. sent me into raptures of delight!

I had no idea what my grandfather did for a living. No one ever talked about him. My mother (his daughter-in-law) simply shrugged her shoulders when I asked and informed me that he'd been injured in a work-related accident in the early 1900s and never worked again. But she didn't have any clue where he worked or what he did. So finding this tantalizing entry was unbelievably exciting for me.

But I didn't stop there. I didn't just enter that fact in my genealogy program under his name and carry on to the next ancestor. Instead I set out to find out more about this Page-Hersey Company. What did they manufacture? When were they in existence? Were they still around? A quick Google search for Page Hersey Company turned up some answers.

More searching found images of workers in 1919 in the Page Hersey Co. in Welland Ontario and even though my grandad wasn't one of them (wrong town!) I now had a much better idea of what his workplace probably looked like. 

My next step was to start checking E-Bay on a weekly basis - maybe someone was selling some Page Hersey ephemera or collectible. And I want it to complete that one tiny bit of the picture of Grandpa's life.

I've had some good luck in acquiring some blank cheques for the Biltmore Hat Co. in Guelph during the time my father worked there. I'm still on the hunt for more items!

So far I've not turned up anything on the Guelph Lumber Company circa 1924-1941 where my other Grandfather was the manager, but I won't give up hope. Somewhere someday, maybe in an antique store or a flea market or on E-Bay, some little item will turn up. I also plan to visit the Guelph Library and the Wellington Co. Museum to see if they have any photos of that lumber company.

I've found historic postcards on E-Bay that reveal much about a town where an ancestor was born. If they are reasonably priced, I buy them and include them as scans in my family booklets.

Using census records I can find out street addresses and then use Google Street View to see the actual street where an ancestor lived, and if I'm lucky - the original house!

And that's how I complete my ancestor pictures - or at least get a start on it!


The Lurking Genealogist said...

It seems that your blog and I run in sync. I have been contemplating the same question. As a genealogist, "What am I?" I have to say that I don't particularly like the term, "name collector." My principle interest is in creating an accurate pedigree, with as many sources as possible. With the amount of time and money spent in this pursuit, there has to be a better term. I am also interested in the history of the family and the places they work and the areas they come from. The information in that regard hopefully will be written and combined with the pedigree. However, all and all, I think I am a person that likes the thrill of the hunt and solving the questions that arise in a pedigree. If I have a sound pedigree, then I think I will be better equipped to write a family history.

Nancy said...

Oh, yes, I'm with you. I love to find those details that help complete portraits of my ancestors. They're usually not easy to find but it's so satisfying when there's that one more bit of anything from the life of a family member.

I think of myself as a family historian (as in searching out the history of family members) more than a genealogist (searching for names and dates). That's probably not the common interpretation, but that's how I think of it.

Anonymous said...

I went on a trip this summer to see the places my ancestors lived and worked. Took pictures of the now closed paper mills where you can still see the name even through the lettering has been taken down.

It truly was wonderful to see the towns my family came from and I hope to go back and see more in the future.