February 15, 2013

Carpe Diem! Missed Genealogy Opportunites

Aunt Mary
Recently I've been thinking about my Uncle Joe. He knew I was interested in our McGinnis family history and origins, and every time I'd visit him he'd offer to phone his Uncle Henry or cousin Dan so I could meet them. I'd have an opportunity to ask questions, look at family photos and gather more information on our family origins. But I refused every time.

I didn't feel like it. I was tired. I was shy. I was in Elora to visit him, not strangers. Those were my excuses. Mind you I was a lot younger then. I was in my 30s and even though I loved genealogy I guess I just didn't have it as my top priority.

They are all dead now. Uncle Joe, his Uncle Henry, his cousin Dan and many others I never met and whose names I've forgotten! A missed opportunity.

My dad used to take us to Guelph every month to visit his mother and brothers. While there we always went to see his Aunt Mary (his father's sister). She was, I suspect, the keeper of the family treasures, knowledge and photographs. She was married but childless and my dad was very fond of her. I was terrified of her and her husband because they seemed so old and dour to me! Even her clothes frightened me.

Then my father died. I was 14 years old. My mother and I continued going to Guelph to visit his mother (my grandmother) but we never visited Aunt Mary again. She lived until I was 20 years old! I've no idea who cleared out her house in Guelph but I sigh now to think of all the photos that no doubt were there tucked away in albums or in boxes. I've never seen a photo of my great-grandfather Alex McGinnis and would love to know more about him.

Mary was his eldest child and was the only one I know of who had anything to do with him after he and her mother separated in the 1890s. Mary erected a tombstone at his grave and paid for his burial. I am convinced she had photos and other memorabilia about Alex. If only my mom had kept in touch! If only I had sought her out as a young adult. If only I could have whispered in my own ear from the future "Ask to see family photos!" "Ask about her father Alex and his parents Joseph and Fanny!" Another missed opportunity.

Pratt pot lid
As much as my maternal grandmother and I talked about her family, I never thought to ask her about her grandparents! I asked about her parents and she told me many stories of her life as a child in Ramsgate England. For that I'm grateful. She also passed on many family treasures to me - her favourite brother's book presented to him in 1908 for perfect attendance at Sunday School, her mother's toast rack, her husband's engraved gold pocket watch given to him on his 21st birthday, her mother's beautifully decorated Prattware pot lids and more. I'm lucky to have them. But... why did I never ask her to tell me what she remembered of her grandparents? Or of her voyage to Canada from England in 1913? I missed many chances to learn more.

Some chances we are entirely accountable for missing. Others were missed because of circumstances beyond our control. But no matter the reason, we lose the opportunity.

Do you have an elderly relative you've been meaning to visit? To ask about their memories? Do it! Don't wait or you may miss a golden opportunity. Remember.... Carpe Diem! Seize the Day.

6 comments:

Smadar Belkind Gerson said...

You are so right Lorine. I don't like dwelling on those missed opportunities. Like you, I have my share of them! It's better to focus on the feature and seize the day!

The Grandmother Here said...

Missed opportunities are sad. But now I'm worried about what will happen to the family treasures that I have when I die. What will the anti-clutter generation do with my grandmother's mirror? Sigh.

Lady K said...

Agreed! The more I do of these, the more I wish I had asked my grandmother questions! Now she has passed & it's a struggle getting it filled in

Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

Missed opportunities can haunt you. We cannot go back to fix our mistakes. We can be sure to follow every lead we have today.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

Carpe Diem is good genie advice....like you I wished iI knew more,a sked more questions, ignored the family fueds, and paid more attention. Perhps it's the very reason we're so dogged now, as well as remorsedul. Thanks Lorine.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

So very true. I wish that I had been less shy when visiting with the older generations when I was small. Like you I remember being afraid if them. Now I write about them wistfully on my blog. I can't change that but I am working to ensure my children don't follow in my footsteps!