Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Window Into the Past

I got a terrific gift this weekend. I got it from an American guy with whom I share the same, somewhat unusual family name.

This fellow, my 10th cousin, decided to do the genealogy thing when he retired as an officer in the US military. Only he decided to do it not for his immediate family but for the whole clan which, as it turns out, represented a tree with four main branches.

I found his website in 1999 and contacted him, giving information of my family going back but two generations. My great-grandfather died well before my dad was born and, in those early days, there was a disconnect and so my dad, who's now 90, knew very little of his grandfather.

I contacted my American friend this weekend to ask if he'd found out anything further and I got an e-mail back within a few hours. There were three attachments and my jaw dropped as I began reading.

I now know my lineage, unbroken, going back 18-generations. In truth, I know one generation further back but only just. Turns out he was a Teutonic Knight, one of a force that reached the Swedish island of Gotland somewhere around the early to mid-1200s. Apparently he was in the conquering and pillaging business before he retired to England. The trail, with names, addresses and full details, picks up in 1275 in Yorkshire.

My American cousin took partial strands of information he gleaned here and there and matched them up using census, tax, parish and land records to verify the connections. Then, and here's the good part, he started a DNA project by which he's been able to biologically trace each of the four branches. That's how he confirmed my branch from Germany to Gotland to England to Canada.

My mom's buried in the "family plot" in Leamington, Ontario. After her funeral my kid brother and I went to the town hall to get burial records and found, not only the graves of the immediate relatives we knew, but also a handful of "unknowns" shown on the chart. A mystery - until yesterday. We now know who the unknowns are. They're my family's direct line since their arrival in Canada in the early 1800s. My American cousin knew all about them, even down to where each is buried.

I began the weekend knowing really nothing of my past beyond the life of my grandfather and ended the weekend with a roadmap going back to Edward I and beyond. Mind-boggling.

The whole thing is a tribute to a guy who devoted his retirement to this project and learned how to harness the internet and DNA science to his search. I now know the outline of my family story and maybe, someday I'll be able to find out more and add to it.


Anonymous said...

Isn't that great!! My roots have been traced back to 1000. My father's ancestors arrived in North America in the 1600 hundreds and migrated to what is now Canada. Very interesting. Cheers

Mike said...

Very cool. My mother says my grandfather did something like this for his family, tracing them back to Vikings that invaded the Orkney's around 1000 too. My mother's family name apparently means "Red Island" ... and being a family of 6ft+ blond haired Brits was a bit of a giveaway too.

I'd love to confirm that old family tale, but I only can go back to the 1830 in Kiethley with her...

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Mike. It sure is pretty cool to have names and details of births, marriages, deaths, etc., spiced up with the odd bit of personal information - noteworthy occupations and events.

It took my newfound American cousin an awful lot of time and some serious tech savvy (that's your game, Mike) to put it all together. He began by focusing on harvesting raw data, bits and pieces of genealogical information and then, when he reached a critical mass, using computer technology and the internet to fill in the gaps from ancient records and then verifying it all with DNA tracing.

Now he'll make available your basic DNA profile free of charge so you can have yourself tested and your results compared with the family standard. You just have to pay for your own testing. No money changes hands with him, a real rarity in the modern world of geneaology.

The Mound of Sound said...

I should have said he nmakes available "our" DNA profiles free of charge. The project is only for our, relatively rare line. For example, there were but two with my surname in the Greater Vancouver region - until I added a few of my own.