“Have you found Grandpa’s farm?” my cousin Leona asked me when I called her just after arriving in Walkerton, Ontario.”
This is all part of my research for my family history on my mother’s side.
Today’s class is on doing research for your memoir and beginning your memoir. In this post we will briefly focus on the research part.
Research can vary depending on your memoir’s content. For example, if you were born in another country from the one you now live in – you will be doing research in different countries. And if you are going back to your ancestors, that likely means another country.
I’m in Toronto, Canada, so some of the points I cover below will be from that perspective.
Last week’s post on family photos and how to use them to write your memoir, have another purpose. They not only can kick-start memories, but can provide possible people to interview about your shared past – and in the case of family – your ancestors. When I first began researching for my memoir, I went to my cousin Anne who is the family genealogist (on my mother’s side). Anne and I went to visit her father – my uncle and godfather – in the nursing home. Now, I’m a former journalist, but Anne did most of the work, showing her dad old photos (which I did supply) and asking him who was in it and to tell us a bit about what was going on. The photo showed a group of then young women, including my mother’s older sister who appeared to be waving a book around. At any suggestion that this aunt of mine was being frivolous, my uncle basically said that no, she was a good girl.
So photos can lead you to point people to interview and in turn they can lead you to others to interview, a good thing with me as only two uncles remained alive then (both since died) to interview. But another cousin, Anita, who used to go with her mother to visit extended family, put me on to one of her mother’s best friends who was still living. Got a lot of family information from her.
Besides photos of family and friends, there are diaries (maybe like me, you kept one or two or more). I went through most of them (I keep them in a box) and pulled out one or two with excerpts that could be used. You might also have access to family letters and documents such as wills and house sales. I have some of the latter.
Anita was a big help in my search for Grandpa’s farm where I used to visit with my parents every summer. They could drive there – the two miles from Mildmay, Ontario, but didn’t know the exact lot and plot numbers. You need that to find out who currently owns the property. And we had no intention of just landing at the farmhouse and banging on the door.
The search taught me two things. Serendipity plays a big role and your research is never all online or all in person and phone.
Churches and the area assessment office often have records. So I phoned both – no luck with either. So onto the Internet and to the area’s main library branch in nearby Walkerton, Ontario. Yes, they had land registry info so I booked a day’s use for the micro fiche machine, contacted cousins Anita and Leona for our actual visit to the farm after, b00ked a motel room in the main area of Walkerton (no hotels), got a bus ticket, packed my bags and off I went.
The librarian who booked the micro fiche wasn’t in that day and the librarian who was didn’t know how to work the micro fiche machine. Neither did I, but she figured it out and handed me six possible micro fiche rolls. If you have ever used micro fiche, it is labour-intensive, not easy like digital (Note: some larger libraries in big cities have their daily newspapers digitized from when the newspaper began to up to two years ag0 and with a library card you can access it from your laptop anywhere). I found the info in the sixth roll but did discover another couple of properties that my grandfather owned. I was so excited until I discovered the info went up to the early 1980s and we were now in the 21st. century.
So I asked a librarian for the Land Registry phone number, phoned them for their hours and location.
They were still open for half an hour and were one block from the library.
I paid for the micro fiche copies, gathered my belongings and ran out the door. And stood on the corner.
Which way to go? I asked somebody and charged down the street, just in time to get inside, look at the latest piece of information, get it photocopied and pay for that. Then it was back to the motel to make some phone calls to the current owners and my cousins.
I had an answer to Leona’s question and she and Anita met me at the motel the next morning. And we were off. But that’s another research story.
Only Child Writes