Every family has it’s skeletons, and my family is no different. The hardest part is knowing how to tread when looking at it from a family history point of view.
Two of my siblings have a different father than I do. It’s never made my love for them any different as they are still my brother and sister. It just makes it really difficult to share my research successes as for a huge part of my family history has nothing really to do with them. Sure they’ve adopted the name of my father but it isn’t his ancestors blood that flows through their veins.
At some point in the past few months I started to realize how unfair it is that I was able to talk and brag about my ancestors and where they came from, but that they had no idea about half of theirs. It made me sad and I decided to begin looking into their biological father’s family.
It started out innocently enough. I put his name and his parents names as far as I could remember. Amazingly, I was able to put together some information and could trace their family back to PEI for several generations. (Thanks Ancestry!) It was very exciting as I was finally able to pass along some history to my brother and sister.
And then the unthinkable happened.
“You have my mother on your tree. Why?”
How do you respond? What do you say? I was treading lightly as I hadn’t really revealed much to my siblings. They knew I was looking at family history, but I hadn’t completely told them about looking into their father’s family. How do I even deal with this request from one of their relatives?
Too chicken to ask face to face, I did what any scaredy cat would do in 2014, I sent them a private message over facebook and explained the situation and asked if it was okay to reveal a little bit of information. Amazingly, they both said sure. Both thought it would be really interesting to know they have family out there.
And so started a conversation with their 3rd cousin who remembers meeting my sister back in 1969. “She was an angel,” was how their cousin Maureen described my sister. Having seen pictures of her back then with her snow white hair, blue eyes and sweet cherubic face I am not surprised. Maureen has been able to reveal more about the family on their paternal grandmother’s side and we have shared pictures and stories.
It’s amazing how searching for that other family I’ve been able to fill in some blanks and get a better picture of my family.
Note: this is the second installment in my own version of #52ancestors where geneabloggers have been asked to write about a different ancestor every week for a year. To understand the concept, read my blog entry from January 19, 2014. To read my January entry on my mother, follow this link.
They’ve written books about my paternal great-grandmother’s Dryden family and have traced the tree down to famous hockey players and even Commander Hadfield who recently completed a stint at the space station. However not much is really known about my paternal grandfather and his family. Where did they come from? Did any of them do anything as outstanding as play in the NHL or go to space? How long have they been in Canada and where did they come from before they got here? So many questions and I needed to go back to Genealogy 101 – Start with what you know.
My paternal grandmother’s birth name was Margaret Dryden Porter. She was born in 1916 and had a twin brother. She passed away in 1996, when I was in my first year of college. When she was with us, she always had bad eye sight and a really hilarious outlook on life. My grandmother was always saying things like “Whoopee, whoopie!” and calling an overweight woman “healthy.” She was short (4’6″ at her tallest) and fun to tease. My siblings and I loved our “little grandma” to pieces, even if she did always ask, “Is that you Debbie?”
When she was with us, I never really had a chance to ask her anything about what life was like when she was a little girl or even what my grandfather was like (he died well before I was born in 1960.) It has left me with many questions about her family and where she came from.
I knew that my grandmother grew up around Galt and Hespeler (now Cambridge, Ontario) and through some of my research, I discovered that my grandmother’s father was William Porter and subsequently that he signed up to fight in The Great War (World War One) shortly before my grandmother and her twin brother Walter were born. The papers described what he looked like and where he lived in Galt, Ontario. I was happy to find the information but I was intrigued for another reason. He signed up in September 1915 and my grandmother was born in July 1916. Something is fishy about the math, especially when you think that twins are rarely carried to full term and September to July is 10 months.
The whole concept of a birth after he was in the military made me put this on the back burner. I really haven’t wanted to stir up any scandal or to offend anyone in the family if I can help it. Did I really want to open a can of worms questioning paternity?
Enter twitter and the lovely Jenn Annis who has been a huge help to me with regards to military history and records. When I started following Jenn on twitter I was just happy to find someone else local to talk about local stuff. I never expected her to have some possible answers to my family tree questions and to help push me to go further than just the Ancestry website as let’s face it, one website isn’t going to have everything.
One of the first questions Jenn asked me was if I had ordered and received the military records for my great grandfather William Porter.
My response, “I can do that?!?”
I had no idea. I really honestly didn’t think I’d be able to access anyone’s records unless I could prove that I was related. In reality, I knew this was the right person, but I wasn’t 100% sure I had all the documents to prove it. However when I started to look into it, I realized all I needed was his military number from his attestation papers, his name and birth date and I was good to go.
Even knowing this and having Jenn’s advice in the back of my mind, it took me a few months to finally bite the bullet and do it. What if I find out something bad? What if he wasn’t the war hero that I so desperately wish that he was? What if he got injured? What if there really wasn’t a possiblity that he is my grandmother’s father? So many what ifs and so many questions.
When I asked Jenn about the timeline, she advised me that it is entirely possible he wouldn’t have been deployed right away. Most likely he would have had training at a nearby base and he may even have had some leaves away from training until he got deployed overseas. That was a relief and made sense.
So I went to Library and Archives Canada and I sent in the request. I had no idea how long the document was going to be or how much it was going to cost but I was going to find out. A month later and I finally received the email – it’s time for payment. 69 pages of content was created. I can pay for a CD of it or they will email me the link to the information within 2 business days.
Here we are. I’ve paid and now it’s only a short period of time until I will have the answers I’ve been looking for. I really wouldn’t have done this without Jenn. I hope she knows how much I’ve appreciated her help and I look forward to bothering her with many more questions in the weeks to come as I pour over the documents. So Jenn, consider this your fair warning!