The storytelling genealogical benefactor

I am impressed by the authors of family history books. They just seem to know so darn much, don’t they? And while their audience may be limited, they write nonetheless.

One such researcher and author has been a tremendous boon to my knowledge of family history. His writings, composed in the 1980s and early ‘90s are not so much a book, in that they have not been bound and published, but I have a binder packed with information that helps me so much in putting some of the many pieces together.

The Preface:

The purpose of this account is to tell something of our first Harrisons in Canada with respect to names, locations and times. The notes and charts relate mainly to this facet of the early ancestral foundation from which so many grand families have sprung. The first Harrisons were pioneers in this country, but the toil and hardships and joys which were theirs are not talked about here. Hopefully someone else will narrate and add that important aspect to the family history.

Also, these notes provide only a starting point. It is urged that someone in each of the descendant family groups continue the work of expanding the charts for their group by filling gaps that now exist and by including the younger generations where they are not now shown. As well, they should record something of importance about each of their members, at least about the deceased members of their group while there are still those around who knew them well or who knew something about them. By doing so a real treasure will be created.

Title page and preamble from Cyril Morris binderCuriously, the late Cyril Morris, author, was not even a Harrison descendent, but had married into the lineage. So in my possession, I have what must have been hundreds if not thousands of hours of research, compilation, communication, and creations from someone to whom I am not even related. What makes the book so special is that it is not simply lists of dates and locations and the names of people who would then be no more familiar than any others who happened to show up on a list in front of me. Here there are stories. While it is true that, as stated in his preamble, the toils and hardships are not herein recorded, there is no shortage of stories to guide the research of those who follow Mr. Morris.

Catherine Harrison and her twin sister, Anna, were born in France, near Paris, on October 19, 1815. Their father had been stationed there with the British Army of Occupation following the defeat of Napoleon in June of that year. Catherine was seven years old when the family carne to Canada and was 16 years old when her father died. In 1836 she married James McQueen who lived in Cornwall Township. They had one child, Catherine, whose baptism is recorded in the Parish Register of St. Andrew’s:

“This twenty second day of November one thousand eight hundred and thirty six by me undersigned Parish Priest Catherine born the twelfth instant of the lawful marriage of James McQueen & Catherine Harrison. Sponsors John McDonald & Jane McDonell
George A Hay Pt”

This binder was shared with me by Mr. Morris’ son. Though I did not have an opportunity to know Mr. Morris when he was alive, I am so pleased that his son would trust my mother and I enough after a face-to-face meeting to allow us to take a copy. There is a great deal of information respecting living descendants, it having been collected on the understanding that it would not be publicly published. The binder has not been widely distributed as a result.

With Mr. Morris’ progeny not especially interested in furthering the family history at this point, it may well fall to me to take the George Harrison page from Cyril Morris binderbinder from it’s current typewritten state and turn it into a digital document that can be shared with future generations. With each photocopying, of course, it will become less legible, and with every year, it becomes more out-of-date. Once digitized for easy editing and easy sharing—and, of course, to mask any sensitive information about living relatives—it will become a document that the thousands of us who descend from an English soldier stationed in Canada during the War of 1812 and his (possibly Canadian) wife can learn from and appreciate all who came before.

My point in this lengthy scribe is to encourage you to narrate your family history, even if you know not who it is for. Mr. Morris did not know of our family at the time he did his research, and had no idea that I even existed. And yet, here I sit as a key benefactor of his research with a 171-page document abounding in family histories, land location records, maps, and truly quaint hand-drawn family trees crafted at times with the tiniest, neatest printing you can imagine.

You don’t know just who will inherit your work. While the hundreds of pages of letters, data, obituaries and other such various and sundry documents that have been handed down to my mother will be immensely helpful as I become more familiar with their contents, it is this compiled telling that will be my most valuable genealogical inheritance for some time, and perhaps for all time. The ease with which it can be digested not only makes for easy consumption, but it actually inspires more curiosity than it satisfies.

You are the expert in your research. As someone who is the beneficiary of this very thing, make sure that you turn your data into something that can be easily understood and navigated by those who may come along five, twenty-five or one hundred and five years hence. And indeed, someone will come along. It may well not be your own offspring, but someone down the line will have tremendous gratitude for the groundwork that you have laid. Your efforts as a storytelling genealogical benefactor will do more to make all of your hard work live beyond you than your collected pile of records ever could.

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One Response to The storytelling genealogical benefactor

  1. Dawn Turner says:

    Thank goodness for the writers and researchers in our families. I have one great-great-uncle Sam who loved to write and a great aunt (still living) who has a phenomenal memory and has compiled a big book of family history. I myself have begun putting together binders of my own history (four big white binders so far) for my children and grandchildren.

    It is important for us to know where we come from. And our ancestors want their stories to be told…


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