Column: Mysteries in the family history

Families are odd things and family history is often odder.

Families are odd things and family history is often odder.

I’m sure some of you have too many living relatives to worry much about former family. But those of us who enjoy poking around in the world of genealogy are often more surprised by events than we expected.

I’ve done a little research, mainly on my father’s side. It’s easier to investigate in a language you understand – the Ukrainian and Polish on my mother’s side create a challenge.

The first thing you realize when you start to research family history is that you’re always starting too late. I really wish I’d been curious when my paternal grandmother was still alive. She lived into her 90s, but when you’re young, family stories often don’t seem all that important. My father and his siblings have memories of their parents’ and relatives’ lives, but there are many blank spots.

For instance I’ll probably never know what my grandfather did for two years when he and my grandmother went to England, got married and had their first child. Did he work for his father-in-law? It was certainly not mentioned to any of his kids or at least not that they remember.

While that time period remains a mystery, I did, discover some pretty amazing things. Using simple online searches, I found a letter that my great grandfather William Thomas (Tom) Denton wrote to his hometown paper in Driffield, England, extolling the opportunities to be found in Manitoba.

The letter is a little over the top, knowing as I do that the attempts at farming were defeated by poor land and flooding. Maybe it was written soon after he arrived and he was excited by what he first saw.

My cousin Russ is the real history sleuth in the family. He started researching years ago and is the go-to guy for any family info.

A good example was his work delving into what ultimately happened to our great-grandfather.

Despite searching, Russ could never find an obituary and no one alive seemed to know what happened to him, until recently.

A few months ago in the Winnipeg archives, Russ came across an article about Tom’s retirement from the park. The article stated that the freshly retired Tom was moving to Victoria with two of his sons. Nice to know my great-grandfather was a pioneer in turning Victoria into a retirement destination.

This new info gave Russ a whole new direction and he’s since found that Tom married for a third time while here. He lived on Bethune Avenue in Saanich, and a recent visit allowed Russ to meet some descendants by the name of O’Connor.

These unexpected discoveries can really make researching your family’s background a rewarding pastime.

While I was writing this column, I was randomly typing into Google family names to see what would pop up. I quickly discovered a few new facts about my paternal grandmother’s brother, George Fowle. Then came the real surprise.

My great grandfather had come to Canada with his wife and children, as well as a half-brother, Timothy Barmby. That half-brother had one child, who never had kids of his own, so that seemed like the end of the Barmby family line here.

Except my search also turned up a family page for a Barmby brother or cousin who came to Canada at the same time, married in Winnipeg, had children and ended up in Saskatchewan.

Who knew? Well, now we do.

So now it’s back to the previous mystery: what did my grandfather do for those years in London?

Don Denton is photo supervisor for Black Press Greater Victoria.

ddenton@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Law Enforcement Torch Run in support of Special Olympics B.C. kicks off with a run at Swan Lake on June 6. The virtual fundraiser runs until June 20. (Saanich Police/Twitter)
Torch run seeks to scorch previous fundraiser, targets $75,000 for Special Olympics

Global movement shoots for 40,000 km in honour of the 40th anniversary

Victoria Truth Centre and Long-term Inmates Now in the Community (L.I.N.C.) Society are hoping to replicate in Langford the format used on Emma’s Farm in Mission, pictured here. (Patrick Penner/Black Press Media)
Victoria Truth Centre hopes to grow transformative justice in Langford

Purchase proposal would see offenders, survivors and families work on organic vegetable farm

Tyson Muzzillo, regional manager of BC Cannabis Store, welcomes shoppers to their Uptown location, opening on June 16. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Government-run cannabis store opening at Saanich’s Uptown

BC Cannabis Store the first for government in Greater Victoria, 27th in province

Mural artist Paul Archer will soon begin work on a piece on the rear of a building at 100 Burnside Road West. (Gorge Tillicum Community Association)
Back of Burnside building in Saanich to feature mural of hope and positivity

Artist Paul Archer says subject will inspire memories, depict children’s future, sunshine, flowers

The stretch of trail north of Royal Bay Secondary connecting to Painters Trail at Murray’s Pond will be closed temporarily this week for invasive species removal. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood trail behind Royal Bay Secondary temporarily closed for invasive species removal

Cloure in effect from 9 a.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. Friday this week

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Cowichan Tribes man Adrian Sylvester is worried that he was targetted by a trailer hitch thrown from a vehicle. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Tribes man worried he was target of trailer hitch

Adrian Sylvester says no one has reported a missing hitch after one nearly hit him

Graeme Roberts, who was mayor of Nanaimo from 1984-86, died this month at age 89. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Community Archives)
City of Nanaimo flags at half-mast as former mayor Graeme Roberts dies at 89

‘Giant-killer’ beat out Frank Ney in mayoral election in 1984

Most Read