There is no greater thrill for Campbell River Genealogical Society members than helping people discover their roots.
“It is marvelous”, says Carolyn Henshall, president of the CRGS, whose motto is Lost Families Found. “When somebody finds their family that they never knew or they correct a misconception, it’s really wonderful.”
She insists that genealogy is more than a hobby.
“It’s really – who are you? How can you know who you are without knowing your past?”
The society has more than 100 members, who attend meetings and research family trees, helped by a CRGS library in the Campbell River Maritime Heritage Centre.
The library is open to the public at no charge, although the CRGS charges a nominal fee for seminars. The city’s genealogical society has some history of its own.
“They were formed in 1977,” Henshall says. “They started just meeting in peoples’ homes. Then they outgrew that, so they went to… I think the first place they went was St. John Ambulance.”
The group had a library behind the Bank of Montreal in half of the Campbell River Physiotherapy Clinic building until the Maritime Heritage Centre opened in 2002. That location is where the CRGS has its computers.
As Henshall explains, computers and the Internet have an upside and a downside for genealogists. “It’s actually a bit of a Catch-22,” Henshall begins.
“In some ways, the Internet is absolutely amazing. So much is being digitized that people can actually see their records. That’s the good news.”
“On the other hand, the old-fashioned way of writing letters, interviewing people, studying the history of what was going on at the time: People aren’t doing that as much anymore. You know, they are having success, and the Internet is great, but you can’t just go on Ancestry.com and build viable genealogy”
One problem, explains Henshall, is that this method uses only one source.
ìFor another thing, people are putting their family trees on there, and it’s not verified. I might see great-great-grandfather born in such and such ñ this person says so ñ but if you don’t have proof, you might have the wrong person.î Henshall uses her own lineage as an example of verifiable genealogy. ìIf you look at my binders, they’re full of certificates and tax statements.î
For hard-core genealogists, there’s no substitute for travelling to the scene of your ancestors’ homes. ìAfter my late husband died, his cousin and I went to Quebec and we stood on the land that the Loyalists had there, and then went across the border into Vermont and drove up into the mountains and stood on the land that his great-grandfather owned. You don’t get that by going on the Internet.”
Henshall acknowledges that not everyone will go to those lengths. ìWe try and help people find a way to look in a way that suits them best. That’s what we do.”
Delving into the past can be tricky, Henshall says. For example, historical records are preserved better in some countries than in others.
“It depends where you’re from. In some countries, the records have been destroyed. The censuses were burned in Ireland because they didn’t have peat and they were freezing.”
Henshall managed to track her husband’s family back to the 1500s in England, although she says Henry VIII burned many records in 1537 when he divorced himself from the Catholic Church.
Henshall has a keen appreciation of history and how it has brought her to where she is now.
“My father was five years old when they escaped from Russia. They were on the second-last boat before Stalin slammed the door.”
The Campbell River Genealogical Society has many activities, including a cenotaph project in which CRGS members research the history behind the names on the city’s cenotaph.
In another project, the CRGS gathers copies of school classroom photos from the region and identifies students in the photos.
The group will even arrange for a group attending a school or family reunion to visit the CRGS library and view its resources, including a collection of school class pictures with students identified.
The society also recently acquired copies of the Victoria Times and Colonist newspapers back to 1855.
In its mission statement, the Campbell River Genealogical Society states it will strive “to provide a place where people in Campbell River and area can obtain information about family history research and access expertise and resources.”
It stated purpose is “to promote the study of genealogy and genealogical research and to maintain a library for the collection and preservation of genealogical, historical and biographical matter related to local, national and international family history interests.”
The following projects are some of the ways the CRGS achieves its mandate:
• Cenotaph soldiers research: compiling the history of all the men inscribed on our local cenotaph;
• Cemetery indexing: includes headstone photos;
• Cemetery interment sheet indexing;
• Cemetery veteran database;
• Pioneer medallion application form indexing;
• Local history and family memoirs book indexing;
• Voters’ list transcribing and indexing;
• Settlers’ histories (includes interviewing and filling out a form);
Class photo project: gathering copies, scanning then labelling the students in all school class photos for all years from the area, including the outlying islands.
For details about the CRGS, visit www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bccrgc or phone 250-286-8042.