Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Genealogy - A Look Back

Recently, I have been asked by a blog visitor to give some insight on the genealogy work that I am focused on. So for this blog entry I thought that I would start with a look back on my voyage of researching family history. Now, I don’t remember the exact year that I became interested in genealogy but I know that I was still High School when I starting putting information down on paper. During those early years, I was in and out with the interest and like most young people, strayed away when something else caught my attention. It was in 1996, with the introduction of the internet and our first home computer, that I really started to put my family history together. When I look back on those early days, I have to laugh at my novice approach. With genealogy, few are fortunate to have mentors and often approach the subject the best way they know how. Then along the way, we meet others with who we share ideas and best practises. But there was something that sparked my interest at an early age. In my case, it was my great-grandfather, Donald Bradford Sr. As a young child, Gramp would tell me great stories and he had so much pride in his family’s rich history, a history that goes back to William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony and the Mayflower families. At his home, on the steps leading upstairs, were several old photographs of Gramp’s brothers who fought during the First World War. Those old photos of young men in uniform always caught my attention and Gramp was proud to tell me the names of his brothers. However, I always wanted to know more; more about the Bradford family; more about my great-great-uncles, especially of Martin and Eric who were killed as a result of the war. Perhaps it was due to Gramp’s own death that I felt the need to keep those stories close and to build on them for future generations. So started my adventure with family history. 

While the Bradford family branches from my maternal grandmother, another adventure was at work with my maternal grandfather’s family, the McGarrigle family. On a particular St. Patricks Day in the mid-1990s, I was asked by an old man at the end of a bar why I was celebrating St. Patricks Day since my surname, Gaudet, was far from being Irish. I mumbled something that my mother’s maiden name was McGarrigle but in reality I had no solid information other than that. I couldn’t even tell this drunken old fool where in Ireland my family came from. Was I just another person posing as a wannabe Irish for the day? What was worst, few in my own family could even say for certain where our ancestor came from. Well, that started another adventure and years later, in June 2009, I found myself standing on the old McGarrigle property at Foyagh Hill, near Ballintra, Co. Donegal, fully aware of my Irish roots and the story of my ancestor, John McGarrigle, made when he left Ireland in the mid-1840s. Oddly enough, the pride that I now have in my Irish roots keeps away from the pubs on St. Patricks Day. 

The Bradford and McGarrigle families are from my mother’s side but I have been just as busy researching my father’s side, I have successfully traced the Gaudet and Belliveau surnames back to France in the late fifteenth century. The history of the Gaudet and Belliveau, along with the various other Acadian surnames intertwined with these families, are very similar since they nearly all follow the history of the Acadian people. From leaving France and settling in the New World (“Acadie”), to the Deportation of 1755 which split families apart and destroyed communities. In 2004, I attended the Acadian National Congress in Clare, Digby Co., Nova Scotia. I might never have attended the event if I was not aware of my heritage. While at the Gaudet world reunion, I met with many distant cousins, some from Louisiana and Mississippi. Together we created a family tree on a gymnasium wall which started with Jehan Gaudet, our common ancestor from France. The tree was amazing as it branched out and expanded down through 15-20 generations. There, on the wall, was perhaps the true meaning of life. Where would we be if it was not for Jehan? And during the events of Hurricane Katrina, I found myself patiently waiting for responses from my cousins in the southern states because after all, they are family no matter how far removed.  

Researching family history is not always an enjoyable task. You become more aware of life and death and attend more funerals than most of your cousins. But you also have to contend with relatives that feel that you are pulling skeltons out of the closet or have some ancient belief that talking about the dead is bad karma. I have often said that it is sometimes easier to get information from those that are deceased than those that are living. Some relatives withhold info and old family photos as if they were holding back something that will make them rich. But with each relative that attempts to withhold, another relative appears that shows up with just as much interest as you. In the end, your reward is a wonderful story; one full of life’s hardships and blessings; a story that is a non-fiction classic, a story that is your own.

Beside my four primary surnames of Gaudet, McGarrigle, Bradford and Belliveau, I am gathering information on the Leavitt (of Charlotte Co.), Burrell (of York Co.), Proctor (of Kings Co.) and Connors (of Charlotte Co.) families. If you have any question on these families, please feel free to contact me.

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