One of the reasons I took on the challenge of knitting from Miss Lambert’s My Knitting Book (1843) was the search for a greater connection with my own past. In 1843 and later, perhaps some of my own ancestors owned a copy of this book (or a similar one), read its words and worked its patterns as they dreamed and prepared their trousseau. As I am knitting (slowly) away on my Knitted Silk Cuffs, I thought I would take this time to share the moment that kickstarted my research into my family tree and my passion for finding greater connections with my past.
First a little bit of background. My mother came to Canada from England in her early twenties so I am a first generation Canadian on her side. My father did not know much about his own family history but said my grandfather always claimed that our family from France at some point and had to anglicize their name to escape some kind of persecution. He wasn’t sure whether this was a family legend or a true part of our family history. I always thought growing up that our family’s history in Canada was relatively short and because of the name change, my father’s side of the family tree would be extremely difficult to trace. In my twenties, I learned that my great-great grandfather may have been a Home Child sent to Canada and adopted to work on the family farm and his family line would be virtually impossible to trace before that date. Until five years ago, I thought that my ancestor’s presence in Canada was limited, would be too difficult to trace and might always be a mystery.
Then, a colleague of mine became seriously ill and had to take an extended leave from work – I was given a few of her projects to finish for her and, for one project, I had to review a series of historical maps of Toronto. One of the buildings in my review was a building that was occupied by the Armory for the Signal Corps sometime before WWII. I remember that moment so clearly, it was as if time stood still for a few seconds, the office became silent and everything sharpened and came into focus. My grandfather on my father’s side was in the Canadian Army during WWII and I believe he was somehow involved with the Signal Corps. Could I be looking at a map showing the location of the very building where he enlisted? A building that no longer exists, I might add. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the day and went home that night and started researching my father’s side of the family tree. I e-mailed back and forth with my father, searched the internet for WWII military records and signed up for Ancestry.ca. I was amazed at the amount of information I found.
As I researched my family’s history in Canada, I was able to to make connections back in time from one generation to the next living in Canada. It became a bit of a game to see how far back I could trace our family’s presence in this country. Thanks to the fantastic record taking of the Catholic Church in Quebec, I discovered that one branch of my family tree on my father’s side can be traced back to île d’Orléans near Quebec City. My ancestors were among the earliest immigrants to Canada (New France) from France arriving in the early to mid-1600s.
This experience drove home the importance a single moment can have on life. If it hadn’t been for an out of the ordinary series of events including my colleague’s unfortunate illness, being assigned this specific project and having that particular map in the file, I might never have found out these incredible things about my family history. Because of this single moment, I went from believing that my father’s family was relatively new to Canada to learning they were actually some of the first European settlers in this country. Ironically, I have not yet been able to confirm whether my grandfather actually enlisted at the Signal Corps Armory building I saw in the historical map as the military records for World War II veterans have access restrictions and are protected by privacy legislation. My grandfather has passed away and, unfortunately, I cannot ask him myself.
In 2012, we took a family trip to Quebec City and spent a day driving around île d’Orléans. It is a truly beautiful place to visit, quiet and peaceful with picturesque farms and landscape views. We took a tour of the Manoir Mauvide-Genest (a historic house), read each historical plaque and challenged our abilities in French looking through documents at the Maison de nos Aïeux. It was particularly special to be able to take our children to see the place where their ancestors worked hard to survive almost 400 years ago and give them the chance to develop a personal connection to the past.
Some views of the south side of the island:
Antique loom, yarn winder and spinning wheel at Manoir Mauvide-Genest:
Views of the north side of the island: