Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Connecting with Long Lost Relatives

How do you connect with a place you have never been before? How do you find family members who don't know you exist? Can you go home again - if you have never been there before?

Part of the reason I went to Newfoundland to research the Keough side of my family is because my grandfather left Newfoundland for the United States in 1916 and never went back. Although he stayed in written contact with his father and siblings, as was the case with most immigrants he had neither the time nor the funds to travel back home. In the 1960s he wanted to make the trip back for a visit ~ however when he finally decided to brave "air travel" health issues put the trip on hold. Sadly he never made the trip home.

Although one Aunt went to Newfoundland in the 1980s, she did it rather spur of the moment and kept most of the information and photographs from her trip among her family. Flash forward twenty-five years later with my cousin’s and my fledgling interest in genealogy and we were operating in the dark as far as possible family connections in Newfoundland. Happily there were a few excellent Newfoundland websites including Newfoundland GenWebNewfoundland's Grand Banks, and Bonavista Bay's Mailing List at Rootsweb that got us started making contact with our long lost relatives. We posted to the sites and were able to contact some extended Keough relatives who provided us with family tree information as well as a few potential contacts in St. John’s and Plate Cove, Newfoundland.

Even more amazing (and instantly gratifying) was my niece's suggestion to Google it and check out Facebook to see if there were any websites or group pages for any of our family names or locations. I have to admit I was never a big fan of Facebook as there is so much extraneous stuff but, much to my surprise and delight, both Google and Facebook came through for me in a big way!

Reminders for Finding People and Places
  • Use a combination of local genealogy sites and more general information sites to get a feel for the area ~ Grand Bank’s gave an excellent overview of Bonavista South ~ the region where my grandfather originated. I also make use of Wikipedia, Trip Advisor, local archive and library websites, local genealogy and historical society websites, and tourist information sites to gather location area information. It is important not only to learn the geography but also the history of the area.
  • Map your areas of interest (either using your genealogy database, a software mapping program or a web-based mapping program ~ I use Legacy Family Tree software as well as Google Maps to map the various locations of my ancestors’ migration.
  • Google the various locations to find any web pages devoted to your region and/or community ~ Open Hall and Bonavista both have great web pages.
  • Use Facebook to find group or location pages ~ the Plate Cove group page is a great site and helped me connect with potential relatives.
Once in Newfoundland, I contacted several people I had previously “met” through my email and Facebook connections. I traveled to the various communities and spent time visiting with them. People were happy to tell me their stories, share any information they had, allow me to take photographs of their family history papers and family photos, give me tours of their communities, share a meal with me, and suggest additional people to meet or places to check out.

A final thought ~ the Internet has made it quick and easy to connect with long lost relatives as well as learn about our ancestors' homelands. Take advantage of the numerous sites that help you "meet up" with family ~ you can go home again!

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