Discovering the past

Not everyone knows about their ancestors. But with a little bit of searching, genealogists are able to find information about their families that they never fathomed.

“You can contact distant relatives that you’ve never seen or heard from before. You can find magic things that you always hoped you could find,” said Harriet DeWolfe, a member of the South Whidbey Genealogical Society.

To be a genealogist, one gets to play the role of a detective and researcher, and apply the logic to get the scoop on past relatives.

DeWolfe said when she learned about her relatives, they suddenly became special to her.

“It’s the pleasure of knowing more about your family and yourself — and how you’re connected,” she said.

The Genealogical Society of South Whidbey has about 75 members. They are holding a community seminar for all levels of genealogists later this month.

“Genealogy is the second largest hobby in North America, maybe in the world,” DeWolfe said. “People are into it big time.”

“I think the incredible growth is in large part due to the Internet, where so much is now available,” DeWolfe said.

The Internet is a growing tool that enables genealogists to find more about where they came from.

But genealogists have to be careful about how and where they obtain their information. Some Internet sites may not have reliable information.

“It’s a wonderful tool to use for clues, but maybe not to use for evidence in your file,” DeWolfe said.

“But the other thing that’s happening is that there are many sites out there that are the real McCoy,” she said.

The upcoming genealogy seminar will educate participants about how to get the most reliable information in the most efficient manner.

The South Whidbey society has one of the best of the best genealogists coming to speak at their seminar.

Christine Rose is a veritable “who’s who” in the field. Not only has she written a variety of books about genealogy and lectured throughout the nation, Rose is a member of The American Society of Genealogists, an honored genealogical group limited to 50 participants.

The Genealogical Society of South Whidbey last held a seminar two years ago. The speaker at that seminar was also a member of the honored group of genealogists.

“We are very fortunate for a very small society to get such good speakers,” DeWolfe said.

“We are really, really excited about this. We think it’s going to be a terrific seminar,” the genealogist added.

DeWolfe has been a genealogist for many years. She became interested in genealogy before she even knew what it was.

“It’s a fun story,” she said. “It goes like this.”

“I was just a young child and my grandmother on my mother’s side used to talk about family a lot.”

One day, DeWolfe’s grandmother was talking to her mother about a letter she’d received. The letter contained information about many of their ancestors.

DeWolfe’s mother was intrigued and asked for a copy. But her grandmother refused.

“My mother got all upset,” DeWolfe said.

After a bit of time had passed, her mother again asked for a copy of the letter, but her grandmother replied by saying, “I burned it.”

“I asked myself, ‘Now why would my grandmother burn it?’” DeWolfe said.

DeWolfe knew her grandmother was a very proper lady, and wondered what she was trying to hide.

After DeWolfe’s grandmother passed away, DeWolfe learned that the letter hadn’t been burned.

“I read it, and it did mention alcohol, but nothing more than that,” DeWolfe said.

After further exploration, DeWolfe stumbled upon the news her grandmother hadn’t wanted to share. DeWolfe discovered an ancestor that she calls “Thomas the Dark.”

“It turned out that he had murdered two people. And he was one of the last people hung in Ontario,” DeWolfe said.

“Of course I about died when I found out because it was such a shock that there was that much of a skeleton in the closet,” she added.

Despite the surprise of the discovery, DeWolfe values what she’s learned from her genealogical endeavors.

“It was a wonderful piece of history to find out because it told me so much about my family,” she said.

DeWolfe was able to trace her relatives migration from Ireland, to New York, to Ontario.

She’s found information about her ancestors’ way of life, and ways of thinking.

DeWolfe said when she first started researching her family’s past, she felt like a detective uncovering a mystery.

“And you always do,” she said. “When you do genealogy there is always something new that you can’t figure out.”

“The research is fun and being a detective is fun. Putting things together and trying to figure out if you can take the next step is fun,” DeWolfe said. “And then if you love history, just the history part of it is fun.”

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