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David Albert Green and Lila Margueretta Miller – my parents July 14, 1940

… we were all wide-eyed and baby-scented Millennials, growing accustomed to this once-in-a-lifetime new year that began with the number 2 – catching our collective breath knowing that we had magically survived Y2K pandemonium… but also…

… 20 years ago this month I coordinated, edited, and collated a family book for a reunion of my Mom and Dad’s children and grandchildren; a reunion that celebrated what would have been my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary, had they lived to see the day themselves.

I’ll tell you more about the book and why you might consider doing something similar yourself in a minute.

My oldest brother Robert and wife Lois organized the family’s gathering at Miette Hot Springs, about 60 k. northeast of Jasper in the majestic and rugged Rocky Mountains.

My 4 siblings, our kids, and I have spread out from our Ontario childhood home of Hamilton, east to Nova Scotia, and westward into Saskatchewan and beyond to Alberta and British Columbia. I guess we were ahead of our time; we practised social distancing on a family basis before it was COVID-fashionable. So prescient!

And so, on July 14, 2000, our Green/Miller family group huddled together and staged a mini-reenactment of the tiny wedding that had taken place – in the midst of World War II’s gathering intensity – in Greenfield Park (Quebec) United Church 60 years earlier with two witnesses only: my Mom’s brother Alvin and his wife Pearl.

Back to the book preps: To put the book together for this reunion I decided to approach it in a two-pronged manner:

1. Gather the raw data of genealogy: birthdates, marriage dates and death dates. This satisfied my “science” mind, the 123’s of how we got to where we were in history. The internet was still relatively fresh to us all in 2000, but I was surprisingly able to gather lots and lots of family intelligence and figures. I unearthed a flock of names and relationships that were blind to me up until then. This was exciting!

Pedigree or ancestry chart template with portraits of men and women in round frames. Visualization of links between ancestors and descendants, family members. Modern colorful vector illustration.

2. As important though – in my thinking, more important – were the stories and details of daily life, the “artistic” or human side of all those names and dates. I wanted to see and read my family history through first hand accounts and stories. I longed to feel the life in my past.

I contacted all my living siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and newly-discovered relatives I found through my genealogy research. I asked (OK, begged) for stories and anecdotes from the past that gave personality to the basic facts.

It’s no huge secret that history is largely HISstory and HERstory viewed through our own unique and often biased eyes.

In generous spirit, I received lots of input. Yes!

I gathered together the written stories of those who were willing, and also collected those stories I could through letters and accounts that had been recorded by my relatives who were now passed. This was pure gold.

After my Mom’s Dad – my grandfather Will – died in the winter of 1935, my grandmother Maggie wrote to my Mom about her feelings of loneliness:

Mabel washed a big washing Monday with Clarence’s help and went home on Tuesday… Earl and Clarence are in the swamp and Lloyd is choring and in the house quite often. Still we can’t help but notice the vacant chair. It seems so quiet. But when we think of other people have to come through the same thing. We will have to do the best we know how.”

It’s a palpable reminder for me that all those names we sometimes glaze over in genealogy research were REAL people that breathed and pooped just like I do now (except that pooping part happened largely outdoors in outhouses). They had their own scent, their own voices. Personalities, sweet or irascible. Maybe even racist.

Another golden example: in his later years, my father wrote a mini-memoir to pass on to his kids and grandchildren. Writing your own life history is likely the best “advice” that my Dad ever unintentionally passed on to me.

Here’s a small sampling of what he wrote about the first time he and my Mom met, in 1937.

Recently, he had moved back to Ontario from Nova Scotia where he had been working for the Bank of Montreal for the Depression-era annual salary of  $938.61.

After a month or two of looking for work, I started in the office of Supertest Petroleum on Church Street [Toronto]. At first, I lived in the east end not far from Kew Beach as I thought how marvellous it would be to have a beach close by. I was soon to discover that Lake Ontario is mighty cold. I later decided to move to the west end of the city and joined a boarding house on Ostind Ave. I moved in one evening after work. As my landlady showed me to my room, I noticed a rather cute girl talking on the phone in the downstairs hall.  It turned out that she occupied the room next to mine and her name was Lila Miller. I was smitten and as she was unattached I made it my business to take up as much of her time as I could. Her mother, who was a widow, lived on a farm near Hillsburg with her youngest son Lloyd. There were five in the family, namely Alvin, Clarence, Mabel, Lloyd and Lila. Lila often went home on Sundays and the occasional weekend and I eventually got in on one of these trips home where Lila’s mother and Lloyd would look over Lila’s new boyfriend. They must have approved as I got to go again for the odd Sunday or weekend.”

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Since I pulled this information together in book form 20 years ago, I’ve lost a sister and a sister-in-law who were both at the 2000 family reunion. My eldest brother, the “smart” sibling of my family, sits in what appears an Alzheimer’s state of minimal registration of the world.

What I want to lay on you here today is… you, and your descendants will treasure any information and stories that you collect today about your grandparents, parents, siblings and yes, yourself.

Know that we are Kansas’s Dust in the Wind.

Our dust can blow in the free air and be lost like feathers in the morning breeze… that is a choice we can easily allow to happen, no action required…. or….

… we can catch some of that dust in a jar, like fireflies, and place a cap on it so that we and others, can enjoy its blanket of warmth over and over.

One hundred years from now, that dust will sit, undisturbed, unchanged and waiting to be “lived” again after you and I are dust ourselves.

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