David Stark was my husband's maternal grandfather, who died of cancer in his late forties, leaving his widow with children still at home - the youngest was four.  There is  little evidence of his life in document form.  One item is the draft of a letter he sent to a hospital requesting a reduction of the bill for the isolation care of three of his children in the fever ward for six weeks. The family story is that the letter received a favourable response, but with his death shortly thereafter his widow required years to pay off the reduced bill. Beyond that there is little:  his inscription in a book he gave to his daughter - a fine copperplate hand;  a few pictures; his military record, obrained by his youngest son from England.  And as for memories, only his two youngest, one being my mother-in-law, survive, and the youngest doesn't remember his father at all.  My mother-in-law says of him that he didn't speak with his children.  She didn't recall any dinner-table conversation, in fact she recalls no conversation with him ever and she was thirteen when he died.  She does recall him inviting each child to pick something from the Eaton's Catalogue as his gift when he returned from overseas after the end of World War I.  She picked a brown velvet dress.

The David Stark story as I am assembling it is in strong contrast to that of my great-grandfather Henry Thomas Wake, of whom more later.  Henry Thomas left MUCH documentary evidence.

Even with the dearth of material for the David Stark book, I feel it is worthwhile to assemble everything that can be found and make it available to David Stark's descendants.  But there is not enough to get a feeling for the man, or to grasp some small portion of his thoughts.  This saddens me, and I am impelled to make everything I can of the scraps available to me.

Status:  Another grandson of David Stark has been trying to track down evidence of David Stark's birth in Scotland.  Although the documents of birth, death and marriage as well as census records are all available for the relevant times, nothing has been found.  The family is inclined to the view that when he fought with his father and left home at an early age to join the army, he may have lied about his age, and even given a different name.  

The few pictures have been assembled, the memories of his daughter have been drafted,  the scant material evidences of his existence have been assembled.  His daughter, my mother-in-law, has his army paybook - I have seen it - but she cannot at this moment put her hands on it.  A copy of its pages belongs in David Stark's book, so I must wait for the paybook to be found.  I feel I cannot pressure someone of her age, though she likes the idea of a book about her father, but I feel pressure myself due to her age.  I hope the book will be complete while she is still with us.

Sometimes the people who have had the most adventurous lives in one sense or another are the toughest to get to write about their lives.  My brother David had a VERY adventurous youth which included extensive world travel by backpack and thumb, as it were.  My husband David's whole life has been adventurous as well, for a different reason.  Sixty years ago when he was first in the work force (reserve airforce at fifteen - he lied about his age) there was the expectation that a person got his high school education and then found a job and remained in that job for the rest of his working life.  In the 21st century, someone graduating from high school can expect to have many different careers, each preceeded by a spell of education.  David was  merely half a century ahead of his time, having had so far seven careers and more than twenty years of schooling.

But these two near-and-dear Davids are not at all inclined to WRITE about their lives.  My brother David is a raconteur, and in order to have a story from him for the Rempel Cousins book, I compelled him to sit down and concentrate on A STORY, while I made notes.  You will find that story in the Rempel Cousins Book, July 2008.  

We don't see Brother David often;  he lives at a distance and we don't travel much.  But even with Husband David being more of a captive in this matter, he does not write!

But wait!  When we lived in Ontario, he wrote regular letters to his parents in Victoria and these were preserved on computer.  And years ago when the grandchildren were small, he wrote a series of stories for them, the Grandpa Stories.   AND he kept a journal of his experience in the air force on Arctic Survival.

He didn't have to write anything MORE for me to have enough content for a book!  I assembled these materials and voila!  A BOOK!

There are always surprises working on family history.  It was not a surprise that he wrote entertaining letters, nor that he wrote an enthralling journal of his adventures in the north, nor that his Grandpa Stories each had a moral.  What surprised me was that the letters he wrote to his parents (those preserved were from the seventies and eighties) about our life in London, Ontario, and his work as a lawyer, had such a strong feeling of ANCIENT HISTORY about them. Reviewing them in preparation for their inclusion in the book, I read of events I had not thought of since, which in consequence seemed to have happened in the distant past, not just two or three decades earlier.  This caused me to reflect that the past which starts only a split second ago is just as lost to us as the centuries-old history of a family line - if we fail to record it.  From this experience came more motivation to persist with the work on books about the near and extended family.

Status:  "David Rivett:  Stories and Letters" was completed in January 2007.

Helen was  my father-in-law's younger sister; Charlie was her husband.  For years they lived a few blocks away from us but we saw them rarely,  at large family gatherings or when their daughters, David's cousins, were in town.  Helen said she had often invited the girls to ask questions about the early life of their parents, but they had never taken  up the invitation.  It occurred to me that it wasn't likely to happen while their daughters were in the throes of their own careers and families, and living two provinces to the east.  

Those questions needed to be asked, and I told them that I would ask them and record what they said.  

The basis for the questions was a little book, "To Our Children's Children:  Preserving Family Histories For Generations To Come,"  by Bob Greene and D.G. Fulford,  1993.  I quote from the introduction which is directed to someone wanting to write their own story but it applies equally to writing someone else's story.

"You will find in these pages many questions - questions to lead you down the pathways of your own life.  What you are going to be doing is putting together a personal history for your family.  We're here to show you that it can be easy and full of pleasure for you - something intimate and special, the creating of a lasting and beautiful hand-me-down for your children, your children's children and generations that will come along far in the future.

"Your story will mave much more resonance for your children and grandchildren than any biography  or autobiography of a famous person.  It's almost startling that making this kind of personal history has not been a custom.  Older people are often able to leave property or money behind for their descendants, but this - a package of memories of a person's life - is what usually doesn't get passed along.  The most precious commodities of all - people's own recollections of their worlds - seldom get preserved, at least in a proper and permanent way.

"The secret of all this is found in the particulars.  The specifics of your own memories are what your family will treausre the most.  The main thing for you to know is that you need not attempt to sum up your life in grand, sweeping historic strokes, but stick to the seemingly small basics.

"Thus a man in his seventies shouldn't try to tell his children what post-World War I Canada was like; he should answer for them the question 'What did the neighborhood where you grew up look like?'  Or:  'Who was your best friend when you were a boy, and what did the two of you do together?'   Or:  'How did you get your first job, and what was it like on your first day?'

"A woman in her eighties shouldn't try to reconstruct the political events that took place during her youth.  She should reach into her memory to answer questions on richer topics:  'What was your schoolhouse like?'  Or:  'What to you remember about going on automobile rides with your family?'  Or:  Describe what you would do on summer days when you were a girl.'

"The purpose of this book is to help you along the way.  If you know what questions to ask yourself, the answers almost take care of themselves - you already know them but you may not have thought about them for a while.

"Maybe you have never considered that the stories from your life are important.  But be assured that they will be cherished far beyond anything money could buy.  Whether you write your history or speak it into a tape recorder, your stories will be eagerly awaited by the most appreciative audience of all - your family.  Far into the future, your family will read your words or listen to your voice and be grateful that you took the time to put this gift together for them."

For the better part of one winter, I went over every Tuesday afternoon for two or three hours and we three, Helen, Charlie and I,  sat at the kitchen table, asking and answering the questions and recording the responses.  Then I went home and expanded and transcribed my notes and sorted them into chapters - Ancestors, Childhood and so on.  

I didn't use all of the questions in the book;  there were literally thousands of them.  But the book was helpful in exploring the lives of those two - the particulars of those lives, not the grand sweeping history, but the personal and intimate living of those lives.

From a standing start, people will often say, "I didn't have an exciting life;  I didn't do anything dramatic," and will be prepared to leave it at that.  But knowing that Helen and Charlie had the urge to tell their story and were merely waiting for someone to ask, I asked.  Through them I was helped to learn that there are NO lives bereft of drama, and excitement, pain and joy.

In due course the book was produced, and illustrated with photographs from Helen and Charlie's collection.  Copies were printed and bound for the appropriate people.  Within  a couple of years Helen had died at 89, and six months later Charlie  at 91 followed her. The last chapter of the book, their reflections about their life as a whole, was read by their son-in-law as Charlie's eulogy.

The timing had not been right for their daughters to tell their parents' story;  it was, however, right for me, and the story was written.  This was a great satisfaction for me, because I had myself left it too late to record so many of my own family's stories from their  memories, and had to rely instead on the printed reflections of their lives and the memories of others.  For Helen and Charlie it had not been too late.

One consequence of this experience has been my effort to pull together stories from my Rempel first cousins - and even with this group, now in the grandparent stage of life, it is too late for some of them.  

Every life has a story - a unique and important story.  Every story needs to be told for the younger generations to understand the lives of their forebears.  My conviction about this drives my interest - my passion - to spend most of my waking hours working on family history in one manner or another.

Status:  "Helen and Charlie:  Our Life Together"  was completed in 2002.

Journals are records written of a life as it is lived; entries might not be daily, and there is no limitation on the amount written.  Usually they are found in notebooks.  I have transcribed two of this kind, one of which set me thinking about the nature of the enterprise.  There will be more about these journals in later posts.

And then there are diaries.  As a child I was given a five year diary, a small book with a minuscule lock and key, showing five years of a given date on each page. I believe I wrote in it most days for a time, but I didn't keep it up.   I think now that I understand why.

My Aunt Elsie's diary was of the latter kind.  This and the two journals mentioned have given me some insights into the ways people can record their lives. Reflections upon these insights will be recorded here another time, under the "Family History" rubric.

Aunt Elsie was my father's younger sister.  The evidence in hand tells me that she began her diary-writing at the age of 19, and it was of the journal kind rather than a five year diary.  In 1923, at the age of 19, she spent a year away from her home at Valley Springs Ranch in Saskatchewan, visiting her older sister Winnie who was married, living in Iowa and expecting her second child.  After that there is a break of twelve years;  her diaries - of the five-year kind - apparently resume in 1935.  I say apparently because when they do resume it is clear that the writing patterns and the habit of daily entries are well-established.  It seems that for unknown reasons the diaries of the intervening years were not preserved. The five year diaries then continue until 1988, at which time  Aunt Elsie,  well into her eighties and with arthritis and failng vision gave the collection of little volumes to her niece in Iowa.  She felt a special bond with this niece, who had been born the year Elsie spent in Iowa.  The niece, learning of my interest in family history, sent the diaries to me, to make of them what I could.  

What I made of them was that they were a family treasure, and further, a treasure of the history of Saskatchewan.  Over the ensuing years my sister Mary Crane and I transcribed the first five years fully, the next five partially and the following years very selectively, transcribing only her entries for major family events.  Even this limited transcription became  about 500 pages. The process of transcription was laborious;  the the small space allowed for each day, the abbreviations, the elegant but often inscrutable handwriting, the disintegrating tiny books meant that sometimes an hour's effort - Mary deciphering, I typing - would generate only a few days' entries.  The need to include footnotes to help the reader also kept the pace slow.  In five years, working about two hours on most Tuesdays, we finally completed our task in the spring of 2008.  We added the transcription of the 1923 journal, a few other items and some illustrations, then printed and bound several copies, one for each of the branches of the family who had known Aunt Elsie. Several people in addition received the text as an email attachment. The originals along with a paper copy, on the recommendation of Elsie's son, were sent to the Saskatchewan Archives Board, which received them with considerable excitement.

Status:  This family history project was completed in spring 2008.  Comments have come back from several recipients.  Special acknowledgement is made of the contributions to the footnotes by Frank Saunders, our second cousin, who helped us make the farming and ranching references accessible to our urban children and grandchildren.

At the Niebuhr gathering in Abbotsford in the summer of 2006, visiting at lunchtime with cousins and second cousins, a vast interest in a shared great-aunt was discovered.  That great-aunt was Mary (Maria) Thiessen Falk Tuesher Anderson, 1890 - 1966, was  a descendant of the Aron line through her mother Elizabeth Niebuhr.  I have this image in my mind, the memory of our younger generation at that lunch table.  With their jaws dropping and their eyes popping out of their heads  they listened to my generation tell stories of Great-Aunt Mary.  One of them was my daughter, who promptly wrote a song about her great-great-aunt, having found at that moment that she did after all have an interest in family history.  Her interest, however, was fixed on the "black sheep"  rather than the hard-working good-hearted souls comprising most of our family.  In several senses, Great-Aunt Mary was indeed a black sheep, and of this category of kin, there will be more in a later post.

My daughter's song was the start of a book I am assembling about Great-Aunt Mary (GAM.)    I have collected memories from many people, and because my brother Barry has more personal memories of GAM than I do, he accepted the task of reviewing the transcribed memories and other material.  I THOUGHT he might just do a little editing and proofreading, but no, the material cried out for a narrative to be written, with the memories as appendices. Being familiar with the phenomenon of family history telling me how it wanted to be written, I accepted this plan, and   Brother Barry is in the process of writing  the narrative.  

We agreed that GAM's descendants had to be included in some manner, and found that we had little information about the life of Mary's son Henry, only that he had moved to the West Coast and lived out his life in Comox, British Columbia.  He had married and there was reference to his having twin daughters, as well as glancing references to his work.  Alberta cousins said that  GAM visited her son every year and stopped with them on her way from Saskatoon to Comox;  they had a wealth of anecdotes about those visits.

Attempts to track down these descendants have so far been unsuccessful. No record has been found of Henry and his wife and daughters in Comox.   The next step will be to advertise in the local paper, asking anyone with knowledge of this family to contact Barry, for family history purposes.

Barry tells me writing the narrative has been a challenge largely because the materials we have are so conflicted about her character and her ways. One image of her arises from the letters she wrote to Canada from Russia when she was a young woman preparing for her marriage.  She had stayed in Russia, the youngest of the family, when many of the rest in 1902 and later, emigrated from Russia to Canada.  The letters were to her older sister, my grandmother Katharina Thiessen Rempel.  They were written in German and fortunately other family members who are fluent in German have translated them.  

Another image comes from the stories she told to her sister Katharina after she too came to Canada, of her life in Russia after her father died in 1912.  She went through World War I, the Russian Revolution, famine and plague - and with her son, survived.  

We have few pictures of her:  as a girl in Russia;  her first wedding; with her son when first in Canada; her second wedding.  These are studio portraits.  There is a snapshot of her third wedding.

It is not possible to know people well through the scraps they may leave of their lives.  It IS possible, however, to know them better, and to honor their lives through making them accessible to the later generations of their family.

I would have liked to know Great-Aunt Mary well.  Failing that, I can at least try to tell a little of her story.

Status:  Waiting for Barry's narrative and the discovery of GAM's descendants.

This entry will focus on the content of this almost-complete book, and its contribution to my understanding of 20th Century history.

Letters can cover a lot of territory.  Most letters between family members report what's going on in the life of the writer - births and deaths and marriages in the family, travels, small daily items like the price of butter.  Half a century, a century later, these events take on a larger significance than they might have at the time, and a greater interest to the reader, especially if that reader has a kin connection to the writer.

One of the groupings of letters will be the focus of this report - those from the Sturge-Artiss family in Birmingham.  A very early letter to the Ranch was to my father Bob Hinde from his uncle-by-marriage Edward Sturge.  It had been written from a train;  Edward was travelling into Devonshire to look into a matter of a property there.  His comments about the passing scene included the impact the war had had on what he was seeing - World War I, 1915, almost a century ago now.  It is a VERY different matter to read about the war or see movies or documentaries about it, and to read the thoughts of a person who was living it.

This applies also to letters written to the Ranch by Edward Sturge's wife, my grandmother's sister Annie, and their daughter Mary, in the thirties and during World War II.  A different matter indeed.  They lived in Britain's industrial midlands, and their city, Birmingham, was bombed  heavily during the war.  Mary Sturge Artiss described living in the midst of a balloon barrage, and the impact it had on her four children.  One of the balloons was tethered in their garden, brought down each morning to be recharged, and then sent aloft again to forestall low-flying bombers.  She commented that this may have been counterproductive because it meant the bombers had to fly much higher, consequently were much less accurate in targeting factories and munitions plants, instead dropping their bombs on residential areas.  But the children regarded that barrage balloon as their personal airborne dinosaur and gave it an affectionate name.

One of her sons brought home the story from school that he felt left out because most of the other children had pieces of shrapnel to show, or bomb damage to describe;  through the entire war the whole family and their residence were undamaged.  

And then for a time the bombing ceased.  Mary Artiss's letter then said it was because the bombers had all gone to the Russian front.  I had the sense of the sweep of history, with these people, my FAMILY (Mary Artiss would be my first cousin once removed) being in the midst of what I had only read about.

Food was a huge issue. Not long after the war began, the family at Valley Springs Ranch began sending food parcels to the family in Birmingham.  Rationing was severe in England,  and continued for many years after the war.  Canada was food-rich.  Those food parcels - lard, raisins, sugar - were much appreciated.  The restrictions were never mentioned as a complaint, rather, with an air of "We're coping," and joyful descriptions of the culinary delights created by the gifts from across the sea.

Letters  teach history in a way other reading cannot.  Letters have an immediacy, and an ability to capture something of the character of the writer within the context of a time and place.  From my work with the letters of my kin, I thought that if I were ever to write of my life, it would probably be through letters.  Then I recalled that for the first half century of my life I wrote scarcely any letters.  Nor did I keep a diary or a journal.  So my life, if ever it is written of, might have memories but not the  immediacy of letters and journals.

Status of Letters to the Ranch:  Final editing/proofing, although I have said that before and been proven wrong.  I am determined to finish it in 2008.  Copies will go to each branch of cousins and second cousins on my father's side.

I started to write a summary of the process of putting the letters together but instead, I lifted the introduction I wrote for Letters to the Ranch, which appears below.  Something about the process of assembling the book will become 6c.

INTRODUCTION TO "LETTERS TO THE RANCH"

In 1912, my grandparents Joseph and Martha (Patty) Wake Hinde emigrated with their family from Birmingham to Central Saskatchewan, settling east of the village of Borden.   In time, the family formed Valley Springs Ranch, and lived there and worked the Ranch until after many decades the last of the family retired from active ranching.

Following the death of Henry Wake (Harry) Hinde in 1981, his widow Mary Needler Hinde and his sister Elsie Hinde Ingram made the decision to donate the documents, letters and photographs that had accumulated over the years at Valley Springs Ranch, to the Saskatchewan Archives Board.    Subsequently Mary Hinde Crane and Roberta Hinde Rivett, granddaughters of Joseph and Martha Hinde, arranged for copies of much of this material to be made, largely  sent from family members living elsewhere to the family at the Ranch.  From those letters, this volume has been compiled.

The family at Valley Springs Ranch kept in close correspondence with members who had moved away, and with members who had remained in England.  Several sequences of letters have emerged from examination of the Hinde Collection at the Saskatchewan Archives Board.  Letters from Leonard Hinde, the oldest son, and Winifred Hinde Chamness, the second daughter, represent two groupings; these were children of Joseph and Martha who lived at a distance from the Ranch after their marriages.  Letters from others of the immediate family are infrequent as usually their absences from the near environs of the Ranch were of limited duration. Another grouping is the letters from England.  Woven into the letters from England are the very few letters that other members of the Hinde family wrote to each other during their rare absences from Valley Springs Ranch.  All the letters donated to the Saskatchewan Archives Board have been transcribed to form this volume along with a few others kept by Bob and Susie Hinde.

All  the letters from members of the Hinde family and of the Wake family in England and from others, are presented in the order of their date.   Occasionally missing pages or omitted dates require guesses as to the date, but to the extent possible all are in chronological order.

From the available material it appears that letters were exchanged about every two months between the Sturge-Artiss family in England and the Hinde family in Canada.  It is assumed that this began with their separation in 1912 and ended only with the death of Mary Artiss in the 1980s.   Most of the letters which were preserved are from the period of World War II, and even with these the sequence is incomplete.  Many factors may serve to explain these gaps.  The preservation of letters is not a common or consistent practice generally, and it appears to be the case with this family as well.  During the war, many letters clearly were lost in transit.  There is a hint that some might have fallen prey to wartime censorship.  In addition there is indication that letters were shared among family members near or distant, with no expectation of return.

The Hinde Letters present a similar picture, with the added note that many of them make reference to the financial difficulties that were a major reason for the family's emigration, and which followed them to their new life.

The available letters represent a treasure-trove of family history.  It is a very different experience to know of wartime Britain through   the letters of kinfolk during both World Wars and to know it through television documentaries, movies or books.  The Sturge-Artiss letters date from 1914 to 1953. Although it is known that Mary Artiss continued to write to Susanna Hinde well after her husband Bob Hinde's death in 1978, these letters have not been preserved.

The Hinde letters begin in 1910, two years before the family emigrated, and continue until the death of Joseph Hinde in 1955, with one sad missive received following his death. The pre-emigration letter is shown here because of the foundation it provides for later letters relating to Joseph Hinde's financial situation.

The letters which became available through the Saskatchewan Archives Board have been footnoted to provide the reader with as much information as is known about the people named.   Where nothing is known, it is assumed friends were named rather than kin.  In some instances the nature of the connection is clear in the letters, in others it cannot, perhaps, be known now.   In writing footnotes the editor had in mind her grandchildren, and what they might need to understand the content of the letters.

J. Denys Hinde of Cumbria provided the footnotes for the Hinde letters and he also provided much of the information in the Hinde family tree, Appendix I.

In 1958, Mary Hinde (later Crane) visited in England with many of the people mentioned in the letters.  It is her knowledge that makes the connections for the English members of the family, in the footnotes of these letters.

Patty, or Pattie, is Martha Wake Hinde.  Her sister, Annie Wake Sturge, and her niece Mary Sturge Artiss, are the writers of many of the letters.  Martha's husband is Joseph Hinde, and Annie's, Edward Sturge.  Mary's husband is Tom Artiss, and their children are Ruth, Christine, Joseph and David.  Mary was the only child of Annie and Edward Sturge.  Amy Sturge is the sister of Edward Sturge.

Uncle Joe is Joseph Hinde; Robert who signs the early letters is Joseph Hinde's brother. The later Robert is Joseph Hinde's nephew, son of the earlier Robert.

Mary Sadler is Joseph Hinde's sister.    Maria Sadler is her daughter and Joseph's niece.  Elsie Hinde is another niece of Joseph's, daughter of   his brother Robert.

At the time these letters were written, all the writers and most of their kin and friends were members of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers.

Letters from Winifred and Leonard

Winifred left Valley Springs Ranch to live in West Branch, Iowa when she married.  The context of her available letters indicates that she wrote to the Ranch weekly;  if this is so, the vast majority of her letters was not preserved.  Those which remain cluster around the late 1940s and early  1950s.  

Leonard too left the Ranch, first to live in Saskatoon, and later, Ontario.  His available letters begin during  World War II and continue sporadically for a decade, after which several written by his wife Ruth were preserved.

These letters too are woven into the whole  in chronological order.

A few other letters found in the SAB collection are  included.

This will be in two parts; the first will provide background, the second, #6b, later, will describe the project.  

People write letters.  No, modify that:  some people write letters - and these days emails.  Some people save the letters they receive.  If they save the letters long enough, those letters become of great interest to their descendants,  because they capture the daily life of generations past.

My early years were spent at Valley Springs Ranch in the Great Bend Municipality of Saskatchewan, in the elbow of the North Saskatchewan River northwest of Saskatoon.  My father's people - English Quakers who arrived in 1912 - homesteaded there, and in time finding the riverbank and the stony plateau above the river unsuitable for grain-growing, raised cattle instead.  Five Quaker families came to the district in the early years of the last century, and while they were not kin then, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now all connected...

Each of those families, my grandparents' family  included, left close family behind them in England.  During the following fifty years, letters went back and forth regularly between England and Valley Springs Ranch, and also between my grandparents and those of their children who lived at a distance.

Some of those letters were saved at Valley Springs Ranch.  Why some and not others?  Because the letters were passed from hand to hand in the Quaker community, and there did not seem to be the expectation that they would always be returned.  

When the time came for the last of my grandparents' children to retire and leave Valley Springs Ranch, the decision was made to donate the letters, along with photographs, documents, diaries and memorabilia, to the Saskatchewan Archives Board. This was the early 1980s, and at that time no one in the younger generation - MY generation - had expressed an interest in this material, consequently it seemed to my aunts to be a good move to do this.

And a good move it was.  The Hinde Fond of the Saskatchewan Archives Board, now housed in the main SAB location in Regina, is set up to document, preserve and make accessible all archival material. We know this from visiting the SAB Saskatoon, and being required to get a researcher's pass, and they wear white gloves to handle the material...

Several years ago my sister and I started arranging for copies of pictures and paper materials to be copied.  Among these were the letters to the Ranch, and when they finally were given attention, they cried out to be made into a book.  That book, Letters to the Ranch, is close to being ready to print and bind, and it is hoped it will be dated 2008.

Status:  It's on the front burner.  Mary took the draft for final proofreading yesterday. 

Couple of days ago I had a call from - let's see - a step-first-cousin once removed on the Rempel side of my Mennonite heritage.  We have been communicating by email for some time, sharing a passion for family history but with that passion taking different forms.  Abe Hamm is his name.  Last fall Abe and his brother George took the Mennonite Heritage Cruise  through the Ukraine and visited the villages and locales of their forebears - and indeed the forebears of most of us of Russian Mennonite descent.  Through the winter Abe assembled, narrated, researched, put background music to ten - soon to be eleven - DVDs, each about half an hour long, of his trip. He has generously let us have copies of the disks so we too have gone on that trip, virtually.  Coincidentally, one of my fourth cousins, Walter Giesbrecht, was also on that cruise, so there were pictures of him among the others, just as I remember him from his presentation and later conversation at the Niebuhr Reunion in Abbotsford in 2006.

But that's not MY family history project.  I hadn't thought of it as a family project at all, this one, but now I think it is.  Family Reunions.  The subject came up in Abe's recent phone call, wherein among other things he asked me about my experience in planning family reunions.  He said that he had a feeling he was going to be prevailed upon to plan one for his branch and he wanted some idea of what he might be getting himself into.

Smart move, Abe.

I certainly didn't know what I was getting into when I became involved in reunion planning committees, but I saw the value of reunions, and when crowds of people at one reunion did NOT leap to the head of the line with offers to take on planning the next, I figured since I thought they were worthwhile I should put my money where my mouth was.  I have now attended six reunions and have been involved in planning five of them, so I may be said to have some experience, which I am glad to share with Abe.  Or anyone else.  Just ask me.  I am happy to pass on what I have learned, including samples of documents, to anyone who inquires.  But I won't be participating in any more planning committees.  I am corresponding secretary for the upcoming Rempel cousins reunion in Borden, Saskatchewan in August, and I will be giving a presentation, but that's it.  I intend to devote my family history project time to printed efforts!

Family reunions ARE worthwhile.  I don't suppose I could include all the reasons I believe that is the case if I were to type for another hour. Take it as given, and if you are asked to participate in planning, deliver a presentation, sing a song or just ATTEND - DO IT!

My brother Barry and his family lived for several years on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean.  While there he wrote a great many letters home.  Barry is a natural raconteur and he could make a report on his trip by bicycle to get groceries into an epic journey of great hilarity.  I think the letters he sent to me must have been in the last box I unpacked after we moved to Victoria in 1993, because I didn't find them until about 1999, at which time they jumped out of the box, scolding me for neglect.  They demanded to become a book.

The rest of the family - our mother, brother David and sister Mary were asked for all letters from Reunion which they had saved, and I transcribed them  in date order into the computer, along with the content of Barry's notebook of that period of his life.    After a preliminary round of proofreading, I sent a printout of the draft to Barry for his consideration.

People have many styles of letter-writing (and email posting for that matter) with two major categories of content - the physical landscape and the mental landscape.  In addition, people select two different time frames for the content of their letters.  One time frame will be "What I wrote to you since I last wrote" in other words, catching you up with my life;  the other will be,  "What is going on in my physical environment and my mental landscape NOW, as I write."

Barry's letters included the content of both landscapes, but his time frame was NOT to catch up his addressee with what had been going on since he last wrote to that person, but rather the events and thoughts of TODAY.

In consequence, when he read my transcript of his collected letters, he saw enormous gaps in the overall STORY of his experience on Reunion.  The gaps would not exist if ALL of his letters had been preserved, but many, perhaps half, were sent to friends, hence not included in my transcript.

The transcript was sent to Barry several years before he retired.  He said he needed to write a narrative to fill in the gaps left by the exclusion of the letters to friends, and indeed of the letters to family which did not come into my hands.  But, he said, this task would have to wait until he retired.

Barry retired in 2004, and discovered what many retirees do, which is that he is busier than when he worked.  I'm still waiting.

I TRY to put deadlines on myself, I really do try!  It rarely works.  Yesterday I was entering newly received data into the genealogy program and found in the notes associated with the person I was entering data on that I had said in a cross-reference that a relevant book would be "privately printed in 2005."  It is 2008, and I hope that this book will get done this year.  Heavy sigh.

Sometimes, however, deadlines have more weight, and actually do help.  In less than six weeks' time there is a family reunion (of the grandchildren of Katharina and Jacob Rempel, Katharina being a daughter of Elizabeth Niebuhr of the Aron line) and for that reunion I must have ready copies of the Rempel Cousin Stories.  If I weren't having so much fun with this blog I would probably put in more work on that book.

The idea for the Rempel Cousins Stories came from an earlier book, Rempel Stories, 2002.  And THAT book demanded to be prepared when I found that several of the Rempel aunts and uncles, and indeed Grandmother Katharina herself, had written stories of their lives.  I collected and edited these stories and printed the book in two volumes.  I will write more about it in a later entry.  Meantime, the Rempel COUSINS book is on the boil and demanding to be fully cooked by the end of July.

Assembling stories already written by the cousins is one matter, and extracting stories from cousins who have not yet written is another matter entirely.  For several years I have been reminding my cousins in the twice-yearly letters-to-all about writing stories;  last November I gave them a deadline (April 30, 2008) for inclusion in the edition targeted for the reunion this summer.  The deadline evoked a spate of new stories - thank you, cousins! - but there remain several whose stories will be absent from the book.

At least - absent from THIS edition of the book -   that's the marvel of the computer.  I print up very few copies at a time and bind them myself, so if I want to make changes, it is no big matter to do so and print up more copies.

And why do I want to collect cousin stories?  a) they are interesting and worthwhile in themselves; b) everyone should be encouraged to write of their lives and the prospect of being published in a family book being published may constitute encouragement; and c) when I have found/acquired/been given stories written by older generations I have been moved, enthralled, in awe, and I have felt more closely CONNECTED to the writer.  

The underlying purpose of my entire retirement passion is to become more closely connected to my extended family, past, present and future.  Putting their words into books is one way of doing that.

I have two days off, starting tomorrow.  WHAT?  DAYS OFF?  I am supposed to be retired.  Yes, days off.  Days when I have no commitments away from home, no duties at home which will occupy significant parts of the day.  Those days are rare, and having two in a row is rarer still.  I shall use them to complete, print and bind copies of the Rempel Cousins Book.

#1  Family letter 16 June 2008.

#2  Letter-to-all.

History is not only the distant past, our ancestors.  We make history minute by minute, and as my  interest in family history diversified to include the present and indeed the future, I set out to capture the present and record it.  Several years ago  I started, in addition to the family letter another letter, sent twice a year to all the first cousins and the few remaining elders of the next generation on my mother's side. This letter-to-all reports the status of the family letter, provides information about the next reunion, reminds the cousins about submitting stories for the Rempel Cousins book, reports on the status of other family history books and reminds the cousins about the family data base and my interest in the details about changes in their family constellations. It may also include reports of the latest reunions which  many of the cousins may not have attended - such as the Niebuhr reunion in Abbotsford in 2006.  Sadly, it may also include obituaries.  And with it twice a year I send out the Master Contact List, which often prompts corrections in addresses, postal or email.

While no reply to this mass mailing is expected, often there are references to it in personal letters and emails from the cousins.  I know it meets a need for me;  I think it may also meet a need, or at least an interest,  for others of the cousins.

My sister Mary Crane assists with the preparation and mailing of this letter-to-all.  This is one of the many family history projects on which we work together.

Status:  ongoing.

After working on family history projects for several years and being casual and unorganized, I believe it is time to MAKE A LIST.  I propose to record each of the projects I have undertaken, and identify their present status.

The order of these entries will be the order they occur to me, that is to say, random.  It's the way my mind seems to work.

I hope that once I have them all written down, some element of organization will suggest itself and I will be able to make swift progress thereafter.  The only organizational theme I know about at this point came from a fellow enthusiast, who undertakes one (and one only) family history project at a time, completing it before starting another.  This strategy while effective in her case is of no use to me as I have MANY projects already started, and  a few actually finished.

So here goes.

1.  Family Letter. In the 1930s and 1940s my mother and her siblings had a circulating letter among themselves.  Using that model I checked for interest among my first cousins on my mother's side, and then started one up. The first round began in January 1997.  The fifth round is now en route.  With 25 cousins on the route and an average of two years per round, each holds the letter for an average of about a month.  Doesn't work out that way, of course;  the range of time has been from one day to six months.  The "letter" when it comes around is a substantial package, containing the letters from each, along with pictures and memorabilia.  Each cousin adds his or her new letter and pictures, and removed the old one when sending it onward.

This being established, I repeated the process with the first cousins on my father's side.  The rounds have been slower with this group, with the letter being "lost" for more than two years with one cousin, and with four countries being involved, not just Canada.

Status:  ongoing.