- Written by Roberta Rivett
Why do we delve into family history, family connections, family stories? Perhaps everyone would have different reasons, and for some the question will never come up due to utter lack of interest. For me, it happened on a specific date shortly after I retired, when a cousin on my Niebuhr side visited. My sister Mary who also lives in Victoria joined us and as it had been some time since we had been together, the conversation was on our shared extended family. While the three of us chatted about family connections, the menfolks in another room chatted about whatever it is men talk about when they have an utter lack of interest in family history.
In the course of that afternoon we three women tried to identify all of our first cousins - all of the grandchildren of Jacob and Katharina Thiessen Rempel, Katharina's mother being Elizabeth Niebuhr of the Aron line.
Tried - and failed. Between us we could not name all of our first cousins! We were surprised and a little dismayed, because our Rempel parents had been close as siblings, and had had a family letter making its rounds among them for decades. That was the moment I decided to track down my first cousins, a moment when had no idea at all that I was standing on the event horizon of a black hole. In the ensuing years, I fell into that black hole and have lived there ever since, with my life being consumed by everything FAMILY. In the fifteen years since my retirement, I have produced nine - or is it ten? - books of family history, participated in the planning of half a dozen family reunions, visited graveyards and archives, explored (early stages) the resources of the Internet, established correspondence with several score of kin close and distant, found kindred spirits who are also blood kin and generally had a wonderful time. And while age is creeping on and memory is becoming undependable, I think I have a few more books and a few more reunions in me!
I have not yet been able to define WHY this family-oriented effort is is important to me. It just IS. Trying to puzzle this out is fruitless; I know only that it is a MAJOR change from my pre-retirement perspective on family, which was strictly limited to immediate family. Then, I wrote perhaps ten letters a year. Now I write (including emails) about ten a day, almost all to kin of one degree or another.
The writer Carolyn Heilbrun (AKA Amanda Cross) said in her book "The Last Gift of Time" that everyone should develop a passion in their retirement, one which is challenging, requires new learning and has enough depth to become fully absorbing. Perhaps I have merely been complying with the recommendation of a favourite author, but FAMILY HISTORY has been all that for me.