When I started researching my family history, and then creating a family tree, my intention was primarily to find out where I came from. More specifically, it was to find out where my ancestors came from and how some of us ended up here, in Southern Ontario, Canada.
As I added name after name, and place after place, I couldn't help but want to know more about my relatives. As I started reviewing census records, finding addresses, finding names of relatives I never knew had existed, my desire to learn more about these people grew. I soon started reviewing addresses and was surprised in many cases to discover my ancestors had lived in places with which I was familiar.
As I dug deeper into my family history, even more surprises appeared and my desire to piece together the puzzle of my family's past grew even stronger. I wanted to know what made my immediate ancestors decide to leave countries which they had called home for centuries and move to Canada, which was, by comparison, a wilderness. 100 years ago, Toronto was little more than a large village, especially when compared to London, New York, Boston or other large city centers.
I continued to add names, dates and places to my family tree, publishing everyone on Ancestry.com. I decided to leave my family tree as "public", meaning that any other Ancestry.com member could view my tree and use the information it contained. I hadn't given much thought about anyone contacting me, or me contacting them, but then one day I received an email on my Ancestry account. The email was not from a family member, but from a close friend of a cousin of mine from Derby, England. The lady that wrote to me, Liz, said she was working on a family tree for my cousin, Jeanette, who was related to me through my maternal Grandfather's mother (my Great-grandmother). We exchanged some information, both of us filling in names, dates and information as well as exchanged Facebook information so that Liz, Jeanette and I could learn more about each other.
Approximately a year after my initial contact with Liz, I was heading to London for a vacation. My cousin Jeanette lives in Derby, a city located roughly 100 miles to the north of London. On a whim, I sent Jeanette an email saying I would be in London and wanted to know if she would be interested in meeting, either in Derby or in London. To my surprise, Jeanette said yes, she would like to meet me and so our plans to get together in London started to form. Jeanette and her eldest son, Dave, would come down to London and meet me.
I was in London with Greg and we had spent several days sight-seeing and had planned to meet with Jeanette and Dave the day before we were heading to Amsterdam for the weekend. I figured that one day would be plenty of time to get to know these long-lost relatives, and I think Jeanette thought the same thing.
Here's where things got interesting! As I was preparing to meet my previously unknown cousins, Greg asked me "So what are you going to do if you don't like them?" to which I responded "If I don't like them, I will spend the day with them and never have to see them again." Well, as it turns out, Jeanette and Dave were having the exact same discussion on the train heading into London, and Jeanette's answer was exactly the same as mine! Nature vs. nurture as they say!
As it turns out, the four of us got along like we were long-lost friends. We spent the afternoon and evening together and found we had loads in common. The connection we felt was immediate and conversation flowed and we had fun. When we finally said our good-byes sometime around midnight, I felt that the time had gone by too quickly and too many questions remained unanswered.
The following summer Greg and I went back to London and this time I rented a car and drove to Derby to visit Jeanette, Dave and the rest of my family. Liz even put together a guided tour of Derby showing me where generations of my family had lived, worked and died over the centuries. Once again we all got along just great and plans were made to meet again in London in 2016. Just Jeanette and Dave joined us in London last summer, and we spent several days exploring the city.
This year, my English cousins are heading to this side of the pond for the first time and it will be my turn to show them how their Canadian cousins live and will give them a chance to meet more of their Canadian family. Everyone is excited and looking forward to their visit and we hope to make it a memorable one.
I have, of course, met other family members in person and corresponded with even more. So far everyone I have met has been terrific and the meetings have been comfortable and informative. I haven't formed long lasting friendships with everyone, but those I have formed friendships with have made the effort worthwhile. This was never planned when I set up all those years ago to discover my ancestry, but it has been a definite added bonus!
While you are on your search for ancestors, keep in mind your living relatives as well. Not everyone will make a connection, but if you do, you might just end up with a great friendship and help reunite your extended family in the process.