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What’s Not in the Records

July 17, 2016

As distinct from strict paper genealogy, full family history often uncovers rumours, tidbits of gossip, controversy, cover-ups, and other things you can’t find in records.

Sometimes a dead infant was hastily forgotten. Just as often, the child of an unwed teenage girl was raised by the mother’s parents, the grandparents acting in appearance and on paper as the biological parents.

This is the sort of thing DNA testing or rigorous research can sometimes clarify, but there are lot of other things DNA can’t point to, and it’s always useful to interview as many relatives as you can, because even if they’re slightly off about some things, they may be your only possible source for some information.

Take, for example, my great-granduncle, Major George Malcolm Smith, M.C. The first Rhodes Scholar from Western Canada, Uncle George, as history records, led a parade of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry at Steenvoorde, France, 100 years ago, on the 18th of June 1916.

In the autumn of that bloody year, as history also records, George was in the Battle of the Somme, at Courcelettes, where he ably covered the retreat of an entire regiment with a Lewis gun, earning him the Military Cross.

Later, he was Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alberta, and served as a Major in the Second World War. Part of this time he spent in Ottawa on a project which I don’t believe has ever been declassified.

So, history does not record everything. Besides the mystery of what he was involved in while in Ottawa – a slight clue is offered in that later in the First World War, he worked in the British intelligence corps – George held another secret, which was that he was gay. Unfortunately, some of his relatives cut him out of their lives for this, and this fact would not have made it this far in history without human witnesses.

So please, when you’re putting a family tree together, consider that there are many nuances and details that do not appear in any official record, but which still help give a fuller account of our deceased ancestors’ lives.

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