Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/5/2019 (734 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kathy Stokes points to a small black and white photograph of a residential street. There is a boat in the foreground and floodwater lapping at the siding of a row of homes.
"This is my husband’s old house on Luxton Avenue."
The photograph, taken during the 1950 Winnipeg flood, is one example of the family history Stokes has discovered during her 40 years of volunteering with the Manitoba Genealogical Society.
She has also been able to trace her family tree back to the 1600s in England and has found interesting details along the way — like the distant relative who was killed by pirates while shipping a load of rice to Japan.
"I found the papers from the insurance company," she said. "I just feel satisfied because I’ve always liked history and after all these years I’m still finding stuff."
The MGS was established in 1976 and has four branches across the province. The Winnipeg location is tucked away in a small strip mall at 1045 St. James St.
The organization functions as a repository for information about everyday Manitobans. For a $10 drop-in fee, non-members can access the branch’s extensive historical library; look through birth, marriage and death notices; and search online databases.
Like Stokes, many of the volunteers that run the office got involved while researching their own family histories. The shared passion for genealogy and research has created a strong sense of community in the space.
"I think a lot of people come in partly for the companionship," Stokes said.
Mona Phillip has been lending a hand at the MGS every Wednesday for the last 10 years. New retirees make up the bulk of the volunteer base and Phillip said there’s a job for everyone, no matter the expertise.
"Whatever skills that they bring from their employment," she said. "There’s people who were used to working with large databases and then some people want to come in and answer the phone and do minimal things."
Phillip is set to take over as chair of the organization’s special projects committee when Stokes retires next month — which means, among other things, taking over the tombstone index for the province’s more than 1,400 cemeteries. Over the last four decades, MGS volunteers have been visiting grave sites all over Manitoba and recording the inscriptions on each tombstone.
The Society is also involved in a cemetery project on the other side of the Atlantic.
David Jenkins is trying to find information on Manitoba soldiers buried in the Holten Canadian War Cemetery in Netherlands ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Second World War. He has combed service records, newspaper archives, obituaries and phone books to track down family members of the men who died overseas.
"Out of the seven I was able to contact three," said Jenkins, who has been volunteering with the MGS for eight years.
In his own genealogy research, Jenkins has also been able to connect with long lost relatives.
"I’ve got new cousins I didn’t know about," he said. "It’s quite interesting to find out where you come from."
The MGS is inviting the public into its office free-of-charge on May 25 for Doors Open Winnipeg. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include tours, family history displays and access to the Society’s databases. Visit mbgenealogy.com for more information.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.