Sometimes I have exciting little adventures to describe here. But sometimes I'm steadily plodding away on some routine detail work - today I'm wondering how I can make this interesting as I don't have any other current adventures to tell you about?
Oh, wait, we all are part of a family, right? (Well, in some cases you may have been taken from your original family and placed into another... so you might wish to know about your original family, but feel stumped.)
You may feel disappointed in your family and wonder if you had any worthy ancestors at all. Questions like these often lead people to look into genealogy. I could launch into a long essay on the many ways to do this, but I'll refrain from that here. :)
When I was growing up I thought our social world consisted ONLY of visiting relatives; I wanted to make NEW friends. But I honoured and loved my Gr'ma Kroeker for her demure but godly character. I worried that my 36 first cousins would never get to know her testimony because they only spoke and understood English. I was used to talking with Gr'ma in Plautdietsch (a Dutch dialect). So for my New Year's project in 1985 I decided that I would visit her more often, ask for stories of her life, and her testimony, and then I would write them up and make an English booklet to give to my cousins. I pictured it about 36 pages, and those would be letter-sized sheets folded in half. I'd probably have it done and ready to distribute by May 6th, her 89th birthday.
Ah-ha! Things turned out a little differently! By February of 1985 Gr'ma was losing her memory, and spitting into a pail on her lap, convinced that she would be dying soon. At Easter I had Dad in St. Pauls hospital with kidney stone surgery, Mom in City Hospital for sinus surgery and Gr'ma in the Rosthern Hospital because Aunt Helen thought it it was time to get medical care for her. For a while I visited all three hospitals every day.
Then their doctors sent them home to our house, including Gr'ma who was no longer able to stay in the care home, which was not a nursing home. Suddenly I was running a private care home in my parents' house! And I spent my nights up with Gr'ma putting her back into bed repeatedly.
My book project was on a back burner, until 9 months later when Gr'ma was taken into the Rosthern Nursing Home. Okay... I'll leave this part of that saga, as it is a very long story.
Suffice it to say that 3 years later I had completed a book on Gr'ma's ancestors, and because I'd been able to translate her journals I ended up with a 4 lb book, which included about 100 pages of genealogy, mostly from her Family Register. Her nephew, Rev. John D. Friesen who proof-read my manuscript advised me to check that Register information with others to confirm as we didn't know how far back she might have made false entries because of memory loss. That's when I learn to do research! In Spades!
Gr'ma had 66 Friesen cousins on her father's side, and 81 Neudorf cousins on her mother's side. A lot of them lived around Hague so I visited a number of them, and confirmed their descendants against Gr'ma's big binder/Register. I also visited some church Deacons and asked to see the Church Records - where I made discoveries that even Gr'ma did not have in her binder.
(Mom taught me to always be very thorough with anything I did). By the fall of 1988 I had cranked off the pages for 500 copies of "A Godly Inheritance" and I hand bound 200 copies. The first 100 I distributed to her children and grandchildren. For the second 100 copies I wrote up a press release with a photo of Gr'ma and myself for the locally weekly newspaper. That brought Gr'ma's cousins out of the woodwork! They came to our door and I sold them each a copy for $30. (I felt I deserved something for all my physical labour).
Later, in the 1990s I got a computer, and discovered that I could download a genealogy program for free, called Brother's Keeper. I began to feed all my data into that program. That took many long Sunday evenings. Sometimes some of Gr'ma's cousins would call me up and tell me that they had more descendants than what I had in the book. Well, Gr'ma would always say, "Write it down! Write it down!" she felt that such information should be saved and not discarded.
Because of the features of the Brother's Keeper program, I could ask it to print out all the descendants of so-and-so, or all our ancestors as far back as my database in the program would go. Of course, I would include the notes on the individuals as I'd entered them. So I would end up with printout books that were 200 pages or more. I did NOT bind them with hand-made, padded hardcovers as I did with "A Godly Inheritance" - no, I was now in the computer age, so I would bind up the printouts with thicker cover-stock pages and then bind them with the Cerlox comb machine that my sister Elsie had left with me when she moved to BC.
However, I didn't print out more than 5-7 copies at a time, because sure as anything, when another keen genealogist got their hands on one they would contact me and say they had more information on their branch of the family tree. Well, I would add that and do a fresh printout!
Now, the last series of such books I created where in 2005. Dad died in 2007, and I had to clean up his estate, sell that house, and set up my home in a new little house in Saskatoon. I also went to work more or less full-time at Western Tract Mission, so I had really no time for this genealogy hobby. Though I did create a website in 2012 where I offered digital downloads of my books.
That is the site I have rebuilt the first two weeks in February. The database in Brother's Keeper has been sadly neglected all this time. I do have the GRANDMA database (from California) with over 1 million Mennonite names in it, and now I've been adding all my data from the book in 1988, and much more I've gathered since then.
Gr'ma's brother, Isbrand N. Friesen and his large family (11 children) moved to BC in 1947. Their oldest daughter, Margaret, used to keep me updated each year on new marriages, deaths and the births of the next generations. But she died in 1999 of ALS. So now I've been corresponding with her sister Tina (Friesen) Rowledge, and on Sunday evening she emailed me a 20 page update on their family clan. So... this week, I've been busy feeding all those names and dates into the database.
Does that sound simple? Well, it takes a lot of concentration to make sure I make NO TYPOS in the names or dates, and that I don't accidentally enter the children under a sibling instead of the right parents. When I'm typing my own words (like here) I can type as fast as I think, but when I'm entering names and dates into the database, I must constantly check that didn't make a mistake. So it slows me down...and my eyes get tired of staring intently at the screen.
But once it is all done, I can command the program to spit out reports in more than six ways, and I can specify at whom to start, and how many generations down or up to go. When I print out my own ancestor/genealogy chart - in condensed format - it comes out to 7 pages long, and in one line it goes back 14 generations.
Hopefully I can rebuild three e-books when all is up-to-date; Grandpa's Stories, Our Friesens & Assorted Friesens, and Our Neudorf Network. Then I can sell them again as digital downloads from my genealogy website!
Ruth Marlene Friesen
The Responsible One