Finding your family tree

Nelles Shackleton is still swinging from branch to branch on the Chan/Mah tree.

The Peninsula resident wanted to know more about her family. As mom reached her 100th birthday (according to the Chinese lunar calendar) last year, Shackleton knew it was time to get the information down in hard copy. When mom celebrated her 100th (North American) birthday this year, there was a solid book of information ready for family to peruse.

The extra information was ready thanks to her dedication, and a Shoal Centre course.

“I was very much inspired to continue finding my family roots,” Shackleton said. “My parents were born in 1911/12, so 100 years is a long time and being a part of Victoria and Vancouver Chinese history I needed to know more about our past.”

She signed on for a course under instructor Michael Kellogg, former president of the Victoria Genealogy Society, offered at the Shoal Centre.

The program includes how to get started, and where to start, which often includes mining information from your own home, and family.

“Once you begin to get this information, we cover things like how to put things in proper order,” Kellogg said. Recording the information in the standardized format and then transferring to software programs making it easier to share the information.

He uses his own family as an example. His grandfather passed on shoeboxes stuffed with photos and notes. In the 1990s Kellogg felt the urge to do something with the information. To do anything, so as not to pass it along down the line still in shoeboxes. After a passing thought of putting it in a book, he began his own genealogy work, adding to the information he already had.

“You begin to find things and it makes you more hungry,” he said. Then he got involved with the Victoria Genealogy Society. Now he teaches at the Shoal Centre and the Cordova Bay 55-plus.

“I’m not an expert … but through my own resources I’ve learned some tricks,” Kellogg said. “The wealth that I’m sharing is based on my own journey and my own experiences.”

“We spend a lot of time on what records are (available) out there,” Kellogg said. Birth, marriage, death and divorce records of old can be a wealth of information.  “I show them examples of what they will look like and where information can be found.”

Shackleton was already ahead in some respects. A huge challenge in finding family history, is starting too late, once the best sources of information, family members, are gone. The Peninsula woman had slowly been documenting conversations with her mother, jotting down the tales, and filling out the details of stories she’d heard her whole life.

“I really like to encourage people to talk to the senior members of their family. Write it down, and stick it in a file,” she said.

She learned of her grandfather. “He was recognized by the so-called Imperial palace,” she said. “He was a poet and an artist and people really respected him.”

She learned of cousins, aunts, and uncles as the branches of her family tree spread from Canada to China, and back to Canada. “There was so much information,” she said. The course helped her keep the documentation in check.

“To get more out of it, one needs to go through Mr. Kellogg,” she said. “He made me decide to continue what I’m doing.”

After the seminar at Shoal, Shackleton found there was still much to do before the family tree would be complete. But her fascination with being part of Chinese history in Canada, urges her forward.

“My parents have nothing from when they were growing up as a Canadian, all I had was what my  parents told us  and there is nothing that we inherited from my grandparents,” Shackleton said. “I felt I needed to know so that I could pass on this bit of history to my daughters and grandchildren.”

Shackleton could keep busy until she herself hits 100 as the Chan/Mah tree will likely become a grove. The Chinese family often included multiple wives and concubines.

“You never know about your family history,” she said. “My dad was the son of a second wife. There’s another bit of history I have to dig into.”

The next Shoal Centre classes in genealogy are slated for fall 2011.