Digging up roots
Hobbyists become immersed in genealogy

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (May 08/00) - If you are one of those people who become easily addicted to things, stop reading here.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a new hobby (one that could tell you dark and thrilling secrets about your grandma), sit back and read on.

Meet Susan Gardener, genealogy enthusiast number 1.

You could say that she was driven to study her family's history because of roots envy.

"Living here in the North, so many people have so many relatives. I started to really envy people who had a lot of relatives," said Gardener, who, aside from her own children and spouse, has only two sisters and two parents to call her own.

"I wanted to find relatives because I have no aunts, no uncles, no relatives, no cousins," she said.

Eight years later, the lifelong Iqaluit resident is hooked and has traced her family back to the 1600s. But her study is far from over.

"It's constant and continuing," said Gardener.

"You keep going back further in time. You can never say it's finished. Even if you have all the names, then it's the history of the places they've lived, what life was like."

If it sounds a little time consuming, you're right. Gardener said genealogy has all but taken over and, at times, goes as far as making other tasks seem an annoying nuisance.

"Everything else gets in the way. If you have to cook supper, if you have to go to work, it's such a bother because you have something more important to do," she said.

"It is an addiction."

But, despite her years of fevered research, Gardener has yet to turn up any information better left buried.

"There's that saying I'll pay you $50 to go and find names and then $500 to go and shut it up," joked Gardener.

"I haven't gotten to that point yet, although Dad always says his grandfather's brother was probably a black sheep. He was into horse racing and stuff like that," she said.

Deep, dark secrets are part of the thrill of the chase, according to genealogy enthusiast number two, Carol Orr.

"Some people would probably be very upset to find something like that. I think it would be just great," said Orr.

Bitten by the genealogy bug somewhere between four years and a lifetime ago, Orr -- who just returned from the perfect research holiday, one spent in libraries and graveyards -- wanted to make sure her family tree was put on paper as a way of protecting history.

"I realized that in my family's case, it was likely that our history would be lost to subsequent generations because so little of it was written down," said Orr.

One thing led to another, and, after looking around for and discovering family birth certificates, marriage certificates, old photographs and newspaper clippings, Orr made another important discovery that made her life much easier -- genealogy software.

Using that technology to free up some of her time, she found she was able to concentrate on her research and has traced her roots back to the 1400s.

"The thrill of finding a new piece of information, that's a major high," said Orr, who, thanks to genealogy societies, library microfilm and various archives, had the good fortune to be able to locate relatives who lived 600 years ago.

That's a luxury not available to genealogy enthusiast number three, Kukik Baker of Arviat.

"It's much harder because qallunaat have always had written language. (Inuit) just got it so there's no records of any births or deaths or any illnesses they had," said Baker.

The tenacious 18-year-old didn't let that stop her however, and through perseverance tracked down and named about 600 of her family members, some of whom date back to the early 1800s. She plans to share her findings with the rest of her family sometime this year so everyone will have a record of the sizeable family.

"I want to give it to every single family on the family tree so other people can have my knowledge, not only myself. I want to share it with my family," said Baker.

Number four, Rankin Inlet's Nellie Kusugak, said the hobby turned into a path of self-discovery for her.

"I believe it's important to know about your past, to know who you are and your identity. We have children and grandchildren now and they know who they were named after. We have a record of it now," said Kusugak.

"It's made a big, big difference. My only regret is that I didn't do it earlier."