Posted by: John Munro | January 1, 2009

Why and How I wrote my Newfoundland Family’s History

(This article was originally done for WORD, the newsletter of the NL Writers Alliance).

Introduction

When Denise Flint asked me to write this article for WORD, she called me an expert (in family history research, I think she meant). I assured her I was no such thing, but agreed to do it anyway, because I believe it is a good cause. I have spent many happy hours at it in recent years.

Why do it? For me it was curiosity and wonder about my immediate family and the uncles and aunts and cousins who often visited us during the 1940’s in Bishop’s Falls. We lived in an apartment over the Goodyear Humber Stores at the Plant (near the pulp mill), where my father Alister was the manager. For example there was my trapper Uncle Jack Munro of Glenwood, who would visit for a few days and sing ‘I Love a Lassie,’ because he had married Alice Mobbs of Croys, Inverness, Scotland while overseas with the Forestry Corps. There was Uncle Bill Munro who would visit from Buchans where he worked for the Royal Stores. Also, my mother Agnes had a brother Charlie Frew in Grand Falls, and his family used to join us on summer picnics to Wigwam Point near Botwood. As well we played with my Uncle Alan and Gwen Frews children, who lived near us. There was a distant relative Alan Cameron, who was a piper with the Canadian Army at Botwood. He would visit and play his bagpipes on the road outside our place for the general amusement of the neighbourhood. Our Munro and Frew and other related families were close and kept in touch and visited when they could.

How I Went About It

It was not planned – I just started researching my immediate family. During my working life I was based mostly in St. John’s, and there was not much time for genealogy. However, when I could, I would look up relatives while on business trips or vacations with the family. For example in 1975 we took a family vacation to Prince Edward Island and while there I looked up Alan Cameron at his farm near Caledonia. He then took us to visit our Munro relatives who lived nearby on Whim Road near Montague. There we met my father’s cousin Malcolm Munro (as well as his wife Janie and sister Anette), who was living on the old farm that had been in the family since 1848. In addition I sometimes corresponded with my Aunt Effie in Nova Scotia and Aunt Georgie in Toronto on family history over the years.

I really got serious about our family history after I retired in 1996. A few years later my wife Lorraine (nee Parsons) gave me a computer program, Family Tree Maker, which is a wonderful tool for the storage, organization and retrieval of a large volume of genealogical data. With it I could keep track of all the personal information on individuals (birth and death dates, etc.) and also produce family charts and reports. There are other programs like Tree Maker, some of which may be available free on the Internet. The computer is wonderful for scanning, storing and organizing family pictures, and inserting them in reports. I was fortunate in having a good collection of old family photos, and also collected many others from relatives.

The Internet is invaluable for retrieving information from web sites, such as The Grand Banks Site (for Newfoundland) and others. There are good genealogy resources in St. John’s, such as the NL Family History Society, the Rooms Archives, the St. John’s City Archives, the Center for Newfoundland Studies and the Maritime History Archive at MUN, The Arts and Culture Centre Library, and various cemeteries. The Island Register site is good for anyone with relatives on PEI. There are National Archival resources as well of course. One of the most valuable resources I had was my cousin, Mary Gill of Charlottetown, PEI, who had already done a lot of research on that part of the tree. We have been working together for years on the larger Munro Family.

Printing and Publishing

In the midst of collecting as much information on the branches of the family as I could, I started drafting up bits and pieces of the story. This finally evolved into a rough draft of, ‘The Munros of Glenwood, Newfoundland’, about 18 months ago. I circulated this to some family members for their feedback, and kept revising, editing and producing more complete copies. I dated each new draft as an Edition. Since I didn’t consider this to be a commercial venture, I decided to publish it myself on my home HP printer. I produce about 4 copies at a time and get them bound at Staples for a nominal fee. So far I have produced and distributed about 50 copies. Most have been given to family members who helped with the research or are especially interested in our history. I have also given complimentary copies to various libraries and Archives that I used. I have sold 11 copies to Memorial University and The Public Libraries Board for $25.00 each, enough to replace my worn out printer and pay for some paper!

Conclusion

It seems to me that many of us don’t think our own lives or families are important enough to write about. But I found that once the subject was raised, most of my relatives, and many others, became interested and were very cooperative in supplying data and stories. The exercise had a lot of benefits for me in renewing old contacts and meeting relatives that I didn’t know. It also gave me a grand excuse to travel around Newfoundland, to Prince Edward Island, the UK (including the Isle of Skye), and France to see the War Memorials at Beaumont Hamel, and other locations.

Genealogy research is never done. The Munros of Glenwood are only one branch of a much larger family tree that had its roots in the misty Isles of Skye, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland.

John Munro
Halifax, Nova Scotia
January, 2009


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