Court William Street, Birmingham, England – the 1874 birthplace of my Grandfather Wilkins (courtesy of Birmingham Central Library, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, England).

Published in the Montreal Gazette on May 28, 2011.

A quarter of a century ago, I found myself in Birmingham, England, hot on the trail of my ancestors. In that city’s Central Library on Chamberlain Square, I informed an aide at the genealogy desk that I was in search of my paternal grandfather as a young boy of six on the 1881 Census of England and Wales. At the time, all I knew about him was that he was born in that West Midlands city and that he left from there for Canada in 1887.

As I didn’t know exactly where in Birmingham he lived at the time of the government survey, I was handed the ten microfilm reels containing the entire data for the city. Each one, I was informed, would require approximately two hours to scrutinize. After that, “Good Luck” was all that was said to me.

The following day, some eighteen hours of research later, I found my grandfather and his family on the ninth reel. I later returned the ten spools to the same aide who had first handed them to me. With a somewhat bemused smile, she congratulated me on my tenacity and impishly  enlightened me to the fact that that particular census would probably be fully indexed within a year or two.

Well, that was then, this is now.

The growing interest in genealogy and family history on the part of the general public is undeniable. Television and the Internet are rapidly transforming the long embedded hobby into one of ever-increasing popularity.

The original British Programme, “Who Do You Think You Are?”, and the Canadian series “Ancestors in the Attic” are only adding to the allure of the pastime while websites such as ancestry.ca make available many of the necessary tools and databases familiar to most genealogists – those same databases that were, alas, not available to me in Birmingham in 1986.

Nowadays, family history associations and genealogical societies, such as The Quebec Family History Society, are endeavouring to assist people in establishing their ancestral tree. In Quebec, we are fortunate to have this dynamic organization which is this year celebrating its 34th year of existence.

The Quebec Family History Society was founded in the Beaconsfield Library in the autumn of 1977. Its early meetings and activities were mostly devoted to offering a ‘Beginner’s Course’ in elementary genealogy to anyone who was so inclined, and as the years went by this essentially anglophone association widened its sphere of interests and pursuits. By 1987, the emergent organization already had an astonishing 546 members.

With time, the QFHS expanded its operational base to an office and library located at 173 Cartier Avenue in Pointe Claire. There, today is housed an extensive library consisting of a collection of rare books, private papers, family histories, cemetery inscriptions and various databases and indexes – all pertinent to genealogical and historical research. The assembled documentation is from many parts of the world including England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, the USA and Canada and is available to the general public for consultation for just a modest daily fee for non-members.

In addition, the Quebec Family History Society publishes a genealogical journal, ‘Connections’, three times a year containing interesting and informative articles, keeping its current 1000 members up-to-date with the activities of the organization. All members are encouraged to contribute to its subject matter and, as a result, fine examples of local and family history chronicles are to be found within it.

Like most genealogical societies, the QFHS holds regular monthly meetings to which erudite presenters are invited to speak. Furthermore, every five years or so, the association holds a major convention at McGill University. This tradition first started in 1992 in conjunction with the 350th anniversary of the founding of Montreal. It was such an unmitigated success that the event was repeated in 1997, 2002, as well as 2007. It will once again take place this year from June 3 – June 5 on that same downtown university campus. The extensive three-day function of lectures, tours, and gala banquet at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal is open to the general public, but registration is a must.

At the proceeding, a significant number of local and international experts will share their expertise on a variety of parentage – related subjects. In addition, the convention will be attended by numerous individuals from other genealogical associations from all across North America. Under the chairmanship of QFHS President, Gary Schroder, ‘Roots 2011’ promises to be yet another stimulating family history happening that should not be missed by those whose ancestry is important to them.

Further information about ROOTS 2011 may be obtained by telephoning the  QFHS Office at 514 – 695 – 1502 or by visiting their website at www.qfhs.ca, or by e-mailing roots2011@bell.net

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