Last night’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” followed sisters Rachel and Kayleen McAdams (respectively, an actor and makeup artist to the stars) to England and then to Canada as they learned the stories of ancestors on their mother’s side of the family.
A few of the things that hit home in this episode:
- As one with two sisters close to my age, I liked that aspect of this episode. And many genealogists would give up their Ancestry.com subscriptions for a sibling, or a cousin, or anyone, to share their intense interest in family history.
- The sisters initially disagreed on their English great-grandfather’s job in the Royal service: pilot or mechanic? (They learned that “mechanic” is the more accurate description.) This shows how everybody remembers things a little differently, so it’s helpful to interview multiple relatives—even those from the same generation—about your family history.
- The sisters traveled to two places where their ancestors lived: The upper-class home in England where their third-great-grandfather (I think—sometimes I lose track of the greats) William Gale served as footman (the top male servant in the household), and the site of the refugee camp in Quebec where their fifth-great-grandmother was quartered, along with other British Loyalists who’d fled the United States, during the American Revolution.
Awhile back, I had the chance to interview Ian Frazier, the author of Family, one of my favorite books. He talked about how, when you’re trying to understand your ancestors’ experiences, it’s important to get as close as possible to the places where they lived. You can’t always visit your ancestral hometown, but you can read about it, find newspaper and other accounts from the time, look at old photos and maps, and talk to experts on the area’s history. (Sunny Morton wrote a great guide to “visiting” ancestral locales without leaving home in the August 2010 Family Tree Magazine.)
Around 8,000 loyalists from the American colonies relocated to Canada after the war. If you’re researching one of these Loyalists, you can find the Archives of Ontario’s United Empire Loyalist research guide here.
And if you’re tracing British roots, you might be able to use our roundup of online resources for English and Welsh civil registrations, like the marriage record the McAdamses viewed at the Plymouth Central Library in England.