My mother has a photograph of a horse in her old family album. It’s just your everyday typical work horse like many that grazed on farms across Atlantic Canada. Seeing his picture, you might think there’s nothing special about him. He wasn’t unique or a rare breed, in fact, he may have been a half-blood or a mixture of three or more breeds. That doesn’t matter. To mom, he was the best horse she ever knew.
The horse was so special to her that she talks of it still. Every time she sees another horse, or my daughter tells her about her riding or whenever she sees that picture, she shares stories of how she fed it every morning and prepared it for its day of work at her father’s sawmill. When the horse wasn’t working, Mom would ride it around her small community of Lewin’s Cove, NL. Through her stories, I’ve learnt that no one else could ride the horse—just her—and it didn’t like being handled by her father.
In 1945 Mom left home for Nova Scotia. She had to leave the horse behind and took only the picture. Not long after arriving in Halifax, Mom received the tragic news: the horse had fallen into the well and drowned. Mom was heart-broken. Rumours from home suggested the horse had missed Mom so much that it had jumped into the well. At least that is what has been told through the decades.
Mom cared deeply for her horse like many others care about their pets today. The chatter near the water dish is that cats and dogs and horses are considered just one of the family now. Pets are included in family portraits, attend family events—including weddings—and receive birthday and Christmas gifts. I was told that someone even had their pet cremated and would eventually be buried with them when their time expired. It’s become more popular to remember beloved pets in obituaries and on headstones.
Pets are an intricate part in many family units, and I often wonder how genealogists are handling this. They can’t be inserted into the family tree as if an individual, although I’m sure some pet lovers would do this if given the chance. A beloved Fluffy or Rover however could be included in the note section of genealogy software or in a person’s file.
I’ve capture information and images of my son’s cat and will preserve this in the history section of his genealogy. When he looks back, he’ll know when the cat was born, the day it became his and any other pertinent information. I’ll do the same with my daughter’s first horse and goat. It’s impossible to record the same data for Mom’s horse, but the stories are there, and I can share them with my grandchildren.
Perhaps people in the future won’t view their pets as many do today, so it’s important to record the current views to help explain why an animal appears by a person’s side in hundreds of photographs and why they were remembered in obituaries.