The Family Season

ChristmasThe following Roots to the Past column appeared December 2010.

Can you hear that? It’s Christmas Eve and almost every public building within miles has turned off their cash registers, extinguished their lights and locked their doors. In the silence, I hear a sigh of relief; everything that could get done is done, and all that remains is the passive wait of the rising sun on Christmas morning.

For me, this is the best part of Christmas. The children are struggling to get to sleep with their ears on high alert for hooves on the roof and the crinkle of wrapping paper as one last gift is wrapped. Their anticipation is bubbling over. They will settle only after a dozen trips out of bed to get a drink, use the washroom for the third time and tell me they hoped they really get what they asked for. When I finally hear their snores, the major gifts are slipped beneath the tree.

This is the time I reach out to family more than any other time of the year. I call Mom and see what’s going on in the house I grew up in, to see if the mountain of lights my brother decorated the yard with are still aglow, and to see if any long-time friends or family contacted her. I call my family in other parts of the country to touch base and discuss what’s in the oven. The phone at rest, I go online and send holiday greetings to many in my address book. I answer holiday messages and share favourite recipes, family photographs and old family stories.

Before long, someone poses a genealogy question. Usually, it go something like this: I met someone in the mall the other day named so-and-so. I didn’t ask how she was related because I was in a hurry, but I think she’s one of Dad’s brother’s kids. Who is she?

Sometimes, I know the identity of the individual immediately, but other times, I must look them up to see where they fit into the family. If I find them, good, but if I don’t, this little question usually triggers a flurry of activity. I perform a major search in the family tree, checking for other names this person may go by. If I still can’t find this individual, I look outside my research.

First, if the person is from my father’s family, I contact my cousin who has also done extensive research on the family tree. While I’m waiting for a reply, I’ll perform a Google search. Then I begin contacting other family members in hope they’ll know the mystery person.

If this person is from my mother’s side, I call up Mom and begin questioning her.

If the mystery isn’t solved before the big family get-together on Boxing Day, I bring up the subject. Often, this settles the matter.

Christmas is all about families coming together. It’s a great time to reacquainting ourselves with members we see only a few times a year and to discover new branches on the holiday tree that seem to sprout out of nowhere.

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