They left us everything book cover


Recently I read “They Left Us Everything: A Memoir” by Plum Johnson. This book was so good I could not put it down and had finished the book in a couple of days.

The first thing that drew me to this book is that it is a memoir based in Oakville and I knew the house in which her family lived. Next it was the fact that Plum was caring for her aging parents. This is something I am doing now. “They Left Us Everything” took it a step farther because Plum had to go through the decades of family memorabilia and clutter to get the house ready for sale after her parents had passed away. Thankfully my Mum is very anti-clutter so I won’t have to do the hard work that Plum did.

This process brought childhood memories, both good and bad, to the forefront for Plum. She discovered previously unknown things about her parents and remembered things that had been long forgotten. It helped Plum with the process of letting go. She had the support of her three brothers but she was the one providing her parents with the support and doing the clear out of the house.

She discovered the importance of preserving the family history and its importance to the next generations.

This book makes you laugh and cry. It was very difficult to find here in town as every book shop was sold out. It you want a great read this summer I recommend “They Left Us Everything: A Memoir” by Plum Johnson. I passed my copy on to a friend who I hope is enjoying it.

©2015 – Blair Archival Research

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Do you remember the excitement of finding your ancestor’s signature for the first time?

In 1988 Dublin celebrated its Millennium and my mother’s family decided to have a reunion at Christmas time. This was planned well in advanced and we decided to attend.

I had found an article in Canadian Living magazine that was about a neighbour who owned a needlecraft shop in town. She had been married for 35 years and every Christmas had put a tablecloth out for visitors to sign instead of a guest book. She would provide a pencil and they would have to sign it larger than usual. In January she would embroider the signatures so they would be a permanent reminder of the visitors and the good times.

This would be perfect for the family reunion in 1988. It was held on New Year’s Eve and we had a large party. Cousins came from as far away as Australia and we had four generations present. It was the descendants of my mother’s paternal grandparents plus a few from her maternal line. One cousin who is a photographer took a group shot and then did family groups and they were put in an album and each family got one.

The meal was pot luck so everyone brought their specialty. A yule log was put in the fire so it didn’t have to be attended quite as often. In the family there were people who wrote plays, stories and poems. One of the plays written by my grandfather was presented. Stories and poems were read. Memories were shared and created.

I decided to bring a white sheet with me instead of a table cloth. I brought soft pencils and pencil sharpeners and told everyone to do what they wanted. We have a very creative family so there was lots of drawings as well as sayings and signatures. Only the littlest attendee didn’t contribute. We lost one family member early in the New Year and a few more since so this has become a family heirloom.


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Instead of just embroidering the names and leaving it at that I wrote a description of the event and the date around the signatures and embroidered that as well. This way someone who sees it 50 years later will know what it is.

There are probably going to be a few family reunions or gatherings this summer. This could be a way of creating your own family heirloom.

©2015 – Blair Archival Research

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Just because it is summer doesn’t mean you can’t get your genealogy conference fix. In August there is the One World – One Family Conference in Brampton Ontario. It is being held on August 22nd and is a full day conference. The Ontario Genealogical Society SIG for Scotland is holding a pre-conference on August 21st.

From September 18-20 the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa or BIFHSGO is holding their annual conference. This year the theme is Scottish family history, photographs in genealogy and technology for genealogists. They will be having experts from the UK and US.

So if you are suffering from a little withdrawal then start making your plans and sign up for one or both of these upcoming family history conferences.


©2015 – Blair Archival Research



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The first half of this year has been very busy with speaking engagements. I speak locally and further afield at various libraries, genealogy and historical societies.

In February I did the last of my “Researching Your Ontario Ancestors” series at the Oakville Public Library.  Then I presented an Irish Workshop at Heritage Mississauga which was so popular it was repeated in April.

In March I visited the Hamilton Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society and presented “Taking Your Irish Ancestors Back Over the Pond.”

April I was back at Heritage Mississauga presenting “The Genealogy Top Ten Organization List” and “Five Things You Need to Know Before You Start Writing Your Family History.”


Photo Courtesy of Heritage Mississagua

Photo Courtesy of Heritage Mississauga


In May I presented the first in a series of two lectures entitled “Researching Your English and Welsh Ancestors” at the Oakville Public Library. The second part was presented in June.

It was back to Heritage Mississauga in June for my Scottish Workshop and it was a full house of eager genealogists which is always fun.

My next lectures start in the fall. In September there is a two part lecture series on Scottish Research at the Oakville Public Library and in October a First World War Workshop at Heritage Mississauga. In November I am presenting two lectures at the Waterdown & East Flamborough Heritage Society Book Fair.

As for 2016 I am already booked in March for a two part Irish lecture series at the Oakville Public Library and at Kingston Branch Ontario Genealogical Society for their March monthly meeting.

If you are looking for a speaker for one of your events you can contact me for details.

©2015 – Blair Archival Research

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The last weekend of May was the OGS Conference held at Georgian College in Barrie Ontario. I went with my friend Elise who happens to be the Local Collections Librarian at the Oakville Public Library. It was the first OGS Conference I have attended in a while where I was an attendee and not a speaker. It was nice to have the time to meet new people and have acquaintances become friends. This was a fun conference.

One job I did have during this conference was handing out “Blogger Beads.” This is a ritual started by Thomas MacEntee at the US conferences. If you are a blogger then you get to wear beads and everyone knows you write a blog. This was the first time it was done at the OGS conference and I sponsored the beads. There were about a dozen sets of beads handed out and a lot of people were asking what the beads were all about. I gave the first set to Thomas MacEntee just before the start of his workshop on Friday. I am hoping to do it again at OGS Conference 2016 in Toronto.

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We had signed up for the deluxe conference package. We had all the meals, attended two workshops and then the two day conference. We stayed at the Georgian College residence which was comfortable and fairly close to everything. There was a long walk from the lecture halls to the marketplace but they very cleverly divided the space and served the meals there on Saturday and Sunday so it brought everyone to the marketplace.

The marketplace included a demo section and I attended a few of them. There were a few technical difficulties but they are to be expected and were soon fixed. Some demos were very informative. The ones I attended were: What to do after having DNA done; The Ontario Name Index (TONI): An Introduction; The Surname Society; Conference 2016 and Other Happenings and Society for One Place Studies.

What I noticed missing from the marketplace was Findmypast and a more obvious FamilySearch presence. There was a small table for FamilySearch but it was a local Stake and not what I am used to seeing at the US conferences. I realize that the OGS conference isn’t as large as the ones in the US but I feel the companies are missing the opportunity to connect with Canadian customers. We don’t have large conferences so this is their chance.

There was a research room where you could access numerous subscription databases for free and get some research advice.

The meals were catered by the college and some of the students were involved in the event planning and catering programs at the college. The food was very nice.

On the Friday I started by attending the workshop by Kirsty Gray called “What is a Surname Society and Why Do One?” It was very interesting and Kirsty was a great speaker. I got to know her much better during the conference. I had also joined the Surname Society by the end of her presentation!

In the afternoon I attended “Maps and Mapping for the 21st Century Genealogist” with James F.S. Thomson. He did a great job with a lecture that had so much information to share in a short time period.

We had dinner with some friends and then attended the Opening Session with Keynote Speaker Kirsty Gray. Her topic was “If I Could Turn Back Time” and she was fantastic. She had the audience laughing and that is always a good thing.

First thing Saturday morning we attended the Panel Discussion “Tracks through Time” with Thomas MacEntee moderating and the panel were: Richard M. Doherty, Dr. Maurice Gleeson, Kirsty Gray and Dave Obee. There were some technical difficulties but Steve Fulton and his trusty team soon had them sorted. They worked very hard during conference.

My first session of the day was Dave Obee’s “A Sense of Place and Time.” This was “understanding the local geography and history of the areas where your ancestors lived.”

The last session of the day was Kirsty Gray’s “Searching of Surnames: Challenges, Pitfalls and the Downright Ridiculous” and again she didn’t disappoint.


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Saturday ended as it always does with the Banquet. Elise and I shared a table with Thomas MacEntee, Dick Doherty, a group of ladies from Toronto Branch and other new friends. The chat was full on and interesting. Dr. Maurice Gleeson was the Keynote Speaker and he talked about “Genealogy 2020 – All Aboard.” He was a very entertaining speaker and is so knowledgeable on the topic of DNA.


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Sunday felt like a very early start. The last day always does at a conference. Time to pack up and check out. The first lecture of the day was “Putting Your Ancestors in their Place: an introduction to one-place studies” by Dr. Janet Few. Dr. Few was in England and her lecture was streamed in. It was so informative. I wish we could get some of the books she recommended here.

“They Came From Scotland: Tracking Your Immigrant Ancestors” by Christine Woodcock was next. I was a room monitor for this one and introduced her.

In the afternoon I got to attend “The Route of DNA from Flanders to Barrie, via London and Limerick” by Dr. Maurice Gleeson. A brilliant lecture that included some cousins of Dr. Gleeson’s in the audience.

The last lecture of the conference for me was “World War I British Army Research” with James F.S. Thomson. Again he provided a wealth of information and tips for researching from Ontario.

Kirsty Gray opened the conference and so it seemed fitting that she closed it. Her topic was “Back to the Future” which she tied in with the opening session very well.

The organizers of this conference have much to be proud of as it went very well. They did a lot of hard work and the volunteers should be commended. There were many young people helping out which was nice to see.

Now we look forward to Conference 2016 “Genealogy on the Cutting Edge” to be held in Toronto from June 3rd to June 5th. Two speakers already announced are Judy G. Russell and CeCe Moore.

©2015 – Blair Archival Research

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Image courtesy of [ nirots] /

Image courtesy of [ nirots] / 

Happy July 4th Everyone!

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"Image courtesy of [Jannoon028] /"

“Image courtesy of [Jannoon028] /”


Happy Canada Day Everyone!

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It has been a long time since I did any real blogging. There has been a lot going on but things are finally getting back to normal. Not blogging does not mean I haven’t been doing all things genealogy! So I’m going to start with my first genealogy adventure this year and then blog about the rest later.

This year I got to tick something off my genealogy bucket list by going to RootsTech for the first time. This was very exciting and was done last minute although my very clever friend had booked a hotel room a year in advance just in case. I had attended through live streaming and reading blog posts but this year I was there in person.


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Travelling in February can be iffy but thankfully the weather gods gave us good travelling weather. Salt Lake City is beautiful and they were having a warmer and dryer winter than usual so this meant that I was in my spring clothes even though it was -25C at home. It could be sacrilege to say this as a Canadian but it was better than Florida in February!


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This was a joint conference with RootsTech and FGS and we had signed up for both conferences. We went to register and the line ups were not bad. There were a few glitches with our registration but that was soon sorted out. As we were wandering the halls of the Salt Palace Convention Center to familiarize ourselves with the layout we ran into some friends and did a little catching up.


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Tuesday night we had a Commonwealth Bloggers dinner that was set up by Jill Ball from Australia. She is a regular at RootsTech and an Official Blogger. We had people there from Australia, England, Wales, Scotland, New Zealand and Canada. We even had a honourary Commonwealth attendee from the States. It was so much fun to meet all the people behind the blogs I have been reading for so long. The chat and company was great fun. There was about 18 of us and we managed to chat with almost everyone.


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Wednesday was the first full day of the FGS conference. I went to the opening session and then to the Family History Library for a few hours before meeting up with Nancy for lunch. One of the unfortunate things about signing up late was that we couldn’t get into any of the sponsored lunches. Still there are some great restaurants in the area and we tried them out. Then we went to the afternoon sessions.

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There was an evening social entitled “Behind the Scenes: Family History & Television.” It was a panel discussion and was very interesting. The panelists had worked on: Who Do You Think You Are? (US), Finding Your Roots and Genealogy Roadshow (US).


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Thursday was the first day of RootsTech. It started with a Blogger breakfast event hosted by Findmypast. Josh Taylor and Annelies van den Belt provided information on what was new at Findmypast. I got to meet up with a lot of bloggers that I had met at previous conferences as well as meet new ones. Thanks to DearMyrtle I also got my blogger beads!


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The opening session for RootsTech was next and it featured FamilySearch, My Heritage and the featured speaker was Tan Le. Tan Le was a wonderful speaker and had the audience in tears. She spoke of her family’s escape from Vietnam to Australia and their life in Australia.

Then it was time for the lectures and touring the Expo Hall. I attended: Organization for the Genealogist; Basic Genetic Genealogy; Reopen Your Genealogy Cold Case; Dirty Family Photos and Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy. The last one was live streamed. I am fairly new to genetic genealogy and the Getting Started lecture was very easy to understand.


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In between the lectures and wandering the Expo Hall I would stop by the Demo Theatre where demos were presented every 20 minutes. There were big comfy leather couches and they gave out draw tickets and chocolate before each presentation. It was a great place to go if your feet were giving out. I learned a lot from the Demo Theatre and when I attended Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Google Toolbox Update I won her recently updated book of the same name! Wonderful addition to my genealogy library!

Other Demos and Expo Hall presentations I attended were: Heirloom Roadshow; Your Perfect Photo Organizing Practices; Ten Steps to Complete a Life Story; Preserve Family Photos; Preserve Family Photos on a Budget and Basic Genetic Genealogy. These were the ones I marked in the RootsTech app to watch but I ended up watching many more.

I loved the RootsTech app. It was on my iPad and had my schedule and handouts on it so I could check things very quickly. I had connected with friends so we could arrange times to meet and if one lecture was full I could quickly see if there was another I was interested in attending. There were maps in case I got lost. The map of the Expo Hall was great because I could find the vendors I wanted to visit. The internet wasn’t needed to view the app which was good since it was hard to get on the internet at the convention centre.

On Friday the opening session keynotes were Josh Taylor and  Laura and Jenna Bush. Their stories were fun and interesting. The mother daughter dynamic worked very well on stage. It was easy and relaxed. Although I have never seen so much security at a genealogy conference.

The lectures on this day included Lost Cousins Down Under which I attended because I wanted to hear Jill Ball speak plus I have Aussie connections. She did not disappoint. Other lectures included Using Online Radio as a Platform to Encourage Interest and Participation in Genealogy and Lesser Known Sources for Birth, Marriage and Death in the British Isles.


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The day ended with Culture Night in the Expo Hall. It was called: Culture Night: Celebrate Your Heritage. They had performers from many different countries and people in period and cultural dress walking around the Expo Hall. The Pipe and Drum band spoke to me because my Dad used to play the pipes when I was little and belonged to a Pipe and Drum band. I will admit it I love the bagpipes!


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Saturday was the last day of the conference and it felt like a very early start for the opening session but I wasn’t going to miss this one because the featured speaker was Donny Osmond. Donny shared his family stories and his family history journey. A.J. Jacobs was speaking about the Global Family Reunion that took place the first weekend of June in New York.


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There were thousands of people there on Saturday. RootsTech broke a record for the largest conference attendance around 20,000. It made it difficult to get around and I couldn’t get into two lectures despite being there half an hour before they started. Unfortunately neither of them were being lived streamed or audio recorded. I wanted to attend: Using Microsoft Word for Writing Family History and Microsoft Excel A Little Known Genealogy Tool but was not able to get in. The ones I did attend were Treasures in the Attic: Digitize & Preserve and The War Memorial Reconstructing a Community.

I am glad I went to RootsTech. I have always wanted to go. Conferences are a great way to learn new things, meet new people and network. You never know you might even meet a cousin!

©2015 – Blair Archival Research

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There are over 400 of you registered to attend the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference, “Tracks through Time,” in Barrie the weekend of May 29th to 31st. Do you blog about your family history? Well if you are going and do blog then keep an eye out for me. I will be handing out beads to all the bloggers I find at Conference this year.

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If you don’t blog but are considering it, then come and have a chat. I will be happy to give you some tips and ideas to help you start blogging.


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If you haven’t registered for Conference please consider joining us. It is a wonderful gathering of people who share the passion of family history research.


© 2015 Blair Archival Research

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Happy Easter Everyone!

Image courtesy of [jannoon028] at

Image courtesy of [jannoon028] at


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