Click here to In the mid-seventies, I began, in earnest, to research my family history although I had begun much earlier, informally. My early endeavours included gathering a collection of old photo albums from the farm homes of both my mother’s and my father’s parents. They were freely given since no one paid the least notice to them anyway. I have carried these albums for over sixty years. Another gem which I was able to collect was A History of Families in Essex County. I would eventually learn that this book was full of misinformation and possibly lies and that the families listed had paid to be included. Sadly, I lost this volume during my vagabond stage in the mid to late nineties. I do not miss it, however, since I have found the truth to be much more interesting.
In the seventies, the most popular way of conducting family research, at least where I lived in Kitchener-Waterloo, was to use the Mormon Church archives. Almost anyone could find some or all ancestors listed there since it was a practice of the Mormons to pray the dead into paradise, and of course those names had to be recorded. It wasn’t a perfect system. Research conducted by the untrained is often undependable. In addition, typically, researchers limited their search to a specific person, so siblings were often missed. However, it worked well enough for me to get hooked and with the coming of the age of computers, the process took off.
In the late nineties, I discovered a book by a man from Hamilton named Johannes Helmut Merz who had conducted research into a group of young German men, known as the Hessians of Upper Canada. These young men and be conscripted in Germany to fight for the British in the American Revolution. Ultimately, they stayed in North America, and several ended up in Essex County as United Empire Loyalists after the revolutionary war. One of these was Johann Leonard Kratz who happened to be my fifth great grandfather on my mother’s side. His story and his ultimate survival enthralled me, and I began to conduct even more research and to expand my family tree to the point where there are now over four hundred names the oldest of which goes back to the late 1400s in France.
In 2009, I put together what I had gathered in a short book called The Clarks of Cedar Creek. I published it only for family, but at least, now there is a printed record as well as the family tree on myheritage.com.
One thing I have learned, over the years, is that things happen in our lives that have roots in the past, and it helps us to understand this when we are faced with their consequences today. It is also humbling to realize that a trip over a rock five hundred years ago could have contributed to your existence today. I had an ancestor who was immune to the Black Plague, a great grandfather who almost died at the bottom of a well in Red Deer Alberta, and another ancestor who was shot but not killed in the War of 1812. Had any of those men not survived, I would not exist. Think about that for a few minutes because you can be very sure that your history has such stories as well.
Our lives are your history;
you may read them
when you visit our homes,
when you hear our stories,
or when you talk to our friends.
But you can know us best
when you look in the mirror.
Roger A. Clark
May 16, 2000
I am the author of The Summer of the Ennead and I want to use this blog to engage readers in a dialogue about what this book means to me and what I think it has to say to others.