Saturday, September 8, 2018

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Crazy Thing Did You Do?

I knew right away what I would write about for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge:

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!), provided by Jacquie Schattner:

What was the craziest thing you did to get some genealogical information? 

(2) Write about your "crazy thing" in your own blog, in a comment to this post, or on Facebook.  Please leave a comment on this post with a link to your response.

Several years ago, I was scheduled to travel to Montreal for a work-related conference.  I knew that I was supposed to have many cousins in Ottawa, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to try to meet some of them, while I was "in the neighborhood."  I looked up bunches of names, addresses, and phone numbers and then tried to find out how far apart the two cities were and how long it might take to get to Ottawa (this was before the days of the ubiquitous Internet and Google Maps, so it wasn't as straightforward as it is now).  I spoke with my travel agent, who told me it would take several hours to travel to Ottawa from Montreal.  I figured I didn't have that much time in my schedule and decided not to pursue it.

When I arrived in Montreal, however, I learned that it was actually only about two hours by train or bus to go to Ottawa.  Two hours?!  I had to do it.  Because I had decided not to go before leaving on my trip, I had left all of my carefully researched names and contact information at home.  Scrambling around with what I remembered, I was able to find one phone number of a store that belonged to three brothers, who were among my cousins.  With that in hand, I bought a train ticket and headed off.

When I arrived at the train station in Ottawa, I found a pay phone (I said this was a while ago, okay?) and called the store number.  One of the brothers answered.  I told him my name, explained that we were related, and said that I had come to town to try to meet some of my cousins.  He gave me his home phone number and said to call his wife.  I called, got an answering machine, and left a message explaining who I was and that I was at the train station.

Rather than just stand around and wait, I called the store again.  This time I got a different brother.  I repeated my little story to him and mentioned that I had left a message for the first brother's wife.  He did almost the same thing his brother had:  gave me a number and suggested I call his cousin.  And I did the same thing:  got an answering machine and left an explanatory message.

Again, not wanting to just waste time waiting, I called the store again.  I actually got the third brother on the phone that time.  After hearing my story, instead of suggesting I call someone else, he handed the phone to another cousin, who was working there in the store.  That cousin and I then started the fun game of "okay, how are we related?"

We had been talking on the phone for about five minutes when a woman walked into the train station.  By this point, I was the only person still there, so she walked over to me and asked, "Hi, are you Janet?"  I said, "I'm Janice, not Janet."  She said she had gotten a message on her answering machine from a possible cousin who was at the train station, and I said, "That's me!"  I gave her a quick run-down on the activity that had led up to that moment.  Debbie got on the phone with the cousin at the store (who had been politely holding on), told him that she was at the train station with me, and said she would be taking me around town.

She dropped everything she had been planning on doing that day and drove me all around Ottawa to meet cousins.  I learned that her family (my family!) had the only glatt kosher bakeries in Ottawa, started by her grandmother and her children when they immigrated to Canada from Europe.  We went to both stores (and I was sent back with tasty bialys and bagels).  I met many, many cousins, who were thrilled to meet me and learn how we were related.  One cousin let me make copies of photographs.  The most important one was of a December 1924 wedding in New York City that had my great-great-grandfather, my great-grandparents, and my grandmother in it, along with many other relatives.

It so happened that Debbie was the only person in this branch of the family who was interested in genealogy.  She had actually created a two-page questionnaire (on long Canadian-sized paper) for family members to fill out, and had received them back from almost everyone.  She made copies of all of them for me!

The final adventure of the day came when it was time for me to return to Montreal.  I had thought the return train was leaving at 7:00, but I hadn't realized the time was noted by the 24-hour clock, so it had actually been at 5:00 (1700), and I missed it!  Luckily, we were able to find a bus I could catch instead, and I was able to get a refund for the half of the train ticket I hadn't used.


  1. Your crazy trip had a very happy ending. You must have gained a treasure chest full of new family information.

    1. Indeed I did! I had known about this part of the family but had no names. Suddenly this branch exploded with names, marriages, children, and more. It was wonderful!


All comments on this blog will be previewed by the author to prevent spammers and unkind visitors to the site. The blog is open to everyone, particularly those interested in family history and genealogy.