Do you want to take a step back in time? Maybe learn what happened in history to get you where you are today? Well the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum and Archives is the place for you. Read here about the time I spent in the genealogy room, tracing back my own family tree.
The Penetanguishene Centennial Museum and Archives offers a unique and totally fascinating program that anyone can take part in. They have a history and genealogy research room, with information dating back to the early 1600s. They also have a subscription to Ancestry.ca where people can trace back their family roots if their information cannot be found in the records or system. Most of their information pertains to the Penetanguishene area, but I was surprised to find out that within their computer system they had a lot of information about people from surrounding areas also. This was good news to me because my family has been in the area for a long time but not always in the Penetanguishene. I knew I had some history in Lafontaine and Perkinsfield so I was excited to find out they had some information on those areas as well.
When I first started talking to Hubert, the museum’s volunteer who helps in the genealogy room, I quickly realized that I was going to need some more information before I could really get started. I had the names of my great-grandparents, but to narrow down the specific family tree I was going to need birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, or something that would distinguish them from a list. It became very apparent to me that those in the earlier days did not go far off the beaten path when naming their children, so many people had the same name. There wasn’t much creativity, like some of the names we see today.
So, I had to make a few phone calls to my grandparents to get some more information, but I was able to find my branch of the family tree through my great-grandparents marriage record. They were married in 1928 in Victoria Harbour, that’s almost a century ago! It already seemed surreal that we were talking about over 90 years ago, but then Hubert pulled up my whole branch of the family tree. This branch was 146 pages long, which to me seems crazy but Hubert informed me that it was a short one… So I asked him what a long one was, and he went on to tell me that his step-daughters branch was over 700 pages long!! She must have a huge family!
We started taking a closer look at the tree and noticed it spanned all the way back to the early 1600s! I could not believe I was reading about people who lived 400 years ago, and theoretically if they didn’t exist, neither would I! Looking more and more into my tree, Hubert noticed there were women classified as “Filles À Marier” or “filles du roi” (the former meaning “Before the King’s Daughters” and the latter meaning “The King’s Daughters”). I had never heard these terms before so Hubert grabbed three books and began to explain that in the early 1600s, King Louis XIV of France sent women to North American for the soldiers here. The three books he grabbed listed every woman classified as either group and told a bit of their story. Reading their stories was my favourite part of the whole day as it made a true connection to the names on my family tree.
But what if you aren’t from Penetanguishene? Don’t assume that you can’t find your lineage here. We locals joke that you don’t have to go too far back to find that you’re related to just about anyone in town, so don’t be surprised when you find a local connection. The museum’s geneology room sees curious visitors from the United States, and even had a couple all the way from Australia last summer!
I would like to thank the staff at the museum and Hubert, for teaching me a ton and helping me learn about my ancestors that lived here so long ago. A geneology volunteer is available to help you find your family tree on Wednesdays, or by appointment.
The Penetanguishene Centennial Museum & Archives is an amazing place to learn about local history or to trace back your family roots. To learn more about the fees associated to using this facility, visit www.pencenmuseum.com.
Written by Katie Lalonde, Tourism Marketing Assistant