Who do you think you are?

There is a television program I’ve caught a couple of times entitled Who Do You Think You Are? It’s a fun genealogy show, on steroids, for the benefit of celebrities. Everything is done for them. All their information wrapped up with a ribbon and given as a gift. All they need do is show up and react.

Us non-celebrity types have a quite different experience. Okay, this is where I need to be honest. Cause there are too many out there who may read this and will call me out. I personally have done NO genealogy work. My perspective is from the side of being found.

That’s right… I and my whole family had been lost… for YEARS! And we didn’t even know it. We were securely sitting on our own little family branch unaware the rest of the tree was out there looking for us. Fortunately for us, up north in the wilderness of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, our cousin, Michelle Bakke-Purnell had not given up on her search… for us.

With the blessing and a boost from her mother Dearla she took over the family hunt. She dug and searched through documents and census records into the night. But it was a random question on a Norwegian genealogy site forum that was read by a friend of our family that connected us twelve years ago. God-incidence? Serendipity? Whacko-Craziness? Whatever you want to call it, our family has not been the same since.

michelle and jim at lakeAfter ten years of exchanging information and old photos through emails and old fashioned letters … we finally met when Michelle and her husband Jim came to visit in 2010.

After all that communicating… meeting was as if we had ALWAYS been family! Okay, we always had been family but some don’t get along all that well and we did. We all laughed into those summer nights as even more information was exchanged in person.

In real life, this genealogy research took hours of pouring over documents, census records, she actually gets giddy when new records are released, ship registers and any other source of information… not to mention a few trips to Norway. Michelle spent many, MANY hours translating records from Norwegian to Canadian (eh?) and then into English. The translation for Starbucks in Canada is Timmies… enough said.

michelle and meSo why were we so hard to find? It’s not like we had gone anywhere. We hadn’t moved about the country. Come to find out our name had been spelled differently and out-right changed several times. Add to that the fact that not all family members did the switcheroos together combined with all the misspellings in records and we were as good as lost forever. Except Michelle didn’t give up AND that family friend caught sight of her forum post. Amazing? You bet!

So we’ve had a couple more visits since… The above picture is Michelle and I this last May. She was working on the last bits of personal information for the family book she was about to publish. (I still want to protest the fact that my brothers got to sit in on my interview.)

Our connection? Michelle’s Great Grandfather was a brother to my Grandmother. That makes us a whole bunch of generations of cousins. I’m now going to share this picture only because I love it… Michelle with her Washington (state) cousins… Can you find Michelle?

michelle and the boys

And now the family book is finished…

Norwegian Roots: The Journey that led to you.

This book holds 246 pages of our family’s past. From the family farms in Norway to the shores of Canada and United States and continuing across country as far as the Pacific. Our ancestors worked hard and took risks. They loved, gave birth, helped others and perservered. And now they all come to life through Michelle and Dearla’s perseverance.

But as Michelle says in her forward: “It is my hope that you will, with time, improve on the manuscript — correcting some details, expanding on others, and adding chapters of your own.”

What a treasure this is. I still become overwhelmed when flipping through these pages. No longer are these people just names and dates… they are living breathing foundations of our past. I’m so happy our chapter continues with you in it.  And that those who will take our story forward will know they come from good, hard working people.

 Michelle! There is no way to thank you enough…

next time we’re together, remember, coffee’s on me!

Starbucks or Timmies?

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14 thoughts on “Who do you think you are?

  1. What an awesome story! I am so glad you all have connected… and what are the chances your family friend would see the random post on that forum!? Wow! So meant to be.

    My mom is our family’s genealogist. It’s funny how you mentioned Michelle getting giddy over new records… so does my mom! She’s like a kid excited about the latest video game release! 😀

    Anyway, what a treasure you have in each other and, now, this amazing book your family will have to pass along for generations to come!

    • Leanne… So good to know ‘giddy’ over found or newly released records is a normal reaction for genealogists. (I was starting to worry about Michelle.) For those who do the digging this is one big treasure hunt. Giddy is good!

    • Your really don’t have to buckle down and focus you just have to start. Sometimes I do find that I can’t pull myself away from the computer cause once you find something you just want to keep looking. Also talking to older family members reveals clues from time to time. Keep a note book going and then when you have to do real life stuff, once you have time to sit down again, you have where you left off or where you found the information before.

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