Bill's Genealogy Blog

Bill Buchanan is a long-time genealogy enthusiast, living in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada. This blog will describe my experiences as I research my family history and help others.

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Location: Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada

I am a retired online school teacher. I love family history. Since 2007, I have spent much of my time providing part-time support for the world's largest free family history site This is very rewarding. I have helped others with the Family Tree and related FamilySearch products.
In 2010-2018 Iserved in the Edmonton Riverbend Family History Centre. I have a FHC blog at Bill's Family History Center Blog For information the Latter-day Saints and family history click

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Villain or Victim?

As family historians we are serious about preserving family stories and passing them along to future generations. Hopefully, some of these stories will provide good examples to follow or bad examples to be avoided. But we need to be aware that some of the stories are biased and incomplete.

For example, in the following story, was "John" a villain or a victim? The undisputed facts seem to be that John and his wife "Mary" separated in 1944 or 1945. She became mentally ill and neglected the children for days at a time. Her illness may have started with severe postpartum depression, but she spent the rest of her life in institutions, gradually improving over time. John disappeared from the family's knowledge for nearly 20 years.

Ontario Child Protection Services removed the children from the home and prepared to place them for adoption. But Mary's mother did not want to lose her grandchildren. She used her limited resources to hire a lawyer and applied for custody of the grandchildren. She was eventually successful, and brought the children to Alberta. She and her other daughter's family raised the children, who grew up, married and raised families of their own.

Did John's abandonment of the family trigger Mary's mental illness, or did her mental illness cause her to evict him from her home? Opinions may differ. Obviously Mary was not responsible for her illness. Was John just another a "deadbeat dad" who abandoned his family when they needed him most? What sort of person was he?

In the past few days I received three snapshots of John taken when he was a young man.
This letter that accompanied the photos, gives an unbiased and unsolicited appraisal of his character.
I have sent these on to John and Mary's children and grandchildren.

Aug 28, 2016
Hi Bill,
Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. These are the only photos I have of [John] and family.
Please note, he was a good friend of my Dad and my Grandpa, and they always had positive things to say about him. Sometimes these kinds of affirmations come from without, don't they?
 When you view the photos and have anything to add, please get in contact with me

In the photos, I noticed that John is wearing a stripe on the sleeve of his uniform, so he was a lance-corporal (private first class). Obviously he was considered a good soldier. I also notice that the tee-shirt says CANADA ... ARMY TANK ... So he served in a tank regiment, which I had not been aware of, although I had researched his ancestors. We know almost nothing of his military service.

Maybe this letter will help us to appreciate a man who was largely unknown to his own family, but was still remembered and loved many years later by his friends as a good man. (Remember that Bill was looking for any of John's family when he found that I had been researching this family. I wasn't looking for him.)

And maybe I will be a little more cautious of giving one side of the story without trying to find the other side of the story. Maybe John and Mary were both victims of her illness. I would like to think so.


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