Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Personal, the Political and Exploring Genealogy



The iconic Orange Julep, Decarie Boulevard Montreal

I've discovered I am not alone!

 There is an entire subset of genealogists who like to write about their ancestors!  

They, too,  have figured out that researching your own ancestors can help you discover how the Political (the big story) influences  the Personal (the little story), so it's a lot more than a silly vanity exercise. 

(I mean, isn't that what democracy is all about, understanding this concept?)

Of course, most people don't have a huge stash of family letters to consult, like I do. 

(Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, Biology and Ambition, and the in-progress Sister Salvation (about the Montreal Suffragists and their involvement with the 1917 Conscription Crisis) are based on the Nicholson family letters. These ebooks are available on Amazon kindle. 

And not all ancestors were high-profile public servants, like my grandfather Jules Crepeau of Milk and Water implicated in a history-changing event like the Laurier Palace Theatre fire (where 70 children were killed).

But many people own diaries written by ancestors, similar to the one  I used to write Looking for Mrs. Peel - a snippet below. 

And now, with the Internet, research tools once available only to scholars are available to anyone with access to a computer.

And best of all, there's an interesting angle to any ancestor's story, if you look for it! 



Dorothy (VO): 6th grade down. One more year of elementary school to
            go. I walk the two blocks home to my family’s untidy upper duplex
            apartment on Lemon Creek Road in the dingy Snowdon district of
            Montreal (with its row upon row of unadorned brick buildings and
            only two landmarks worthy of the designation: the glamorous
            bejewelled Art Deco Snowdon Theatre and the glaring globoid Orange
            Julep Drive-in Restaurant) in the company of classmate and neighbour
            Ingrid Singh. Bombay born, Ealing raised, one of the many exotic new
            Canadians coming to live in my corner of the world.

            Dorothy: Let me see your report card Ing.

            Ingrid: Let me see yours first.

            Dorothy: Nothing to see. Very good in every subject. Not one teacher
            comment.


My 1966/67 report card. 36 six days sick. I hardly went to school. And there are no days off in June. That's a lie. I spent most school days at Expo. My teacher gave us permission to do so. She told my class that we'd learn more there than at school.

            Ingrid: Well, I got five excellents.

            Dorothy: And a page and a half of teacher comments, I bet. ”Ingrid
            talks back in class and teaches the little ones how to say words
            like douchebag. Please wash her mouth out with soap.”

            Ingrid: H! Ha! So, what do you want to do when we get home. Go up
            to Queen Mary Road and play Monkey See Monkey Do?.

            Dorothy: Nah, too hot.

            Ingrid: Wanna go see if that hobo is still living in the
            backseat of the blue Firebird in the used car lot?
            The one with the missing leg.

            Dorothy: Not allowed. And he's not a hobo. He's a war veteran.

            Ingrid: Spy vs. spy then?

            Dorothy: Ok. But I wanna be Emma Peel this time.

            Ingrid: No. I get to play Emma. I’m from England. You can be Agent
            99 or Honey West.

            Dorothy: I wanna be Emma. You’re from India. I’m the one who’s
            REALLY English. I’m a tall Yorkshire girl, just like Diana Rigg. My
            dad says.

            Ingrid: You said you were born here in Canada. And your father in
            K-u-a-la Lum-pooor.

            Dorothy: Makes no difference. My grandparents are from Yorkshire.

Rievaulx Castle, near Helmsley.. My grandfather was from Helmsley. He worked as a footman, probably at Dunscombe before going to Malaya. My great grandmother was from Rievaulx, Mary Ellen Richardson, the tailor's daughter.

            Ingrid: Is you grandmother tall like you and your dad?

            Dorothy: I dunno.

            Ingrid: Well, I’m much much prettier than you, so I still get to
            play Mrs. Peel.

            Dorothy vo: Right, then. So Ingrid, with her shimmering swell of jet
            black hair, flawless mocha skin and blossoming Swedish curves, gets
            to be Emma Peel, as usual. That's because Emma Peel is really Diana
            Rigg, an English lady who is undeniably the most beautiful – and
            possibly the best TV actress on either side of the pond. At least
            according to critic Cleveland Amory in the April 28, 1967 issue of
            TV Guide Magazine, the very same issue I have tucked away as a
            keepsake because April 28, 1967 was also the opening day of Expo67
            Montreal’s wonderful World’s Fair.

            Ingrid: So, Emma goes undercover at the British Pavilion at Expo
            where she hides out with the Mary Quant mannequins. She’s watching
            out for Russian spies who want to kidnap…ah…Queen Elizabeth when she
            visits in two weeks. And Honey is a double agent working in the
            Russian Pavilion.
 Quantessential 60's fashion

            Dorothy: I’ve been to the Russian Pavilion. All it has inside is
            machines. Why can’t Honey hide out in Thailand? Their pavilion is
            shaped like a golden dragon boat.

            Ingrid: Don’t be daft. Nothing happens in Thailand. So, my flat is
            the British Pavilion and your flat is the Russian Pavilion and our
            bedrooms are where we send our top secret transmissions. On pink
            princess phones.



The street where I lived. In the door past the two white doors (that appear to be the original doors, the white ones, I mean.) This block of of brick duplexes is now condos, but it was once owned by the same man, who painted all the doors dark brown and the porches grey. 

So this avenue, despite the maples, always looked bleak. (And no one put in flowers in those days, except the one Italian man on the block.)

 I imagine that Maple in front of my old house is the same one that was there in 1967. No kids today on the street. In the 60's we played skipping games and a game called YOGI, using seamstress elastic. Ah, exercise. What a concept! All while breathing in the lead-lace exhaust fumes of idling neon-coloured cars with glistening side fins.

            Dorothy: I don’t have a princess phone.

            Ingrid : It’s pretend!

            Dorothy: Next week I won’t even have a bedroom.

            Ingrid: Why?

            Dorothy: Because my Yorkshire, well, Malaya, grandmother is finally
            coming for a visit and she gets my brother’s bedroom and he gets
            mine.

            Ingrid: Is she coming for Expo? Is she coming to see the Queen?

            Dorothy: I guess.

            Ingrid: Where are you going to sleep?

            Dorothy: On a cot in the dining room.

            Ingrid: So, then. You’ll finally find out if she’s really tall or
            small.