Ryan Taylor Twenty years of research on the Rock


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By Ryan Taylor

The Newfoundland and Labrador Genealogical Society celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2004 with the publication of a short history.

In addition the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland hosted a party for the society at Government House in St. John's. He presented Awards of Merit to the province's provincial archives, which has always been supportive of genealogists, and to founding president Elsa Flack.

Cemetery transcription has been a priority for the Society since its inception. Far-flung and windswept cemeteries are not the easiest places to work, but bands of determined genealogists have been all over the province taking down the inscriptions on gravestones. NLGS was also able to obtain provincial grants to employ students to do some of the cemetery visits.

NLGS lost its library, files and equipment in a fire in 1992, but was able to rebuild through donations of money and materials from around the world.

As well as its informative journal, The Newfoundland Ancestor, NLGS has published the records of St. Paul's Anglican Church, Trinity and a genealogical handbook for the province, now in its second edition.

To make the Society more attractive and recognizable, they have changed their name to the Family History Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, effective 1 January 2005. This indicates the altered emphasis in the family research world, from genealogy to family history. It broadens the study to include all aspects of a family's past, not merely dates of birth and death.

Looking at the photographs in the history booklet reminded me of my visit to NLGS in 1986. I spoke at their annual conference, and was able to experience Newfoundland hospitality first-hand. I met many interesting people.

My host was George Snelgrove, a former president of the Society. As we stood in the wind beside the light at the mouth of St. John's harbour, I told him my father had been stationed there during the war. With our ties standing straight out behind us, he began to tell me about the ship my fathered served on-George is an expert on Canadian navy vessels. Later, he sent me a photograph of the ship. It always amazes me that if you walk into a room of genealogists, you'll find yourself with experts in any number of fields.

The Award of Merit given to Elsa Flack is most appropriate. As well as being founding president, she took on another term after the devastating fire, and in the meantime she edited the journal. In fact, there is probably no aspect of the NLGS' life which has not been affected by Elsa, a dynamo from New Zealand who seems like a born Newfoundlander of several generations (except for her accent). Every society should be lucky enough to have an Elsa Flack to help get it started.

While I was in St. John's a group of conference speakers and NLGS executive went to Elsa's house for dinner. She lived in the country south of St. John's. I drove with Judy Foote, research interest editor of the Ancestor.

Judy explained that she didn't like making left hand turns in her car, so we had to take a longer route which enabled her to stick to right-hand turns. A twenty-minute drive lasted somewhat longer, but at one point we were on the east coast of Conception Bay and Judy pointed out the twinkling lights of Bell Island across the water. It was one of those beautiful Canadian moments I'll never forget.

Best wishes to the new FHSNL in its next twenty years.

Posted January 4, 2005
Column copyright © 2005 Ryan Taylor

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