Ryan Taylor Camrose branch is keeping busy


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By Ryan Taylor

At a time when many genealogical societies are having trouble surviving, it is fun to hear about one starting up.

The Camrose Branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society got its start because of the public library.

Christine Backus, director of the Camrose Public Library, encouraged interested genealogists to begin meeting in the library. The group was small but persistent, and eventually applied to become a branch of the Alberta society, which is based in Edmonton.

Camrose is a city of 16,000 southeast of there. It was founded by Francois Adam, and many of the early settlers were Scandinavian.

Norm Prestage was the first president of the branch, and has taken on the job again. His father was a genealogist, and passed his files on to Norm. He also has an interest in military history, as his grandfather served in World War I, his father in World War II and he was a soldier, too.

His grandfather, Ernest Hill, emigrated to Canada about 1910, but went back with the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in 1915. He was at the battle of Vimy Ridge, was wounded in the arm and gassed. His memento of the fighting -- a hole in his arm -- lasted all his life.

Hill brought his English bride to Woodstock, Ontario, where the family settled and where Norm was born. A migrant to Alberta, he was pleased to find that some of his Ontario relatives had homesteaded there a century ago. They didn't like it and went home. Prestage says, "You can understand why -- I've been up there and it's all sand dunes."

He found out about them through the Alberta Genealogical Society's centenary project, a transcription of the province's homestead records. The index is available free online, and you can obtain copies of the original documents from AGS for a small fee.

The Camrose Branch has its own projects. The local cemeteries were already transcribed and were made available online through the website of the late Barry Hovelson. Branch member Sherran Dermott is now the webmaster.

Dermott also supervised a branch project to locate a local aboriginal burial ground. An Edmonton ground mapping radar company, Mason Exploration, donated their services, and located the cemetery with about a hundred bodies on two levels, and artefacts. Dermott says they are not sure of the tribe, but it is likely Cree, who live in the area now, or Blackfoot, who were there earlier.

The graves have not been disturbed. The branch is raising $3,000 to erect a brass plaque marking the spot. Previously it had been a matter of local legend, and now is a matter of historical fact.

The branch also participates in Founders Days in Camrose, with a booth showing genealogical materials. Last year they displayed a family tree of Francois Adam. They also launched their own website in March.

They have monthly meetings (second Thursday, 7:30, Camrose library), with about a dozen people in attendance on average. Their membership hovers in the 15-20 range -- small but friendly, and just enough to maintain their standing with the Alberta Genealogical Society. They sometimes have trouble finding speakers, but societies all over the country have the same difficulty.

Prestage has talked about military matters and a local war bride has described her experiences. They were even lucky enough to hear Lady Teviot, the distinguished English family historian, as she was passing through.

The branch is now about six years old. Good luck to it! It is typical of small societies all over North America, where people learn, encourage one another, help their local library and establish new resources for future researchers. In this case, small doesn't mean powerless or useless. Quite the opposite.

Posted June 6, 2006
Column copyright © 2006 Ryan Taylor

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