Tillsonburg Family History Centre opened its doors on Saturday, November 8 for Lest We Forget, a Family History Fair focusing on 'Remembering and Finding Our Ancestors.'
Seventy-five to 100 people from as far away as Sarnia and Windsor travelled to Tillsonburg to see displays of military history and memorabilia and attend classes to help with their research at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Vienna Road. The five classes included military history (medals, ribbons, awards) by Stephen J. Smith, a beginner's guide to family history by Dora Fisher, connecting roots to branches by Les and Faye Smith, and a two-part searching your ancestors worldwide were held in the morning and repeated in the afternoon.
"We had an opening address," said Gord Hillman, from Sarnia, one of the 'worldwide' presenters along with Nancy Bonifield. "We two keynote speakers, including David Sandor, who is the president of the London stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Connecting roots to branches," Gord added. "The concept behind that is teaching our grandchildren about our grandparents, so that links five generations of people."
Searching your ancestors worldwide was the most popular session, said Margaret Hillman, organizer of the Family History Fair, and they divided it into two sessions with different presenters.
"My calling in the church is Family History Director," said Margaret, who has seven family history centres she oversees, from Windsor to Sarnia, Tillsonburg to St. Thomas and London, making sure everything is running smoothly and the computers are operating.
Veterans were also interviewed to tell their stories and share their experiences at the Family History Fair, which will be compiled for a Remembrance Facebook page.
"An amazing event, wonderful," said Sandor, noting the Nov. 8th Family History Fair was the 'first annual' in Tillsonburg. "We expect it to get much bigger in the future.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in southwestern Ontario every Remembrance Day will be performing a fast. Members will fast for a period of two meals, and taking the money saved from those two meals donate it to the local Legion. What that will do is... for youth and children, and young adults like myself who haven't seen a big war, when you feel that rumbling stomach, it helps you remember. That's what grandpa went through – worse – over in Normandy. So it's an attempt by us to help bring back the sense of 'sacred' in Remembrance Day, to make sure that's not lost.
He said they were especially excited for the records received from veterans in the form of personal stories. One of the women was a firsthand witness to the Concentration Camps.
"It's things like that, and providing that service, that really brings this event out, and we're excited for that to continue to because we know that there are important things that need to be recorded from veterans.
"We hope to, through this Family History Fair, raise up the sense of belonging and patriotism amongst the youth and the young people in Tillsonburg. We want to make Tillsonburg the recipient of a high level of support from the Church, especially any veterans that live in Tillsonburg. And we want to make sure the mystery of our histories is taken away."
"The Family History Centre is one of 4,600 centres worldwide," Gord noted. "They provide records that people can use to find their ancestry. They have microfilm around the world, there are records worldwide. At the present time they have 200 digital cameras at work in 45 different countries. They've been collecting family history research for 100 years. The central library that they are all affiliated with, is the family history library in Salt Lake City, which I would say is the largest library of its kind in the world. From the Tillsonburg Family History Centre they are tied in by network to that library and its resources.
"When you think of it, that's astounding. That in the little town of Tillsonburg, in a room in this building, people can access records around the world.
"They also have a free connection to Ancestry.com, Find My Past, and several other paid sites that people would pay hundreds of dollars for subscriptions. But individuals can come here and use the services free of charge."
Membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not required to take advantage of the Tillsonburg Family History Centre services, said Margaret, but in a smaller community hours are limited.
"It is open to the general public," she stressed. "Today, nearly half the people at the seminar were non-members."
"The people who attended today came from all over southwestern Ontario," Gord noted, "from as far as Windsor and Sarnia, Chatham and London. The speakers were from all over as well."
Held just a few days before Remembrance Day, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 153 was proud to participate, along with the Tillsonburg Military History Club.
"And there were quite a few Tillsonburg people here today, too," said Dianne Hodges, Tillsonburg Legion Branch 153 president and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "We also had some of our veterans here.
"A lot of times when you go to search your roots, it goes back to a lot of the people who had been in the military, who had maybe gone overseas to fight for our freedom," said Hodges. "So as we remember our roots, we tie in to remember our veterans.
"I really appreciate the fact that both the Legion and the Military History Club were able to be a part of it because it supports what our church is doing, and we can also put the message out 'yes, the Legion cares about our veterans, and we're there to support them.' Because a lot of people don't know what the Legion is all about. A lot of people don't know what we do."