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Unapologetically Canadian
Unapologetically Canadian

Episode 19 · 2 years ago

Johanne Gervais Helps us Research our Ancestors

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

I had fun interviewing professional genealogist Johanne Gervais for this week’s podcast. Johanne founded the Québec Genealogical eSociety, and has been researching family history since 2008. For a transcript of our conversation, visit https://traceyarial.com/blog/johanne-gervais/.

My name is Tracy Aria and I am unapologetically Canadian. For today we are talking with Joe and Geo v and Joan and I know each other because we are passionate genealogists and she is the founder of society, and nonprofet society that I'm highly a member of. So, Joan, maybe we can start by having you introduce how you got into genealogy and a little bit about this society. Well, sure, Tracy. Thanks. Well, it's a quite a long star actually, but I became interested in genealog will help in my husband, who retired in two thousand and eight and wanted to write a book about his mother's family for his mother's ninety birthday. So I was a little hesitant because he wanted me to do the research on his family, as he knew nothing about his mother's mother's family, passed his grandmother. So I did all the research for him up to his third great grandparents, including searching for family stories, finding the houses his ancestors lived in, the actual establishments they worked in. His mom came from England, so researching his ancestors was was a really good excuse for us to take a trip to England. So we did some research there. Yeah, we actually are. I said, okay, if we want to do the research properly, we have to go to England. So we went there to where his mom was born, to the little villages where his ancestors lived. We actually knocked on the doors of these houses and asked for tours of the inside of the homes and the grounds outside, and these people were only too happy to show us around. So this type of research was fascinating for me. It was like wow, you know, we can actually see visit a home that his great grandparents lived in and what they did, they were if they were farming or if they were a butcher,...

...and so on, and the and that and the place they worked in. So it really helped to to explain in detail my husband's book. It added a lot of color to his book about his family and and the and the family story. So well, that was a wonderful experience in twenty eight. So promptly after that, because my husband retired, I said well, I might as well retire too, so I left the corporate world of Information Technology and dedicated myself to genealogical research. So that's the story. And now I understand you live in a St Bruno, the mouth of the quay back, which is just on the south shore of Montreal. Does that? Does that town? Did you pick a small town to live in because of all of the historical background in small villages and in England, or was that just by chance? Now, that was just by chance. I actually was working on the south shore and a large company at Pratt and Whitney Canada, and that's where we had, that's where I had. I had lived in Long Ale and working close to the company and eventually moved to St Bruno. Okay, so let's talk about your next adventure, which was founding the QUEBECI neology deeological e society, which is a bit kind of a different I mean it's a nonprofit like any other genealogical society is in Canada, but it's a little bit different. Can you describe it a bit and talk about what what you know a little bit about your journey in this new nonprofit world? Yeah, well, that, the the Quebec Ga genealogical e society didn't come about quickly, that it was a long term project and the idea of it, the idea about, was more of a necessity and I guess they sometimes say necessity as the mother and invention, and that was definitely the case for me. My local genealogical society was about an hour's drive from my home. So,...

...as I mentioned, I live in St Brunoda, Montorville, and I was going to point Claire to the to that society there, and having across the bridge into Montreal, every time I wanted to go took me about an hour, depending on weather and traffic, and oh now are coming back. So I would spend two hours driving and then combine with the time I vent at the society, it was a full day. So that was I was a bit of a dilemma for me and I thought, well, there must be a better way, and this is society wasn't always open when I wanted to do research. So I'm a I'm sometimes an early bird and sometimes I like to work late at night. So the more I stu know for my problem, the more I realize that I couldn't possibly be the only one having difficult to get into the local society. So well, Tracy wrong. What I really did was I felt long and hard for several months as to why I no longer wanted to visit my society? No, so I have you know. So I thought, well, this these societies, local societies, are so important. I don't want to take that away from people. It's so important to do geological research. But I eventually came up with this theory of cants, wants and the WOn'ts. And the cans are those who can't visit the local society because maybe it is too far away or the society isn't open when they're available, so they can't get to it. And the wants are those who want more than what the physical society can offer them. They want to have the society open when they're ready to do the research. And the WON'TS are those who won't visit a society because it's not really their cup of tea or it's not really there fit their lifestyle. I have. I have four grandchildren, tracy, and they're all teenagers. So way back a couple...

...of years ago, I'll been be going to the to the society or to the archive downtown and my grandchildren would say am I? One of my granddaughters would say, Nana, why are you going to a library or a our con center? Can you do that on your phone? Can't you do the research through your eye pattern your phone, and she would always tell me that and it was like, oh no, Isabella, I really have to go, and that really bothered me that every time I had to I was going and she knew I was going, she'd bring that up. So I thought, well, okay, so maybe maybe she's got something there. This is the next generation that we want to share in our genealogical research and we want them to continue. Now the problem is more clear in my mind that Hey, wait a minute, there's going to be a better way. So there you go. The idea came to me about two years ago and here we are today with the Quebec analogical society with members from all over the world, and they can access and access the website and research their ancestors without leaving the comfort of their homes and without having to spend hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars to hire a researcher to do it for them. Well, and what's fascinating about this particular society is that it functions by legally. We just gave a course, a Webinar. They can even take courses anytime they want by signing in to a webinar which is kind of cool too. So, and it operates both in French and in English. How many members do you have and roughly, how does it break down in terms of the two languages? We have about two well, as of today, we have over two hundred members. I think what's actually two hundred and twelve members, and right now we have about forty three percent of our members, of the two hundred twelve members, are francophone, French speaking. These are ones that choose or chose to register in French and use the French screams and we and the rest are angle...

...phone members. So the majority our anglophone people who who come mostly from the United States and from Ontario and the other provinces in Canada, who wish to do their research, research on their Quebec ancestors. Right. Yeah, well, because so many North American ancestors started up or started off or pass through Quebec sometime during their lifetime, so that it it is worth doing genealogical research in the province, regardless of where you live in North America. You would you say that? Yes, and actually it's funny that you mentioned that, because people in the province of Quebec, people that have French Canadian ancestry are so passionate about their about their ancestors, are so passionate about genealogy. And I don't want people to get the wrong impression here of why I created the society, because people who live in the province of Quebec are so fortunate, because we have such robust databases for birth birth records, marriage records and death records, and most French baking communities have a local genealogical society. Almost every French baking community or or community in the province of Quebec that I know of has a geneological society in their community or very close by. Yeah, or so our heritage society. There's a lot of heritage societies. Yes, yes, our or heritage societies that have access that they can do some research and have access to computers, etc. So we are extremely fortunate in the province of Quebec and my main focus was people living outside of the province of Quebec who could not get here because of the because of travel and or the language barrier, and so that's who the main focus was at the time when we have launched last year. Some of us in Quebec of still joined just because we love working online and we like connecting to the people who from all over the North America and and the world, because there's a lot of people who...

...have ancestors that may have come through Quebec and they may not even live in North America anymore. Right, right. Actually, it's funny because I thought the main focus would be people living outside of the province of Quebec, in other provinces in Canada and, of course, the United States, and they and the rest of the world. And we have a lot of people, a lot of Quebecers, who have joined, which is a which is amazing, because I thought while Ge this is great that they're joining, and I sometimes would ask them, well, do you do you have a local geneological society, and why is it that you're not going there? Because I need to understand a little bit better as well how we could, how we can improve the functionality and maybe add some more features for people that are looking for other ways of doing research. And what do they say? Have you? Have you got any responses to those kinds of questions yet? Well, sometimes I get the response that yes, I I do. A lot of the people who in the province of Quebec are have joined or still our members of their local societies and more than one society, and I always try and promote that the quebection. Logically, society as not the only tool that you should use to research your ancestors, but it's one of many tools that you can use. So when I ask people the question, they say, well, I have a brick wall at this point and I can't find it in you know, society, a B or c. So I'm hoping that if I join your society that I can find more information, because we'd have over five hundred resource links throughout the province of Quebeca, divided into the seventeen regions of Quebec. It's hard to explain over the telephone, but these five hundred resource links are links that could help people get information that's not really related to a birthmet record or marriage record or a death record, such as a passenger lists...

...such as, I'm thinking of the top of my hand, news have all time directory, news papers, digital newspapers, telephone directories, that kind of thing. No, no, I mean I've used some of these resources, so I find it and I think it's also helpful just having a group of people who actually want. They buy joining the society. In part they're saying, I want to learn digitally, I want to learn all these new virtual tools to that's true as well. Our webinar functionality is fairly new technology. Not everyone's aware of it, but we do webinars for a new members twice a month, so one in French and one in English. That helps our new members learn what all the what all the features of the society are, and we also encourage our members to give the to to give the Webin Arts and share their expertise and share their knowledge with other members and we're all learning at the same time. So it's so it's fantastic. Yeah, and I have to say is someone who just gave my first Webinar in French last night. It was a definitely a thrilling experience. There were the questions were fabulous, that it was much less anxiety written than I that I was originally thinking it might be. I did it from the comfort of your home and it didn't matter what you were wearing and although I shared my video because I like seeing you did well, you actually had to wear real clothes. But and now I we should just talk a little bit about Your Business in genealogy too, because since leaving the corporate world, you have your own company and your specializing in Quebec geneological research for some very interesting organizations. Can you talk a little bit about maybe one of the case studies that you handled for one of these groups and who they are and why you got into that right what? So when I first when I first retired, it was like, Oh,...

Cosh, okay, now what I'm I going to do our where I like to do genealogical research. So I am applied to various geneological, large geneological firms and in the United States, namely ancestrycom, legacy treecom and genealogistcom. Those three companies provide research facilities for people that want to hire them to do to research their families. So this was this was quite interesting because I received a lot of contracts from ancestry and I can't think, off the top of my head, tracy, you know some really interesting cases. But the all, but the all, were related to to have people living in the United States who had traced their ancestries to a certain point and then realize that their ancestors came from France. In this one thousand six hundreds to the province of Quebec. I lived in the province of Quebec for a few generations and then migrated into the to the US. So, for example, ancestorycom would contacted me and say can you continue their research to their first immigrant that came at that came to that came from friends. So I would do that last bit of research and it was really interesting. I really, really enjoyed that. I didn't I didn't do any research in France myself because I thought no, I wanted to have a niche and I wanted to specialize only in a Quebec research. But after I did that for a few years. That's another thing that brought me to the point of the Quebec genealogical society, because I realize that my clients, or the clients of ancestrycom and, like I said, treecom and Genealogistcom, those clients of theirs, were paid thousands of dollars to have their their families, family trees or their ancestors researched. And I thought, Oh my you know, this is such a lucrative business, but why...

...should somebody spend so much money when it's so easy in the province of Quebec to research your your ancestors, especially if if you are, if you do have French Canadian ancestors. So that was that. That was kind of one of my trends. was, okay, I want, I do have my own business, I want, I was working, I still and am working as a contractor for these firms, but I really want to recommend to the clients, the clients that I'm that I'm aware of that contact made directly. I want to Orient them too, towards doing their research themselves versus hiring a researcher if they're capable of doing the research themselves. So some people are not capable or not that computer literate or or advanced in their in their senior years, and I don't want to do it themselves. But for the ones that are capable, I really do encourage them instead of hiring me or that bill, hire me for a couple of hours and else I'll say here's how you could do it yourself, versus, you know, me spending twenty hours or more research in their tree for them. So that was really gratifying to me to say, okay, now we have the society, it's up and running. Here's how what here's what you can do yourself. Now I noticed also your your certified genealogist. Yeah, I'm a member of the Association and Professional Genealogist and that's an association that's based in in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I join that association when I first started in twenty Ala to twenty nine, in the early years, just so I can learn more about how to professionally research for a client and how to do my sources and how to write research reports. So I've been to Salt Lake City Multiple Times for the Association of Professional Genel just conferences to learn more about how to better, how to...

...improve my research skills. So I add still to this day a member of the Association of professional genealogist and actually a few of our members are creating Canadian chapter or in the process just this year. Actually, as we speak, we've had meetings that last week and this week to create a Canadian chapter for the Association of Professional genealogists. That's exciting. So you'll be looking to basically, now you're involved into nonprofits, you'll be spreading your now that it would be working more in Quebec to get members of that, I assume. Yes, yes, and what it what it really is is for we really don't have a an umbrella group in Canada to help genealogists research, to answer questions. You know, if people in the in Nova Scotia have questions about how to research in Nova Scotia or, you know, British Columbia, we don't have an umbrella organization that could help geneologists in various aspects, doing research and different provinces or doing a state researching, which is forensic genealogy, that kind of thing. So we're hoping that we can create an umbrella group for all of Canada or genealogists can join and then we can share our expertise and say okay, here in Quebec, this is what we do, and some Dan Saskatchewan will say, well, in Saskatchewan, you know, here's what we do if we want to look for a particular marriage record in, you know, one thousand nine hundred and twenty top of saying, because every province is a little different and in the databasis that they have and what's available to two people. Yeah, as a journalist I found the same thing when it comes of land records, which it really related to genealogical records. Every every every province has a different system, a different group of requirements if you want to get access to various records. So I assume it's the same. And then so are you accredited or how does it? How does it work? Okay,...

...yeah, sorry, I know I'm not a not accredited. There's a lot of courses that you can take to be accredited and I did start doing courses with the with the Association of professional genealogist, and there's also an institute in in Toronto called the National Institute of Genealogical Research, where you can get courses and from from Canada, in Canada and they're online. And I never finished. I never did get accredited and I kind of regret that in a way. But then I got I was so occupied and so busy with my my own firm that I never got around to get an accredited. So No, I am not accredited as a as a professional genealogist. I don't have the letters behind my name to say that, yes, I'm going accredited genealogist. So funny because I've always considered doing that as well and I've started. I started a file to start doing it at one point and that I keep putting aside and bring it back. It's almost the and maybe at one point we'll have to set up a little group and do it all together. Yeah, it's a it's really interesting to do it and I really enjoyed taking courses, but it's to find the time to do them and to complete them and to actually put it on our two duelist to say yes, okay, now I'm going to do it and I'm going to finish it. And I did start, as I mentioned, twice with two different organizations. It's a real it's a rigorous goal. It's like you really have to set a decent amount of time aside. I actually have to finish two books before I've decided I'm going to do it again. But there's no it has to be you have to put aside at a certain amount of time, in a very limited you know, because they ask you to complete all of the tasks within a certain time amount of time. So you have to make sure you have time to do that properly. Yes, yes, and and actually, the once I started in Salt Lake City, the dilemma was at in order to actually get accredited and to get your final course completed. You actually had to go to...

Salt Lake City. You had to present all the all information that you've collected as part of your course assignments and spend I think, three days there to get and then have them review it and pass a little task and get accredited. So that was itself, you know, having to travel to Salt Lake City to get that done. I was like, okay, well, maybe I don't really want to travel in February. We are whenever the time frame was. I've been a many times and it just didn't suit to suit my schedule mine. I want to set it up at a time when I can set it up about two years in advance so that I can make sure that that time appears a route at the same time as the roots conference. There you go and it's like that doesn't happened yet. Is there any will try it together exactly? I think it could be really fun because there's several of us in the genealogy on some group who've been thinking that we should do it too. I mean it's a it's definitely a task that, if you're an avid genealogical researcher, you do want to show that you can do it. So, but with there any question that you were hoping I would ask you that. I didn't ask about genealogical research or the society. No, I don't, or about you and your journey, and they say, well, it has been a being a very rewarding journey. That has to be my biggest adventure and my day, biggest success because it was the most difficult project that I've ever undertaken on my own. And I had a very big career in technology, information technology environment, and I work in that environment for over thirty year, over twenty five years, and but you're always in a team, you're always you're all was working with other people, with colleagues. So...

...in this case it was me, myself and I pretty much and my husband, of course, who was supporting me all the way. But it really was a huge undertaking and I'm so proud of it and I'm so pleased that people are are using it and I appreciate in it and I'm always looking for ideas from from our members and other people to say, okay, we know, how about if you put this on or add that on, and we are adding something brand new just it's just coming up soon. It's called our members forums like a message board, much like roots at roots web message boards or Ancestry Message Board. So we will have a message board soon on our website where members could post their brick walls and ask questions to other members. So that's we're in the final testing stages right now with our software dire developer, so that's going to be up any day now, hopefully by the end of February. So yeah, if that, it's very exciting because I think everyone, everyone who does genealogical research or our research in their ancestors always reach a brick wall somewhere, somewhere and they're always asking questions. Yeah, well, and also just talking about what you're doing with other people who, as a FANATICA as you are about it, can be helpful so that your family members don't get bored. Yes, that's true. That's true, because when you talk about it to other people, you know, they're my friends. None of my friends are genealogists, by close friends. And you know, yeah, they say what again, what have you been doing lately? So well, I've been working like twelve hour days every day for the past month on this and their eyes just blank over, you know, they say, Oh, okay, okay, and then they change the subject, you know. Yeah, and until you get to the point where you can present a story, it can be a little mind numbing the number of details that we go into. And, as you know, the last question that I always...

...have from my podcast, because it's called an apologetically Canadian, is do you consider yourself a Canadian and, if so, what does that mean to you? Gosh, I was thinking about that and the funny thing is I took my grandkids out for your lunch yesterday because they was a snow day here, and I quiz them, and these are my two grandkids I have for these two grandkids were fifteen and thirteen, and I asked them, I said, do you consider yourself Canadian? And you know from these are from teenagers, and it was really interesting that the the answers that gave and they said well, yes, of course Nana, were Canadian. I said yes, but do consider yourself to be a Canadian? And they had such interesting answers which really which really fascinated me at that age. But to answer your question for me, I think first and foremost, I consider myself to be a Quebecer. I was born here in Quebec as where my two brothers. My parents were also born here, but I haven't lived in Quebec all my life because my dad was in the Canadian armed forces. So we grew up living in various places across Canada and most recently my parents I retired and in Nova Scotia. Most recently, well, the last twenty years, my dad retired and in Nova Scotia. So I truly I'm a Quebecer, but I do truly consider myself a Canadian. Living in various towns across Canada really showed me the expanse of the country and how culturally diverse we are and we're so open to different walks of life, you know, religions, politics and interest and being in the in these different towns, I always thought and going to different schools. So I had to go to different schools. I must have changed schools FIB US six times. People are so darned friendly to each other, no matter what province or town we lived in. So I really, I really think that is a Canadian, Canadian way of life. I do have a...

...lot of little little story, though. If we have time. Yeah, just have time. Go ahead, all right, okay, so I'm talking about my husband writing a book of my family. He also wrote a wrote a book about his father and his father's life during World War Two. His father joined them this regiment to Montreal daring. What was the name of it? Fusily, Fusillem more real regiment in nineteen forty and eventually, as dad embarked on the deep raid in France and nineteen forty two. So in the I think I was around two thousand and eleven or two thousand and twelve, we dedicated a forty seven day journey to follow my husband's father, my fatherin law, his footsteps during World War Two. Wow. And we started. We started from Peer Twenty one in Halifax where my my husband's Dad, his regiments left to go to to go to Europe. And he actually didn't go to Europe right away. The ship went to Iceland. So we went to Iceland, we followed, we knew the regiments, we research the regiment in detail as to where they went and we followed exactly where the regiment went all the way throughout World War II. So we went to Iceland, we went to Scotland, we went to England, France and his father was taken prisoner of war in the DP raid and he spent three years in prisoner of war camps. So we went to Germany and Poland, where his father was incar serrated for three years, and visited the locations of the prisoner war camps. And what I wanted to say here is that in every country we went to, once people we met knew we were Canadians. They embraced us as if we were long lost members of their family. It was just so emotional, and by embracing I mean, you know, they actually physically hugged us and kissed us and said Thank you, thank you for your the role that deck...

Canadians played during the war, and they would invite us to their homes, they would show us around their town if we were having difficulties, you know, finding, for example, some some camps, the prisoner work camps, that no longer existed. It was so very emotional and I've never felt ever so proud to be a Canadian as to when we when we did this journey. It was just it was just so amazing and and for people to say, oh my gosh, you're Canadian, you know, and given us these state hubs and kisses and and say, okay, would you if you want to contact you that kind of thing. And these are just strangers, strangers you meet on the street. Wow, isn't that fat what you thought that you did that trip and he forty seven days. What did it forty seven days, but forty seven days and we followed the footsteps of my my husband's father in the war that was in two thousand and twelve. Two Thousand and twelve. Wow, what a wonderful experience. You know that I'm working on a book about World War Two and how Canada changed to do to that war? Oh, no, I didn't know that. Yes, I yeah, so, if it will have to have a little sharing thing. I'd love to see the pictures and hear all about that, mean more detail. It's a really fabulous trip. Yeahs. Did you produce anything about it, like, do you have a, I don't know, a book or video or anything that you did as a result of that trip? Yes, we produce two books actually after that. So my husband wrote the book, actually wrote the book about his father's life during World War II. Oh far, so it's a yeah, it started when his father. It's a really nice story. It's a really great story, starting when of his father was child, not really the early years, but when he why he joined and his father never talked about the war. As most people who are who you know, were involved in the war, they don't speak about it afterwards. His father never talked about it. So well, we had to do all the research ourselves and ask other war veterans who were part of his regiment, you know, some information. So we went to the the Veterans Hospital, Saint Ann's...

Veterans Hospital and St Anne's and found some veterans that were part of his regiment, you know, interviewed them and interviewed when his close friends get definitely give me the links to all of those materials and I'll put them into the show notes to if people are interested right, which I certainly am, I think. Yeah, so much to end, this was a great interview. Thank you for listening to an apologetically Canadian. This episode was brought to you by Cobo. Use My affiliate link from the show notes for five dollars off your first order today.

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