Family tree blooms
Rosemary Cairns digs for roots in Ireland

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 15/99) - What do you get when you take a few twists of fate and mix it with a natural curiosity about your heritage?

For Yellowknifer Rosemary Cairns, you get a trip to Ireland and Scotland -- and an inner peace from finding out where you came from.

"It all started when I was working with the Gwich'in and Sahtu enrolment boards, helping them trace their ancestry," Cairns said.

"I saw the forms we were asking them to fill out and realized I could write down who my parents were, but knew very little beyond that."

The exercise of working with the enrolment boards started a fire in Cairns. She knew she was born in Belfast, Ireland. She moved to Canada at the age of nine when her dad got a job helping develop the Avro Arrow. Beyond that, Cairns didn't know any of her family members from her mother's side and only knew her grandmother on her father's side, who died when she was four.

After searching Irish and genealogical sites on the Internet, Cairns stumbled across the Ulster Historical Society Web site. The society was hosting a Family History Conference in Belfast and Dublin from Aug. 31 to Sept 7. She signed up immediately.

"When I came across a description of the conference, I thought it would be interesting to research my family tree with people who knew the history of Ireland and with people who knew where to go to research," Cairns said.

"I think it's important to know who you are and to know where you came from. I spent some time while I was in Ireland and Scotland wondering what I would have been like if I stayed there. It's one of those things that you think about when you start thinking about your roots."

There were 80 people attending the conference from all over the world. The diverse group came together with scattered memories, a few tattered pictures and a handful of last names. Everyone was searching for pieces of their past.

"There were huge migrations out of Ireland in the 1700s and 1800s for a variety of reasons. They weren't just leaving because of the Potato Famine of 1845. The Irish are adventurers and explorers and the people who attended the conference reflected that spirit," Cairns said.

"There were people at the conference whose ancestors left Ireland in the 1700s. Everybody was there to research their family tree, everybody was on the same search so we shared the excitement of finding relatives."

For Cairns, the search was not done in vain. She found out who her mother's parents were and who their parents were. On her father's side, she identified the parents of her grandmother, and her great-grandfather's hometown.

Cairn's grandfather was a conductor on the railway, and her grandfather's dad hooked up the railway cars.

"It was fun, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I believe you're the sum of all the generations that came before you and if you don't know who those people were, you feel somewhat disconnected," Cairns said.

The exercise helped her get to know herself better and allowed her to look at the world differently.

"I found out that if you go eight generations back you have a million grandparents, so I figure we're all related somehow," Cairns said.

"It makes a difference how you look at the world if you think of everyone as a relative. What a different world it would be if we all behaved accordingly."