Unravelling the mystery of a person’s genealogy is something Shelley Tegart can spend an entire day doing.
Tegart is one half of the South Cariboo Genealogy Group along with her friend Wendy Shaw. Together the two have spent much of the last decade exploring the family trees of friends and acquaintances across the Cariboo.
“It’s a treasure hunt. I’ve literally sat with people and they’ve said my father was born in Cardiff, Wales,” Tegart said. “Two hours later I’ve taken them back five generations. I get so excited because I’ve been at my genealogy for a long time, there’s no excitement left.”
Her interest in genealogy began with her own family history which has had roots in the Cariboo since the 1860s. While working in the map library at the University of B.C. in 1977, Tegart picked up the Simcoe County Atlas, which included information on the land owned by one of her ancestors.
Out of interest, she began researching her family tree and made a few trips to England. Back in the day, she said the only way to find out about your genealogy was to search through the original records stored in churches and town halls.
These days, thanks to the Internet, and the digitization of many old records researching your family history has never been easier. However, if you don’t have experience searching through these records, Tegart said this could provide a stumbling block for first-time users.
That’s where Tegart and Shaw come in.
“I’m a professional librarian and that’s one of the things I’ve studied. How to go about finding accurate information,” Tegart said. “Wendy is really good at DNA and sorting out DNA connections between cousins and such.”
Since 2011 the two have run the genealogy group out of the Cariboo Regional District Library in 100 Mile House. Every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the two are available to help community members discover their origins.
Tegart said they use ancestry.com, Findmypast, some French Canadian databases and other sources. They can access information from across Canada, England, France, Germany and large parts of the United States.
“Both Wendy and I have been at this for 40 years, so combined we have almost 80 years of experience in doing research.”
In the past, Tegart said she’s even been able to help people with uncertain backgrounds find out where they came from. She said rather than relying solely on databases she’ll send emails to record keepers like governmental ministries and institutions for the missing information.
Tegart once found a branch of a woman’s family by accessing old church records and discovering her ancestor worked as a travelling stone mason repairing English churches in the 1800s. Those moments of excitement are what she and Shaw live for.
After a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tegart is looking forward to getting going again this October. Starting on Thursday, Oct. 6 she said the group is back on and will continue until at least mid-December.
“We’ll start up again in January if we get enough people coming in. If it’s just Wendy and I sitting there exchanging research stories back and forth then we won’t,” Tegart said. “For some people, it’s not about chasing the ancestors as far back as you go, for some people it’s about reconnecting with family.”