Genealogy Research by Ron Armstrong

Ron Armstrong's Picture

In my younger years, I never really gave much thought to my family roots, not knowing my mother's parents or my grandfather Armstrong; they had all passed on before my time. I only recall my grandmother Armstrong on one occasion: it was during a visit to her home in Clinton, Ontario, when I was a very young child; she offered me and my younger brother, Howard, freshly baked cookies at the door of her home.

I therefore grew up knowing very little about my family roots - just a few details about my mother and father and their families. I recalled some family reunions from my childhood; to a child, it seemed like most of Stanley Township (where I was born) was in attendance. The faces and names had become a blur through the years.

In about 1986, my sister, Dorothy, received a call from someone in the United States who was engaged in a genealogical search and was seeking Dorothy's assistance in confirming some of the details about our family. She sent Dorothy a brief printout of data about us, with a request for confirmation of the details and additional information. How interesting, I thought. Some mysterious person we've never met has information about our family and wants more. Little did I know that, a few years later, I would be the one contacting total strangers to confirm minute details about them.

In the late 1980s, while preparing for retirement, I purchased a used computer and discovered a rudimentary genealogy program on it. My interest was piqued. I started to add the first few scraps of information: names, dates of births, marriages and deaths of my immediate family. It didn't take long before I was hooked. During winter vacations to Florida with my wife, Shirley, I began to make visits to the Family History Centers of the Mormon Church. I then purchased a more powerful genealogy software program. Before long, I was fully immersed in the world of genealogical research. And what a world it was! Thanks to the Internet, I could communicate with folks all over the world who were conducting similar searches. It was like a secret society of ordinary people with a passion to find out more about their family roots, for a better understanding of themselves.

In those early years, my research was limited, for the most part, to sources close at hand: the Internet, other family members, and the occasional trip to a cemetery or municipal records office. After my wife, Shirley, passed away, I began to venture a little farther afield. I spent many hours in the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa during visits to see my daughter, Maureen. I also found a few key allies within the family, such as my niece Julie, who shared with me much valuable information she had researched through contacts of her own. Then came the first trip to the U.K. in 1997. It was my first transatlantic trip, and I loved every minute of it. It will always be punctuated in my mind by the many days I spent in the PRONI (Public Records Office of Northern Ireland) in Belfast, poring over various public records - census returns, tithe applotment books and marriage records, to mention only a few.

Over the past 15 years, I have lovingly dedicated many months to this project. I have written hundreds of letters, travelled to Ireland, Scotland, upstate New York, Michigan and Western Canada. I have met dozens of new people from all walks of life, all with their own personal stories to tell. I have pursued leads, some of which bore no fruit and others that bloomed into wonderful pieces of the overall history of the Stanley Township Armstrongs.

Living in Toronto for several years has given me the opportunity to visit the Archives of Ontario on Grenville Street, as well as two resource libraries, any time I please. I have made excellent use of those resources for long hours on many days. The information found at these facilities has helped fill in much information on the Rainey Armstrong family.

As a result of this work, I have one small regret: that I did not appreciate the importance of family history at an earlier age, when I had the opportunity to ask questions of the people who had direct knowledge. What a loss it was for me that, as a young man, I did not ask my parents all they knew of their relatives, to have given me the details behind the faces in all those old family photos.

Needless to say, genealogy research is never fully complete. One has to resign oneself to the fact that certain details either cannot be located or are simply unknowable.

It is my hope that you will have a computer with a little genealogy program on it that will spark your desire to know more about those who came before you.

Ron Armstrong