Family History Conference builds bridges in Toronto

By Helen K. Warner

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Oct. 30 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Toronto Stake High Councilor Steven Yu, left, workshop Presenter Sheila Hsia, Consul Mu Jianfeng and Consul Ingrid Luo Wang pose for a photo during a family history conference in Toronto. Jianfeng and Luo Wang are from the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China.

Keith Martindale

TORONTO — Toronto City Councillor John Parker was expecting to receive his family history at a family history conference at the Toronto Stake Center in September.

What he didn’t expect was that Gwen Armstrong, the assistant director of the area's Family History Center, who did Parker's research and presented him with his family history, would turn out to be his 10th cousin.

As the two newly found cousins hugged at the pulpit, the congregation saw firsthand the benefits of family history research: It builds bridges in families and in communities.

Parker, whose city ward covers the area that includes the Toronto Stake Center, then recalled to the audience his many business trips to Salt Lake City where he enjoyed seeing sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and expressed how honored he was to receive both 13 generations of his family history and a new cousin. He summed up his feelings with, “I will treasure this day.”

In the opening session of the conference, the Honourable Vivienne Poy, Canada’s first senator of Asian descent, revealed that she started her family history years ago with two unanswered questions: What was the origin of her very unusual Chinese surname and why her paternal grandfather was assassinated in Hong Kong at the age of 47? Her historical journey took her back 2,000 years and she learned that “genealogical research is fun, and what I love the most about it is to be able to get at the truth about ourselves. We don’t judge our ancestors but learn from them, so that we can use the knowledge to guide our children."

In the press conference that followed Poy’s presentation, she urged reporters from Sing Tao Daily and Fame Weekly Magazine to spread the message to their readers that each family in Canada should research their history and pass it on to the next generation.

Toronto Ontario Stake president Tyrone Wong shared the greetings of Canada’s prime minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, who wrote, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with its vast genealogical library and global network of research centers, is well-suited to helping people of all backgrounds trace their family roots. I trust that in tracing your own lines of ancestral descent, you will gain a better appreciation of our diverse Canadian citizenry and the links that exist between all members of the human family.”

Toronto has more than 200 distinct ethnic groups represented in its population, and some of these groups were invited to the conference to receive instruction on how to research their family roots. Classes were given for those whose families were Aboriginal, or came from the British West Indies, Britain, both English- and French-speaking Canada, China, Italy, Ireland, Jamaica, Latin America, Poland and the United States.

Two thirds of those who attended were not members of the LDS Church. One third of the workshop presenters were also not members.

Stanley M. Diamond, the executive director of Jewish Records Indexing-Poland, came from Montreal to present at the conference. So many members of the Jewish community came that chairs were set up in the hall and young people sat on the floor to hear his message.

Diamond reported that there is a “remarkable collection of Jewish vital record registers that survived the ravages of time and upheavals of history. They were not all destroyed — 80 percent have survived!” He then told those who attended how to find them.

Even though it was the day of a Polish celebration in Toronto, University of Toronto lecturer Kathleen LaBudie-Szakall’s workshop not only drew members of Toronto’s Polish community but even a couple who travelled from Winnipeg, Manitoba. During her two workshops, LaBudie-Szakall assured workshop participants that Polish research was not only possible, she gave attendees 87 different references to help them find success.

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