Learn how to research Indigenous ancestors 

By Dariya Baiguzhiyeva

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

If you’re looking to research your family history and find your Indigenous ancestors, this webinar may be for you.

Tuesday, May 18, the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) is holding a free Zoom webinar starting at 1 p.m.

Led by digital archives technician Jenna Lemay, the webinar will cover how to get started, what kind of records to look at, where to find documents and how to read them, and more.

Lemay said Indigenous people often had their names forcibly changed by an Indian agent or at residential school, and they would be made to adopt a Western first and last name as opposed to the more traditional naming conventions.

“Sometimes an ancestor’s name would become their child’s last name and the child would be given a Western first name. Later on, that Indigenous last name might be again changed to a Western last name or translated into English,” Lemay said. “If you know an ancestor’s English last name but not their Indigenous name, it can be hard to trace back further in time.”

Researching Indigenous ancestors presents a number of challenges that Lemay will touch on in the presentation. One of the biggest ones, she said, is name variations, spellings, and changes.

“If an ancestor or family has an Indigenous name, as opposed to a Western one, there can be a huge range in spellings for that name since the record creators didn’t speak the language. This can make it really hard to search if you don’t know how the name was spelled,” she said. “This also ties into transcription which is what most online searches are going to be based off of: older writing can be hard to read and if it’s an unfamiliar name, the transcriber will often not get it right which can further complicate the search.”

Lemay said the centre often gets requests from people who want help researching their ancestry and she thinks it’s good to give people the skills to pursue the research on their own or to better understand what the centre can do for them.

“This work is incredibly important for me because I see it as part of my reconciliation work as a settler,” she said. “Many Indigenous people have lost this connection with their family history and with their ancestors due to colonial processes like the

residential system, and so it’s extremely rewarding to be able to help them get that back in whatever way I can.”

For more information on how to join, visit the Facebook event page.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the  TIMMINSTODAY.COM. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada


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