Sunday, July 13, 2014

In Celebration of a Life

Nope, no downers here today! The weather is too beautiful.  But this is an appropriate day to post this.
Since my husband's mother passed away two years ago, he has been entrusted with the family "archives".  Well this fed right into his love of research, to the extent that we go to cemeteries on our holidays.  I swear it's his Suduku substitute....  And that's just fine.

I digress. In the building of the family tree, my husband's research led him into my mother's father's family and life.  I knew almost nothing about his early years and it's been a fascinating journey.  But this post isn't about him, it's about his oldest brother, Gordon.

In his 20's Gordon and one younger brother set out from Ontario to the wild west of Alberta.  He was joined by his wife, son and eventually, my grandfather, who was ..... oh, gee, I don't have that here.... maybe 14 years old. I was intrigued. They seemed to be stepping out into the unknown.  With more digging, we discovered Gordon died a year after my grandfather's arrival.  Oh, boy, what a tragic mess that must have been!

Last December we flew to Edmonton to visit our son, and one frigid afternoon we went to the Alberta Archives (let me just say it was about 60C warmer when we visited this month....).  My husband was hoping he could find the homestead they had farmed.  And yes, there it was on an old map.  And there was his brother's homestead, too.  Lives and relationships began unfolding.  At my insistence, we also looked for and found Gordon's death certificate.  Did he died as a result of a freak farm accident?  No, nothing so dramatic, he died of an appendicitis, which seems more tragic.

As the months went on, we learned that Gordon was not stepping into the void in Alberta.  There was a collection of families all from Essex county in Ontario (such as Asa Ford, the name seen on the map bordering the two Renno homesteads) that were already there when Gordon set out.  We continue to find stories by others that include the Renno family members' names.  After Gordon's death, his wife and two children moved to Chilliwack, BC.  His brother continued to farm for a while and my grandfather became skilled as a blacksmith, which he continued as a hobby till his death. My grandfather moved back to Ontario after about 5 years, changed his last name to its original spelling (Renaud), went to school and graduated from McMaster.

Two weeks ago, on a day when it felt like you could touch the clouds, we stood on Gordon's homestead outside Innisfail, Alberta.

So why am I posting this today?  Today is the 112th anniversary of Gordon's death.  Last Saturday we were a few minutes late to get into the Innisfail library, so my husband suggested we go look in the oldest part of the cemetery just across the street.  We had no idea if we'd find anything - especially Gordon's grave as we didn't know where he was buried. It could be on the farm, in another cemetery and who knew if it was even marked?  But my husband found it.

There he was, parts of his headstone difficult to read.  I wonder how long it's been since someone visited him? 

In memory of
Gordon E Renno
July 13, 1902
Aged 30 years
and 10 months

Though lost to sight, to memory

 It's such a shame that we don't ask more questions when family members are still living. But it's been a fascinating view into history.  Maybe we appreciate it more when we have to work for the information allowing our imaginations to fill in the blanks.

Thanks for reading!


  1. I love family history my own or others.
    The photos make the history come alive.
    Yes let's talk to each other and share our stories so that we all live forever in memory.

  2. Thank you for your sharing. I've spent time researching my ancestors, and there is such a connection felt when you learn about them.

  3. Interesting! That quote would make a nice sympathy stamp in calligraphy (hint, hint)!