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06 June 2020

Quarantine Quests: A Treasure Trove of Stories

Chris Pattillo is collecting "Quarantine Quests," stories of genealogical projects and discoveries made by our members while sheltering at home due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This Quarantine Quests story is from CGS member Jan Rubin.


CGS member Jan Rubin with her paternal
grandfather, Roy Baxter, 1953


Being quarantined at home has given Jan Rubin the time to reflect on her family’s history and to think about why she is so committed to continuing to research and weave together the many pieces of her family’s story. It has enhanced her sense of who she is and how her ancestors have shaped her. When the quarantine began Jan decided to focus on her paternal grandfather, Roy Raymond Baxter.

Jan inherited her family’s records – a treasure trove of photos, postcards, letters and research done by other family members. These documents and memorabilia came to her from her father, who had saved them from his father. Roy Baxter was a native of Nova Scotia who had studied to become a farmer, as his father and grandfather had been. But after a series of setbacks beginning around 1920 – his farm burning down, the Spanish flu pandemic, and a brief economic depression that followed World War I – Roy and his wife left Nova Scotia and traveled across Canada, with Jan’s father being born in 1921 in Edmonton, Alberta. After a final visit back to Nova Scotia, the Baxter family, including Roy’s brother, emigrated to Washington State in 1927. They heard from a friend from their hometown that there were jobs at a plywood factory in the Grays Harbor area of Washington and Roy and his brother went to work there.

Jan is grateful to relatives and ancestors who for generations saved the pieces of their lives and handed them down to her. When she made research trips to Nova Scotia these same relations shared their stories and guided Jan to the places where her ancestors lived and worked. Now she is focused on stitching it all together, like making a family quilt, so that she in turn will continue the tradition and share the story with future generations.
Roy age 16, Amherst, Nova Scotia

Jan joined CGS in 2017. Like so many new to our society her first encounter was with Jane Lindsey, who immediately jumped in with gusto to guide Jan in her endeavors. Throughout my interview Jan repeatedly acknowledged how generous CGS members have been in helping with her research and methodologies. She is using a timeline structure to organize her material – one of the first tips learned. She mentioned help from Pam Brett, Lisa Gorrell, Maureen Hanlon, and Sally Houston, who all have generously shared their tips for tackling a somewhat daunting undertaking. Jan regularly attends the CGS monthly FTM group where she enjoys a sense of camaraderie fostered by facilitators Ron Madson and Karen Halfon as facilitators.

Man seated in field with baby, cat, horse
Roy with son Gerald Baxter (Jan's father) Edmonton, Alberta
Canada 1922
Telling her grandfather’s story has been intuitive and revealing at the same time. Jan has personal recollections of spending time with her grandfather when she was a young child. She knew him as a quiet man who was soft spoken – never a braggart. She has a strong sense of this man and acknowledges how he has shaped her life. The revelations have come through her research. In wanting to add context to her grandfather’s story Jan has visited the places he lived and worked. She has seen the boots and lunchboxes that men wore and used while working in the plywood factory where he worked for many years. She has stood in the places where he fought during World War I. These experiences, images, recollections provide the context that explains her grandfather’s life and who he was.

Roy during WWI, 1916
While quarantined, Jan has fallen into a rhythm of how she spends her days. After breakfast and the daily news, she typically devotes a couple hours of her morning to work on her family history, a break and then her afternoon is divided between another major project and taking time to connect with other people. The balance has worked well. Most days she focuses on a particular task she wants to accomplish but on other days she is able to let that go and allows herself more flexibility.

Right now, her goal is to “get to the bottom of the box,” so to speak – to make sure she has reviewed and processed every item she inherited and to put it into order. What’s next? A book, a blog, a Nugget article or researching her mother’s side of the family? The quarantine has given Jan time to reflect, to go back in time because she knows it is important to honor her ancestors, to record their struggles and quiet achievements.

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