Search of family history reveals unknown murder mystery

Lorna Laughton with some of the Alberta Family History Society’s collection at their library in Calgary, Alta. on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. Lorna volunteers at the library and loves to study her family history. (Photo by Will Fisher/The Press)

Discovering a murder was not what Ron Gilmore expected when he began a search for his genealogical history.

In research aided by his cousin, however, the pair discovered the family secret.

“Both of my family members involved were sentenced to death,” said Gilmore. “But one of them was shipped to a penal colony in Tasmania.”

The two female family members, he discovered, had been convicted of killing an illegitimate newborn child. Using court documents, inquests and other resources, Gilmore and his cousin were even able to uncover the journey the relative took to Tasmania, a 220-day trip that involved a near mutiny on the ship.

Now president of the Alberta Family History Society, Gilmore turned the story into a presentation he puts on, titled Murder and Consequences.  The hope is to help other families uncover fascinating stories, which can be passed down and shared.

“The stories I hear, they continue to amaze me,” said society vice-president Jim Benedict.

For more than 40 years, the Alberta Family History Society has helped members discover their family trees. Their library is located on 16 Avenue N.W. in Calgary and is full of material from across Canada, as well as multiple European countries.

Open to the public, the library and its volunteers can help people uncover information about their family trees. Canadian documents are sorted by province and the library has local histories, maps, family history journals, and more.

Benedict has been involved with the organization for 15 years and says he has witnessed a transformation due to the expansion of the internet.

“Before, it was all by postal,” he said. “There was no guarantee you would ever get anything back. But now there are commercial websites that do a substantial amount of background gathering.”

With the help of DNA testing, archival websites, library resources, volunteers and members of the society, people can gather information going back generations.

Lorna Laughton, a key volunteer at the library, can now know her family’s history back to the 1600s.

The group is also great for those looking to share experiences or learn from each other about genealogy.

“During our meetings, we have these things called brags,” said Laughton. “Where someone goes ‘Oh, I found this,’ and everyone cheers.”

“It’s partly a social club, I have to admit,” Benedict said with a chuckle.

The society has special groups for members with particular interests, like a family tree maker group, a DNA group, and a team that visits cemeteries in southern Alberta to record gravestones. Currently, they’ve covered gravestones in 140 cemeteries.

Workshops are put on to help members communicate their research, whether it be in stories, blogs, or Facebook groups.

The AFHS aims to assist as many people as possible by organizing genealogy clinics at the Calgary Public Library, opening its library to the public, and ensuring a continuous presence of volunteers. The goal is to foster greater interest in family history among the community.

“We want to help people. We want to get it all out there,” said Laughton.

To become a member, donate, learn more or contact the society, visit their website.

Jim Benedict posing with a book filled with his family history at the Alberta Family History SocietyÕs library in Calgary, Alta. On Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. Jim has been part of the society for over 15 years and is now the vice president. (Photo by Will Fisher/The Press)
About Will Fisher 3 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Will Fisher is working as a writer for The Press in 2024.