Photo: Captain Thaddeus Hodge and his wife Josephine – Dale Hodge’s great grandparents. (Photo courtesy of Joycelyn Curiel)
By Mark Yokoyama
Dale Hodge first became interested in her family tree about 30 years ago. Some of her older family members had done research already and were sharing it with the younger generations. Since then, she’s spent over 20 years exploring her family history.
Over the years, she’s built a family tree that includes about 6,000 people. It is an incredible achievement that took a lot of hard work. St. Martin’s unique history means searching in five languages in a variety of databases in different countries.
It includes names, dates, occupations, marriages, births, deaths, gravestone locations, photos, stories and more.
When asked about challenges in building her family tree, Hodge said it was hard to find photos of people. Finding out occupations of ancestors was also hard. Sometimes, getting relatives to open up was hard, too: “Some of the older generations seem to have difficulty talking about difficult situations.
“It was a different culture, and expectations were different back then. These stories are vital for filling in gaps in any large family tree. Over time, more people see the historical value in honouring their great-grandparents, but it takes time. And people will only open up if they know their info will be respected!”
For those getting started on their family tree, Hodge has some suggestions. First, know that government records like birth-, marriage- and death-dates are public records and free to access.
It is also important to verify your information: “Don’t be lazy about research; type the full names.” Also, although the data itself is public, family trees are personal and “each person has to choose to share their tree with you”.
While Facebook isn’t a primary tool for developing a family tree, it “can be a good tool in contacting lost cousins.”
Over the years, her family tree work has rewarded Hodge with many great experiences. She mentions a few highlights: “Seeing the face of my great-great grandmother for the first time, being able to help lost cousins find family connections through our DNA matches, and having people contact me from all over the world – that just found out they were adopted – and helping them discover family members.”
Although some things were hard to learn, Hodge isn’t afraid of her family history. “Many people ask me if I am afraid of finding something in my past or my ancestors’ past. I think this is a huge mistake in how society sees the past. I want to know everything! Good, great, boring, stupid, sad, the horrors – as this is what made each of us.
“Hiding the past serves no one. And, yes, not everyone has the maturity to deal with many of the findings; but hopefully, in time, we all can learn from our past.”
In the meantime, Hodge has one bit of advice for all: “Stop throwing away old pictures! Give them to family members instead.”