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Military past . . . Bob Barrack admires a portrait of his ancestor Major General MacPherson from his photo family tree. PHOTO: HELEN HOLT

by Helen Holt

A local genealogist is urging Timaru families to keep photographs and letters for future generations.

Bob Barrack has spent decades collecting archives for a family tree.

He recently began making a photo family tree, and has linked 11 generations so far, dating back 300 years, but has also tracked down Vikings’ ancestry from 900AD and pieces from 200AD.

Mr Barrack has 60 ringbinders filled with 4000 pages of photocopied letters, paintings and photos from his family history.

When he decided he would make a photo tree, he found his direct family had thrown away most of their archives.

He said he feared future generations would throw folders away, and regret it when they became interested in family history.

“I had to contact cousins from overseas to track down photos and letters. I also read a lot of books to piece together some history.

“There were also family archives in the university libraries and museums.”

Making connections . . .
one of genealogist Bob Barrack’s framed photo family trees from the 17th
century. PHOTO: HELEN HOLT

Recently he has been piecing together a connection with someone in the United States.

“I took a DNA test a while ago. Next thing I get a message from someone who said our DNA matched. So I have been looking at how we’re related.

“It has been like doing a 1000-piece jigsaw, with only 800 pieces. To see how we’re related, I need to find the other 200.”

The matching family shared Mr Barrack’s mother’s maiden name. He found connections with Native American chiefs, but he is yet to find the relationship between his family and theirs.

Mr Barrack said he found many gems during his trip through time. Some of his favourites included “crossed letters” from 1826 which put two pages worth of writing on one page to save space.

Historical gem . . . A favourite of the archives was a crossed letter, which had two pages worth on the one page, to save money. PHOTO: HELEN HOLT

Another favourite was a portrait of Major General Herbert Taylor MacPherson from 1886.

“A person contacted me online to say they were related to Major General McPherson, but they weren’t sure how, so I went on a journey to find out how we were connected.”

He said it was important for families to save letters to understand their ancestors’ experiences first hand.

“Many people now wouldn’t know what letters are. By reading them, you do get a sense of what it felt like to be that person, and get their experiences first hand.

“I found through reading a letter that a sister died shortly after her brother, and it was believed to be ‘of a broken heart’. It was so interesting reading that. It wasn’t the broken heart of the romantic kind, but a strong love for one’s sibling.”

Safely stored . . . Bob Barrack’s 60 ringbinders filled with family history. PHOTO: HELEN HOLT

He was motivated to make the family tree for his grandchildren.

“I said to my granddaughter Caitlin, ‘should I just throw this stuff away?’ and she said ‘Don’t you dare. I am not interested in it right now, but one day I will be’.”