The search for family roots 

Seeking out our ancestors is becoming a global phenomenon

click to flip through (6) Douglas family picture 1911. In this Douglas family picture, John Barker's mother is the one-year-old seated on the ground on the left next to her sister, Margaret, with the bow in her hair — third from the left on the bottom row;
  • Douglas family picture 1911. In this Douglas family picture, John Barker's mother is the one-year-old seated on the ground on the left next to her sister, Margaret, with the bow in her hair — third from the left on the bottom row;
 

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The two put their heads together and have now come up with 1,900 descendants from Douglas, the original Scot who came to Ontario with his family at the age of 12 in 1851.

Talking of Douglas, Barker enjoys re-telling a funny story about his famous ancestor.

"There was apparently a fire in the Parliament Buildings in about 1914 and they were trying to account for everyone," said Barker. "He was the only one they couldn't account for. They found him later — he was fast asleep in the Senate library. He slept through the whole thing."

Then Barker pointed to a stack of cardboard boxes containing family documents, piled in the corner of his basement office and shrugged.

"It's like a drug," said Barker. "Once you get going on it, you can't stop."

For the Florian family, tracing their history meant taking an emotional tour of Eastern Europe, ending up at Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

The family's roots lie in Russia, the Czech Republic and Austria and its ancestors were swept up in the horror that the Second World War brought to European Jews.

Nick Florian, a Toronto-based founder of an international language school, decided in 2010 that it was time his children learned of their family's heritage.

His grandfather, Fritz Reich had died after surviving torture for two months in Block 11, at Auschwitz, in 1942.

"My dad went on this kind of rampage, before this trip," chuckled his daughter Stephanie Florian, who lives in North Vancouver. "He was getting close to 70, so it was like his final party and making sure the kids had this full tour and an understanding of everything that happened."

She remembers her dad having her write family books for show-and-tell in Grade 4.

"What I remember was him telling me about when he was in Prague and escaping from the communists," she said.

The stories of the Jewish side of the family didn't come out until recently.

"Five years ago all these layers came out," she said. "My grandmother was hiding that we had any Jewish blood for so long that it didn't come out 'til close to her death.

Then all this other stuff started coming out."

Eight family members went on the trip, she said, visiting Austria, Prague and Auschwitz.

The tour included the Jewish ghetto in Trebic, where her great-grandfather was and the graves of family members, killed by the Nazis.

But it was in Prague that the family met Nick's cousin Herta, an 88-year-old survivor of four different concentration camps.

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