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Refugees, Genealogy and DNA, and the Oscars?

By jim sova

Have you ever bought a new car and then everywhere you drive you see the same make and colour of car? I have been preparing a talk on refugees, genealogy and DNA and now I am seeing references to refugees everywhere.

 I started thinking about the stories of our refugee ancestors and how to bring that into the talk. Before long, I found myself reading poetry and watching movie trailers. 

The poetry?  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie is the story of the expulsion of the Acadians. It follows lovers separated during the expulsion and Evangeline’s journey to find him.

The movie trailers?  There are a lot to choose from. How about The Voyage of the Damned? It is the story of a group of German Jewish refugees on a ship in 1939 bound for Cuba. They are refused entry there and anywhere else in North America and eventually return to Europe. The story is based on a real ship, the MS St. Louis from Hamburg. The Refuge Canada exhibition at the Museum from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 now includes a picture of the Dublon family with some friends posing on the deck of the St. Louis. The five members of that family died in Auschwitz. More recent examples are Schindler’s List and even Disney’s Animated Encanto has a storyline of being forcibly displaced from your home. What ties them all together besides refugees?  They all received Oscar nominations. This year the documentary short Stranger at the Gate received a nomination. Are they unique? Far from it, lots of movies, television shows, books and even poetry are inspired by refugee stories. Here is a link to 5 movies about refugees nominated in 2022 from the UNHCR.   Oscars 2022: Five Powerful Movies About the Refugee Crisis (

How does this fit into genealogy? Part of genealogy is finding the names and birth and death dates back through time for our ancestors, but you also need to understand the stories of their lives and what they went through. These movies and books can help us to understand those times. Do I recommend the movies or poetry as documentary sources for your family tree? No, not for dates or names, but they can help us understand what our ancestors may have been experiencing. The Longfellow poem helps us to understand what it was like to hack a clearing to farm out of the primeval forest that covered North America at that time and then have that life torn apart.

I had this blog almost completed when I heard “refugee” mentioned in an Oscar acceptance speech.  It said more about the refugee experience that I could possibly write here. He might even look a bit familiar as he played the kid in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Here is the link

Creator: Kevin Winter | Credit: Getty Images Copyright: 2023 Getty Images

Jim Sova will be sharing more about geneaology, DNA, and tracing refugee routes on March 21st for Tuesday Night at the Museum. You can learn more here:

All Things New at the End of the Year


As we approach the last month of 2022 I found myself confronted with the fact that I haven’t written a blog since January of this year. Occasionally in the past as a collection technician I’ve struggled with what to write in these blogs. How could I describe to you exactly how amazing it is to hold an artifact in your hand and have the privilege of documenting everything about it, who owned it, who made it, every scratch, crack and dent that makes it unique? Today I find myself writing this blog and I have a feeling the trouble will be keeping it from turning it into a novel. 

Spoilers first, while I am an old face at the Museum of Lennox and Addington early this October I started work in a new role, I am now the museum’s Programs and Exhibition’s Co-ordinator, and to be honest I could not be any more thrilled about it!

A glimpse into the past, a photo from my first weeks of work as a summer intern 2019

A short trip down memory lane. I grew up in Lennox and Addington County and yet went 23 years naïve to the fact that I had such an interesting museum in my backyard. Come winter of 2019 and I’m searching the internet for a summer internship, I applied thinking it would be a small maybe one or two room museum, despite this I spent whole days preparing for my interview. I still remember the first moment I walked in the foyer the day of my interview, my first thought was “Whoa” my second thought was “I want to work here!” If you’ve been to the museum, maybe you remember the first time you walked through the front doors into that big open space with huge dark wood beams running along the ceiling, and grand glass cases which for me at the time contained incredible model ships. I didn’t know how lucky I was when some time later I was accepting an internship with the museum. I had no idea the happiness, frustration, and pride this museum would bring me over the next three and a half years. 

Returning to the present, I still pause a moment every morning when I walk through this beautiful building, I get to see my hand in the exhibits as I go by, banners hung, a grain shovel researched, a diorama accessioned. In 3 years I can see the small impact many hours of hard work have had on the museum and I am filled with a joy I cannot describe.

The aforementioned banners

I am writing this blog just over a month and a half into my new role, and I’m still learning the ins and outs. Having solidified most of our winter programming for 2023 I sit here thrilled about what the museum will be bringing our wonderful visitors in the new year. Our coming activities largely focus on introducing people to a multitude of cultures through insightful presentations, art workshops, music, and dance. Our programs this winter will keep your toes tapping, your art hearts filled, and your minds thinking about new perspectives.  

There is definitely a learning curve to any new job and while I’d like to say I’ve gotten some of it down pat, that’s always when you’re hit with something new. So far I’ve learned to cast a wide net when planning, that no day is going to go according to plan, and most importantly try to stay flexible. I’ve also been getting fantastic guidance and support from the team here at the Museum of Lennox and Addington! My favorite piece of advice so far was that I need to be bossier on occasion. 

Mostly I’ve been learning to take the good with the bad with any program. The first PA Day program I designed was in late October; the school aged children and I learned how to recognize bird songs, played a game in the museum, and made our own bird seed. While this full program was a success there were also lots of takeaways like the programs I design don’t take as long as I expect them to, and most importantly avoid cranberries at all costs, even the dried ones make an awful bright red mess. I’ve also had the opportunity to create a school program based around our photo exhibit Owls of Amherst Island and Other Canadian Wildlife, for a kindergarten/grade 1 class. Part of the program included learning how we identify what kind of animals we saw. Seeing those students light up with interest when they are asked to think about how we tell a bear from an owl, was a huge huge highlight in this new role. However even with a school program there were takeaways, primarily it’s getting the hang of what each age group requires and how many fun facts I can throw in with the fun activities and still have their interest. Overall I think at this point I’m learning just as much from every program as our participants. 

An artifact going on display early 2023

This new role also includes an exhibition’s components, which is an area of museum work I’m better versed in. This component helps ground me and reminds me that no matter how many programs I put together our collection and exhibits are the backbone for everything we do. I still derive a lot of joy sitting from down for a quiet hour or two and working with our artifacts. Does it belong in this exhibit? How will we display it? What challenges does it pose? They are all questions that need to be answered before the big install. 

Late December and into early January 2023 the museum staff will be taking down several exhibits to make room for the amazing new ones. As much as I love installing new exhibits and getting to see the museum in a whole new light, I find taking down any exhibit is a bitter experience for me. It’s difficult to take something down when you know how much work went into getting it up there, exactly how much effort went into creating the exhibit’s concept and all the people who had to come together to bring it to life. If jeopardy had a category called “Life lessons I learned at the museum” the first answer would be “What is: change is hard, but there is always something exciting coming around the next corner!”    

So that’s where I am right now. My desk is no longer the thing of order seen in the first photo and instead looks like a small tornado passed over it, and some days my brain feels the same way. Despite this, I still like to take time every day when I walk through the museum to appreciate the beauty of where I work, its past and my past; but I also take equal time to welcome whatever new experiences this wonderful museum has in store for me. At the end of the day, what more can you ask out of any museum than to be somewhere people can go to experience the past in all its difficult complexity and to look to the future thinking about what’s right around the corner.          

Oh Look at the Time!

By JoAnne Himmelman

Oh what a curious job I have….I got to work with one of my favourite people and put my “history hunter hat” back on for a couple of weeks. Martin Wright and I have been chums since I started working at the Macpherson House in 2001. He has been a person that I have turned to time and time again for counsel and a shoulder to lean on. I am proud to call him friend. We both have a bone deep love for the Macpherson House– I enjoy taking TIME to sit and talk to him as he has so many memories of the Macpherson House before I stepped through its doors.  He has helped relentlessly to present the Macpherson House in its best possible light, time and time again. We have sat in that House countless hours talking shop!

On our behalf – Martin has pursued auctions and has roamed the halls and alleyways of antique houses…all for the love of the game that history collecting truly is. Martin knew that I was on the hunt for a tall case clock for the lower hallway at the House. It was a void in that hall that was gnawing at me. The Laird of Napanee would have had a tall case clock! 

In recent months, we had been going back and forth on another clock….but wasn’t really sure… it’s a hard call… I know we should be looking at Canadian made pieces  but those early clocks are hard to come by and even if available, our budget couldn’t support it.  So we talked and we didn’t think it inconceivable that Macpherson would ship things to Canada from overseas. So we went in hunt of another solution…the House was built c1826 BUT our time period that we like to project at the House is as late as 1840, so anything before that is really fair game. It opened it up slightly for us.

TA-DA- this clock made its way to the public domain… Martin called me and we checked it out. It’s an Irish clock from Ballymoney, and from our digging we think it’s about 1825 – using the manufacturing timelines of the clockmaker Joseph Gordon. The stylization of the woodworking is true to this early period – it has  lovely ball and claw feet, columned mahogany wood detailing,  and a hand painted moon “face” dial – it is all so absolutely endearing.  So maybe this clock is a winner for us… off to the auction house we went! 

The clock-workings will need some restoration BUT we will work with a conservator in the Spring on that secondary project. I can’t wait to hear those bells chime. In the meantime this lovely new addition to the museum collection adds to the overall ambience of the House and is befitting of the upper-crust lifestyle that Macpherson truly lived.

Thank you to Martin for his constant friendship and guidance in my career. It was fun to be your co-history sleuth with this clock!! Now what’s next??

Museum hours

Monday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm

*closed on holiday weekend Saturdays and Mondays

Archives hours

Monday – Friday: 10am – 12pm* & 1 – 4pm

*closed from 12 –  1pm 

Macpherson House & Park hours

Tuesday – Thursday, 1 – 4pm in July & August

Holiday Hours 2024

June 29 – July 1: Closed (Canada Day Weekend)
July 4: Closed (only Macpherson House open)
July 5: 10am – 12pm (staff professional development)
August 3 – 5: Closed (Civic Holiday Weekend)
August 31 – September  2: Closed (Labour Day Weekend)

Museum and Archives daily rate

Adults (ages 13+): $3
Children (ages 12 and under): free

Museum & Archives location

97 Thomas St E, Napanee, ON K7R 4B9

Macpherson House & Park location

180 Elizabeth Street, Napanee, ON K7R 1B5

Labour Day Weekend Hours

Please note that the Museum & Archives will be closed from Saturday, September 2nd - Monday, September 4th for the Labour Day long weekend.

Regular hours will resume on Tuesday, September 5th.
Have a great long weekend!