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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:

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