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Family hunter rewarded

ESTHER LAUAKI
Last updated 07:44 20/01/2012
JAnet Gow
JASON OXENHAM
FAMILY TREE: Janet Gow is being honoured for services to genealogy. She holds a picture of her grandson, now 18, to add to the family tree on her wall at home in St Heliers.

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Life is like a never-ending treasure hunt for genealogist Janet Gow.

Her service and dedication to helping Kiwis find their familial roots has earned her a Queen's Service Medal.

The accolade comes after almost 30 years of volunteering with the New Zealand Society of Genealogists in various roles.

"I'm very humbled. It's a big thrill to receive the honour and I hope that it's going to a good thing for genealogy in this country," she says.

It all started when a friend encouraged Mrs Gow to visit the family history library in Utah while on a trip to the United States in 1981.

"I had always been interested in my family history and I particularly wanted to find out more about the McDonald clan in New Zealand. There are five levels of research material there and if all you know is that you want to find a family member named McDonald it's a good place to start."

She established a bookstore in 1987 in St Heliers selling books about genealogy and also set up the St Heliers and Panmure branches of the society.

Mrs Gow now works as a liaison officer for FamilySearch, organising tours to the United States and the United Kingdom for people who want to piece together their family trees.

"To give people such an interest in what wonders they can find out about their person. It starts to make you think about epidemics, deaths because of plague, what things might have been like for them travelling on boats. You think about your family in a different light. All the things you do give you a feeling of empathy for your family."

She can trace her own lineage back 1000 years to William the Conqueror's sister from the 10th century.

One of her most interesting finds was a close family connection with evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin.

"If you've got a family that left good footprints then it makes it a lot easier. Sometimes you find something that you think is really valuable then that leads you to something even better. Sometimes you get disheartened because you run into dead ends but that's all part of it."

Genealogical resources were hard to navigate when Mrs Gow started out.

As a member of the New Zealand society she was instrumental in organising the painstaking task of photocopying historic school admission registers so families could trace people's movements around the country.

"I've always loved debating and research so I worked in that field. I always enjoyed filing as well. I need to file things properly and a lot of people can't be bothered but it's an important part of genealogy."

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The registers were transcribed and eventually computerised for preservation and ease of access.

- East And Bays Courier

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