Local author, Sharon Simms of Reston, has always felt a pride in her extended family and with the passing of the older generations, it became important to her to record it for the next generations. “My first attempt was a coil bound booklet about the families of my 4 grandparents – it was pretty basic,” explained Simms. “It was later, when I realized my ancestors were much more than ‘the dash’ between their birth and death dates.” Simms started looking for pictures, belongings of theirs, and first hand stories of their lives.
Simms said she first took interest in recording her family history when her father’s sister, Doris Simms Henry passed away in 2010. Doris left her a cedar chest containing old papers and family trees that she had compiled over the years. “At the time, I wondered – why me?” She also left eight handwritten pages of her memories and life as a young child. “My favourite quote from it: One time while Aunt Nellie and Uncle Bill were working in their garden, I was with them and began eating peas. I was told I would be sick if I didn’t soon quit. Well, during the night the peas decided to be upchucked. As I messed up one bed, we found another and finally after going to the third, I was relieved and ready to sleep. How Aunt Nellie put up with it, I don’t know. I heard her telling Grandma the next morning, but she took it all in stride. Never once in all our times there did Aunt Nellie, Grandma or Grandpa ever scold us. Now I know how she felt about us. I am and was the same with my nieces (& nephews). They were the light of my life.” To share her story, Sharon typed it up, added pictures and printed copies for her cousins. “To me, it meant her story would live on and I decided she left that chest for a reason and she knew exactly what she was doing.”
Sharon’s writings actually started with an ongoing website – a “blog”. In 2014, Amy Johnson Crow, a blogger, Sharon follows, gave the 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks challenge. She suggested: to choose one ancestor each week and write anything you know about them and include any pictures and other documents. Doris Henry was Sharon’s first subject and over the next 51 weeks, she featured several generations of both her Simms and Kinnaird families along with anything she knew about their lives. “I would choose someone on the weekend and then spend the week searching online and asking family for their ideas,” said Simms. By Sunday morning, the blog was published and the process began again. “The nice thing about a blog is that I could go back and make additions and corrections as time went on.” In December 2014, Sharon had a year’s worth of material published into a book for a Christmas gift for her parents. “Mom and Dad had been following my blog but there is no substitute for a book to hold in your hands!” said Simms. “I began writing The Boulton Blog about my husband Randy’s family in the summer of 2014 and had enough material by the next November to create a book. Uncle Frank Boulton was the family historian and I thought it was important to preserve the proud homesteading experience of the Boultons after his passing in December of 2014.”
Sharon was off from her teaching position of Grade 2 at Reston School in 2016 while she was having treatment for breast cancer. “Old papers and pictures from the Boulton house were a never ending source of inspiration and stories to write kept my mind busy,” explained Simms. “Randy’s Mom’s sisters helped me learn about her and found things to help tell her story, as she passed away young in 1959.”
Sharon gives her husband credit for being her proof-reader and run-on sentence editor. “The blog is easily changed and I am always finding errors,” said Simms. “My audience is kind.”
52 Ancestors is the paper version of the first year of my family blog, The Bolton Blog is Randy’s paternal family and the Coburn/Cassell Connection is his mother’s side of the family. “I love old pictures and I scan and try to save them in some organized fashion,” said Simms.” Research on each book came from many sources: Ancestry, Newspapers.com, The Manitoba Archives in Winnipeg, Facebook Family History Groups, but most importantly Sharon credits the generosity of her family’s willingness to share photos, letters and stories with her. “Facebook, email and Ancestry have allowed me to contact people all over the world that share a similar passion and we love solving each other’s mysteries,” said Simms.“So much information can be found online and can be found with a simple Google search. Genealogy is so much easier than when Randy’s aunt Mary Milliken and aunt Jean Elliott had to go to England to find documents about their mother’s family.” Many local history books like our own Trails Along the Pipestone are now online and as a member of the Manitoba Genealogical Society, Sharon was able to have their library in Winnipeg mail books out to her at a very low cost.
Sharon has printed around 30 hard cover copies. The Boulton Blog is available at the Reston & District Library to borrow. Sharon was a recent guest author at the library on February 28th, 2018.
Sharon continues to update her blogs and putting some of her new posts into a book is one her “to do” list, someday.
“You don’t have to know the whole family tree to start with. Just write what you know and don’t worry about grammar, spelling or other conventions (imagine a teacher saying that). Scan old pictures and save them with as much information as you know or write it on the back of them,” explained Simms “If you are lucky enough to have inherited an item from your ancestors, write everything you know about it and who owned it and put the note in safe place or tape it on the item, someday, somebody may be glad you did.”
The blogs continue, although not weekly anymore. I have many posts in draft form, looking for more information. I have recently begun researching some community history such as our 100 year old RM of Pipestone building and former Restonites, the Zilliax family who left a large bequest to the school. I enjoy reading historical fiction, especially with a local connection.
Sharon grew up on a farm north of Oak River, MB where her parents still reside. She went to school in Oak River and Rivers. Attended Brandon University where she obtained her Bachelor of Education in 1987. She has taught for over 30 years in Rivers, Souris, Sinclair, Virden and currently Grade 2 in Reston School. Sharon and her husband, Randy Boulton have been married almost 28 years. They have two sons, Joel (22) who lives in Virden and Scott (19) in Brandon. They live in Reston and enjoy their summers at Oak Lake Beach where they have had a cabin for over 30 years.