The Legacy of Ancestors

Excerpt from photograph of the 1927 Fleming Family Reunion in Kilsyth, ON
Excerpt from a photograph of the 1927 Fleming Family Reunion held at Springfield Farm, Kilsyth, ON. (Fleming Family Papers)

People have asked us: “why did you write a book about the Flemings of Derby Township?” Why did Ruth, a Fleming descendant with a trunk full of family records, and I, a friend who loves history, spend years compiling a four-inch thick book of stories, photographs and charts? One person remarked that family histories are mere vanity projects, suggesting, I submit, a poverty of outlook. There is much to be learned from past generations, as TV viewers of the PBS program Finding Your Roots know very well. Knowing the stories can be inspirational and motivational.

Some people have a memory store of recollections about their forebears – at least their grandparents and sometimes great-grandparents. Sadly, most do not and may barely know the stories of their parents’ lives. Deprived of stories about their families, children must make their lives without the grounding of knowing who they are — a loss of wisdom and understanding.

Indigenous peoples seem more attuned to ancestral knowledge — learning from the stories and traditions passed from generation to generation, how earlier generations survived their journeys and their times of deprivation, how they found spiritual connection and celebrated life.  

The Seventh Generation Principle from an ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) philosophy holds that to be a good ancestor, people should look forward seven generations to make decisions that will benefit their descendants. Looking back seven generations, we can ponder the legacy brought about by the actions of our ancestors.  [ ]

The answers for the Flemings are evident in the family history. In 1843, Alexander and Jean left their ancestral home in Perthshire for the wilderness of Upper Canada. After seven years of preparation, they were ready for the voyage. The first years were hard: they were in their early forties, trans-Atlantic crossings were perilous, and pioneer life was harsh. But with vision and resoluteness, they and their nine children succeeded, bequeathing customs, values and opportunities to their descendants.

We wrote the book to tell this story through four generations — as a legacy of knowledge and learning. Distribution to family members who had pre-ordered (about 150) took place in December 2022.

The book is also available at Ginger Press in Owen Sound at $85 CDN plus tax. Use the Contact Page at Ginger Press to inquire about ordering or contact me by leaving a comment to this blog post.


Band showing the nine children of Alexander Fleming and Jean Stewart.

Recipients have sent some comments. Below are some samples by the name of the ancestor and generation.

Isabella Finch
Great-great-granddaughter – Awesome job. JM ordered seven copies of the book for her family.

James Fleming
Great-great-granddaughter – I am enjoying the mix of story and facts, making each chapter interesting to read.I have skipped around the book to the people I know.  Then I started at the beginning and am working my way through in order. I’m having a great time with it so far.

John Fleming
Great-great grandson. What a great history of the family!

Alexander Fleming
Wife of great-grandson. Thank you from the bottom of my ‘Fleming Heart’ for your due diligence in all aspects of making this publication happen!  I am blessed with a priceless wealth of knowledge that has a life of its own…

Great-granddaughter – What a beautiful, detailed, comprehensive book. I am amazed and thrilled. Thank-you so much for all your work and time capturing the life of our descendants. Well done.

William Fleming
Great-great-grandson – I binge-read the book the weekend after I got it and of course enjoyed it immensely — especially your account of the Fleming years in Scotland. I found the connection of the Fleming name with a Flemish move to Scotland interesting; the connection seems so obvious once it is brought to your attention — but that had to wait, in my case, for your book. And I am moved by the image of the Gaelic Bible always on a stool beside the fireplace in the pioneer days here in Canada. The link between Alexander Fleming and Alexander Mackenzie has only affirmed my Liberal party loyalty. I want to read the book — more slowly!  — in the New Year and any further thoughts will be sent to you.  

Charles Fleming
Great-grandson – Wow! I read the complete weighty tome over the past four evenings. What a herculean work! Kudos! …. I came away really feeling that I am now a Fleming and now understand their trials and tribulations in their move to Derby and their early years at Kilsyth. Your book will have a prominent place in my library.

From a genealogist and historian

Your magnificent book arrived yesterday.  WOW, this is outstanding!  Congratulations on producing such a beautiful book, so detailed and informative!  I am sure it will be treasured by your extended Fleming family and others interested in the history of the area.  It must have taken an enormous amount of work (I can’t even imagine), sorting out all those lovely photos, maps, charts, etc. and putting them in context.  I am extremely impressed!

As a closing, this writer presents a simpler view of generations:

“It is still a seven-generation span, but we — all of us as individuals — are situated in the middle. And in our actions we must consider the effect they would have on the three generations previous, as well as the three to come. That is easier for me to get my head around. It makes me think of the debt I owe to the people who came just before me and how my choices reflect on that debt, and also makes me consider what kind of example I want to leave for those to come in the near future.” []


For a fuller understanding of seven generations, see the paper – On Being a Good Ancestor by Henrietta Mann, 2015

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