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Learning the Depths of your Historical Family Roots


Everyone’s family heritage exists in the annals of history, but whether or not they were recorded accurately or reliably depends on one’s particular family or culture.
For those that haven’t taken the time to research their family background, the roots to their family tree are often like a real tree: in the ground and out of sight. But often, there is a wealth of knowledge and history to be learned by digging up those roots and exploring where you came from.
In the case of Virginia Honke, her love and her family’s love of learning about their background has led to some amazing stories that enrich their sense of who they are.
Honke’s father was a Cook, and her mother was a Silverthorn, both names that carry generations of familiarity in the Bowsman region. Like many prairie settlers, Honke is descended from a long line of farmers, all the way back to when her great-grandfather Thomas C. Silverthorn settled the Silverthorn homestead in 1899 approximately two kilometres west of Bowsman – a homestead that still remains to this day within a Silverthorn descendant’s ownership.
“Great-grandpa T.C. was also an architect craftsman, very practical,” said Honke. “When he built their house in 1926, it had a full basement, complete with electrical wiring, and full plumbing including a bathtub. It would be another 30 plus years before electricity would come to the valley. And, when it did, he was already ready for it and just had to hook it up.”
T.C. Silverthorn was also instrumental in building Bowsman, according to Honke. His farmhouse, which has since burned down, contained plans for many of the structures in Bowsman, which he planned and built.
Prior to settling in the Valley, Honke has learned that part of her family were United Empire Loyalists: a group of people that were loyal to the Britist crown during the American revolution, and fled to Canada once the United States declared independence.
“There is a certain pride in that they stood for what they believed in, felt they shouldn’t break from England, and they weren’t going to be intimidated by people who were going to be nasty about it,” said Honke, who tells these stories to her students at Bowsman School.
“The vast majority of loyalists were also prominent citizens when they came to Canada, because they took their British citizenship seriously and that was why they were who they were.”
Thanks to some Silverthorn relatives in California who did much of the heavy lifting, Honke can even trace her mother’s family all the way back to who is determined to be the original William who would be the first to take the name Silverthorn, back in England in the 14th century.
“I have the names of every male in the Silverthorn line,” said Honke. “I believe I am the 18th generation from William.”
Part of the family legend is that William Silverthorn took the name because he lived near a tree that had silver leaves and thorns. And, that tree came about because Joseph of Arimathea – the man who buried Jesus Christ – planted his walking stick in a hill after being chased by pagans while he was acting as a missionary in the land that would become England.
Although Honke was born and raised in the Bowsman area, she hasn’t lived there all here life, and during her lifetime when she lived elsewhere, she always longed for home.
“Roots are so important,” said Honke. “They would be to everybody, but they simply don’t realize it. Or, they don’t get the opportunity.”
Honke especially learned that lesson when she was raising her children. While her oldest son spent the early part of his childhood outside of the Valley, when they moved back to Bowsman, he was fascinated with the connections that he had to people he had never met before.
“Darby was blown away,” said Honke. “Everybody was somebody to him.”
While she works in Bowsman School now, when she worked in Swan River, and life got busy, even then she felt a disconnect from her hometown, and was grateful to reconnect when she eventually returned.
“I am the oldest person on staff now in Bowsman School, so now everybody can come to me for history,” said Honke.
She finds great joy in sharing her history with others, and how important and interesting you could find yourself to be if you dig a little bit.
With the accessibility of the internet, the instant communication potential with people anywhere in the world, and even the technology of learning your geneological roots through a DNA test, now is the best time to discover who you are and where you came from.

Jeremy Bergen