Three descendants of the famous and legendary Dr. Conrad Fitz-Gerald were in the St. Jacques area during the 2012 Come Home Year to research their family history.
Dr. Conrad Fitz-Gerald was a very well known and highly respected doctor in Fortune Bay from 1873 to his death in 1939.
In 1873 Dr. Fitz-Gerald came to Harbour Breton from England to work as the company doctor for the Newman Company. Although he was based in Harbour Breton he served all the communities in the area known as Fortune Bay North today.
In 1900 Dr. Fitz-Gerald retired from the Newman Company and a year later he began a practice out of St. Jacques where he worked pretty well up his death in 1939. The doctor married Keturah Partridge from Nova Scotia and the couple had two children - Reginald and Conrad.
The three Fitz-Gerald relatives in St. Jacques this August included Reginald 'Tom" Fitz-Gerald, 61 and two of his children - Leslie Faye Fitz-Gerald 26, and Conrad Steele Fitz-Gerald, 19. Dr. Fitz-Gerald was Leslie's and Conrad's Great-Great-Grandfather.
Tom and Conrad Fitz-Gerald live in Surrey, British Columbia while Leslie lives in Montreal, Quebec.
Tom Fitz-Gerald, a consultant for an investor's group, said that Alex Hickey came across his email address while he was doing some research on the Fitz-Gerald family on a genealogy site. Alex emailed me then of course as I had referenced the ‘Albatross’ in my comments on the site.
It was this chance meeting via the Internet that propelled the relatives to visit St. Jacques this year.
All three of the family said that the entire community very warmly received them.
Mr. Fitz-Gerald said, "Through Alex we found out about the 2012 Come Home Year in St. Jacques-Coomb's Cove and, never being in Newfoundland, we decided to make the trip at this opportune time. Alex opened his door for us, and through him, the entire community has welcomed us very warmly. It's a little overwhelming actually, and we feel like we've been an actual part of the community for a long time.
"We came here to explore and to celebrate our heritage, not to be the center of attention which we've become in some way. However, I do like that very much."
Leslie Fitz-Gerald recently completed a Masters Degree from McGill University in Montreal in Science and is planning to pursue a career in medicine in the near future.
She said "I've used the word 'Wow' so many time even though we've only been here a short period of time. I can't believe my eyes sometimes as this province is unlike anything I've ever seen. I just can't get over the wild beauty of the hills, which I think are just absolutely gorgeous.
"Everyone has been so welcoming and it's made me feel like I'm at home. Alex and his family have been so wonderfully nice to us, and I feel like we've been embraced by the entire community. I had heard that there are a lot of rocks in Newfoundland but nobody told me how red the rocks are. I was told about the weather and the kindness of people and all those things have been true.
"But I couldn't wrap my heart around it so to speak until I stepped foot in the community. I guess it's something you have to actually experience, as you just can't understand these things by just being told about them. That's how it feels for me anyway."
Conrad, who has just finished his first year of engineering at the University of British Columbia, said, "I'm really enjoying this visit here. You guys have the hills, the trees, the shrouds of mist and fog and I love to watch how the water sparkles. Everything here has so much substance to it. It's more than I can take in during just one trip so I'm definitely going to have to come back for a more extended visit to absorb it all."
Researching the past
Tom Fitz-Gerald said that the visit will inspire him to learn more about his famous Great-Grandfather.
"My family had several boats named the 'Albatross' and I couldn't understand why, but I do now of course as Dr. Fitz-Gerald travelled around Fortune Bay in his yacht named the 'Albatross'. I've spent quite a bit of time at sea with my parents so I feel a strong connection there. I would like to see where the original 'Albatross' was built and know more about the doctor sailing around Fortune Bay.
"This visit has certainly peaked my interest in the famous doctor who must have been a pretty remarkable guy back in the day."
Ms. Fitz-Gerald said, “This trip will strongly encourage me to find out more about our famous ancestor. I knew he was a doctor who delivered medical care for the people in many communities in this area but I didn't really have a good understanding of exactly of what that community was like or where it was.
"While we've been here Alex has been teaching us some of the history of Newfoundland.
This is so important because if you're going to understand what somebody did during a certain period of time and what that community was doing at that time you need to really understand the different components of it all. Then, when you look at a figure like Dr. Fitz-Gerald, I would like to get that understanding so I can kind of realize who that person was, what he did and how and why he did it.
I've heard many stories about Dr. Fitz-Gerald on the 'Albatross' and I'm keeping my feelers out for more stories, which I want to absorb and record while I'm here.
"Before I came here I was basically looking into my family history on both sides. Being here is so fantastic as it really has given me the inspiration to jump right into our family history on Dad's side. It's all amazing really as I'm learning new ways to approach my research as well. I'm delving deeper into my family heritage, and I hope that one-day down the road someone will look at this and wonder about all those people.
"Like Conrad, I definitely want to visit this province again. As a matter of fact, I plan to pursue a career in medicine, and I may come to Newfoundland to do that. I'm giving this issue some serious thought right now."
Conrad said, “I certainly appreciate Dr. Fitz-Gerald more now due to our visit. It's all very humbling in a sense as everything I've ever done pales in comparison. My Great-Great grandfather provided medical care for a lot of people stretching along a rugged coastline, which was not easily accessible back in those days. He wasn't someone who just stood by, as he was very integrated in the people's lives at that time.
"He was a person of grand character and he was really there in all senses. I want to learn more about Dr. Fitz-Gerald and find out who he really was and what he was all about."
Mr. Fitz-Gerald said that the three were really pleased to tour the school in English Harbour West that is named in honour of their legendary ancestor. He was so impressed that he is donating $5,000 to Fitz-Gerald Academy to help with the construction of a school playground.
"I'm challenging people in the local area to come on board with me and make any donation they can to the project. I'm sure Dr. Fitz-Gerald would appreciate the gesture from all communities that use the school."