'It's important to know who your family is': Search through family trees leads to unexpected connections

Joey Amos and Dennis Allen are on separate missions to retrace their family trees. But as they find family members in unexpected places, the Inuvialuit men hope to inspire others to reconnect with their relatives.

Lack of documentation makes the search challenging, but Joey Amos and Dennis Allen are keeping up the search

Joey Amos is searching for his extended family so his children know their roots. Here he is shown with his daughters and grandson. From left: Sammy Jo, Roxanne holding baby James Bonesso, and Cynthia. (Submitted by Joey Amos)

Joey Amos and Dennis Allen were on separate missions to retrace their family trees.

But as they sought out other family members, they've also discovered that they're related to some of the people they grew up with in Inuvik, N.W.T. — including each other.

Now they're hoping that knowledge inspires others to reconnect with their roots, too.

Amos started retracing his family lineage in 2014, beginning with his grandfather, Amos Tumma.

"It's important to know who your family is," he said. "Sometimes in this big world, you feel alone. But in reality, you're not alone: you have a lot of family that is out there. And if you are feeling desperate times, then maybe you can reach out."

After first reaching out to his immediate family members, Amos created a private group on Facebook called "Amos Tumma Descendents." 

As Amos found extended relatives in the Central Arctic, Western Arctic and Alaska, the online group has grown.

"It's to start knowing who we are and how we're related," Amos said. "It's amazing, the facial features are pretty much the same.

"Some of my relatives that are here, I can cross-reference and say: 'Man, this cousin looks like the other one in Alaska."

But he says it's not always easy; a lack of documentation makes it difficult for Inuvialuit to retrace their family history.

"There was never any real birth records retained," Amos said. "If there was anything retained, it was through the RCMP, the Anglican Church or the Roman Catholic Church — and many of those records have sort of been destroyed at some point, when churches were burned or something in that nature.

"We don't really have anything, concrete records. That's what really has kept me going," he said. "I'm just trying to do this for myself and my children so that way, they have some knowledge."

That search through the Amos family tree revealed some unexpected connections. It included some of the people he grew up with in Inuvik — including Dennis Allen.

Amos Tumma (right), the grandfather of Joey Amos, is shown in this 1941 photo taken in Aklavik, N.W.T. Tumma is standing next to former B.C. premier Thomas Dufferin Pattullo and Dennis Anuktuk. (Submitted by Joey Amos)

Allen had began his own search for family more than a decade ago.

"I started to get curious where my dad's grandparents came from, and what time they came from Alaska, and who they left behind," Allen said. "So I started asking questions."

Dennis Allen (right) is shown with his dad, Victor. He's been looking for his extended family for more than a decade. (Submitted by Dennis Allen )

Growing up, Allen said his family tree was discussed among his dad and friends, but "of course I wasn't listening."

"I just took those type of conversations for granted that they would always be there," Allen said. "But now I'm sitting at this stage of my life with both of my parents gone and most of their contemporaries gone, thinking about those questions of where my dad's family really originated from."

Allen's search is about providing his own kids with knowledge of the family's lineage and where they came from, he said. He's hoping to travel to Alaska one day to really connect with more family members and to get concrete information.

"With time, it gets more urgent," he said. "Especially when you have children.

"My end goal is to maybe make a film about it and bring my kids back there and try to complete that circle."