“I would like,” he said, “to know the exact location of Mr. George Gibson’s farm.” I thought that Gibson’s house would be an easy answer to give. While rightly much of our focus has shifted away from the European settler focus in history, I figured we would have detailed knowledge about the Gibsons Landing founder. Some areas of his life are chronicled in detail (and this is helped by technological advances during his later years), but some of Gibson’s life is shrouded in mystery. Take, for example, George Gibson’s naval history. Born in England, he ran away to the Royal Navy at the age of twelve, eventually retiring as a lieutenant. This explains Gibson’s love of the sea in his later years and his ability to immigrate to North America. Yet despite extensive research on the part of his family, there is no available record of Gibson’s naval past. Luckily, the inquirer was met with more success when it came to Gibson’s farm, but not without some internal resistance from myself. Like a frustrated elementary-schooler refusing to learn fractions, I resisted the fact that there was no clear-cut record. Our archival data did not appear to bring up much. The man was insistent. What would I do?
Research is frequently a work of collaboration and endurance. I admit that I have not done much; during my employment at the museum I have had only a few requests, made easier by a large database from which to draw information. As a result, I have an intense appreciation for researchers who can draw answers from what appears to be nothing, and this blog is mostly about them. The collaboration of research comes in multiple parts: first, with the help of cataloguers who spent years amassing relevant information and inputting it into the archival database. Painstaking, confusing, and yes, sometimes dry, this initial heave is invaluable to museum researchers, who often use information from the archives as their first stop. This information comes from members of the community, both past and present. While archival photographs didn’t reveal Gibson’s original home, they did allow me to place his second home. The Gibsons Landing Story by Les Peterson is a much-referenced book here at the museum, and tucked in the back was a map of the old district lots and residences in Gibsons. Bingo.
Collaboration also comes in the form of interacting with (gasp) real human beings, whose knowledge, though not written down and stored, is also invaluable. Like oral histories, this passed-down knowledge from Gibsons locals allowed me to corroborate information and narrow my search. One individual was a board member, and another was a former curator of the museum. Together, their thoughts narrowed my search: Gibson’s original house (as opposed to his second home, which is better documented) had to be between Molly’s Reach and lower Winegarden Park, which matched the map. This made sense, because the inquirer was convinced that Gibson would have lived near the sea. While this is a small example of a collaborative effort, it still remains that even the smallest of ventures is made simpler by working with one another.
As for endurance, well…quit whining and just keep looking :)