Thursday, September 21, 2006

What caused you to start genealogy research?

I often ask our society's new members why they started doing genealogy research. The answers are often profound. Many say that an older family member died and they realized that if they didn't do it, nobody would be able to. This usually happens with an only child who has memories of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, often living in distant places.

So - what caused YOU to start doing genealogy research? Here's my answer:

I was always intrigued by the aunts and uncles and cousins in New England - my fathers siblings and their kids. My mother had no aunts or uncles and no first cousins. My maternal grandparents lived nearby and I knew them well. I met my paternal grandmother only once in 1959, and never met my paternal grandfather. We received Christmas cards and gifts from the Mass families all through the 1950's so I knew who they were. My grandmother, Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Walter, and my cousin Diana visited in 1959. I went to Mass in 1966 and 1968 on business and visited my Aunt Gerry, who took me to see the other aunts, uncles and cousins. What a great revelation for a young man. My Aunt Gerry, Aunt Marion and Uncle Ed came to San Diego several times in the 1970's and early 1980's. When Marion came to visit, I made audio tapes with her.

In 1982, my wife and I decided to vacation in Massachusetts - to visit my aunts, uncles and cousins and also several other friends. I sat with my Uncle Ed - my father's only brother - and made an audio tape of his life history and his family memories - again quite revealing and exciting to me. We spent a week in Maine with Aunt Gerry and Uncle Jim at their camp on the lake, and really enjoyed it.

In about 1985, I read "Roots" by Alex Haley and was fascinated by the story - and the research process. My problem was TIME - we had two small children, my engineering career was hectic, etc. I had another hobby, which had become stale and tiresome.

Finally, in 1988 I decided to chuck my other hobby and start doing genealogy. About this time, my Aunt Gerry made three hour long tapes of her life, memories and family history analysis. One of the family legends was that we were descended from Peregrine White - the first baby born to the Mayflower passengers in New England. This was the challenge I needed - the catalyst to really start research.

My mother (an only child of only children) had boxes of pictures and papers and books hiding in her file cabinets, and she gladly passed them to me. This was another catalyst for me, since it gave me a tremendous amount of data on her side back to the late 19th century.

I discovered the local FHC and other libraries, and was off and running. Because I had engineering experience with the scientific method of research, doing genealogy work was a natural for me. I read and studied and collected piles and bookcases of paper. I tried to organize it all with notebooks and research logs and pedigree charts and family group sheets. Then I got a copy of PAF and entered most of it in the database.

By 1990, I had proven to myself that the Peregrine White legend was true, and that there were three other Mayflower passengers in our ancestry. My brother and I visited Massachusetts in 1990 to sttend Uncle Ed's 50th wedding anniversary, and again saw the aunts, uncles and more cousins, some of whom invited us to stay with them and hear their stories and meet the younger generations. Linda and I went back in 1991 and 1995 for family visits and research in many towns and libraries.

In 1988, I sent out an 8 page Christmas newsletter detailing my family discoveries. I have continued this tradition ever since - it is now usually 16 or 18 pages.

Suffice it to say, it was a gradual immersion into the world of genealogy research. I was going down the path before I realized it. It became my major avocational interest. I loved the challenge. I enjoyed the camaraderie with other researchers and the extended family.

Then the Internet came alive for me, but that's another story.


Anonymous said...

That yearly family Christmas letter sounds like a good tradition. Others in my family seem to be modestly interested in my discoveries, as in "Oh, so our ancestors came to Canada from France in the 1600s? Cool." But when I request a look-up from their areas, they're never forthcoming. Oh, well. At least there's one of us in this generation who is interested.

Anonymous said...

When I was a child some relative of ours purchased several copies of a poster-sized family tree for one of our surnames, and gave my mother a copy. By the time I was a young adult, the document had faded significantly, and was getting hard to read. I had the idea of copying the thing into a computer, and picked up some cheap genealogy software. Then I started looking for more information to flesh out the names and dates I had - and at that point I was hooked forever.

Chris said...

My older sister made a rudimentary family tree for a school project when I was about 6 or 7. I remember visiting the overgrown cemetery where a few of our ancestors were buried and having a snake crawl over my shoe.

Years later, she self-published a more complete family history, which I put online for her in 1996. In the process, I noticed all the missing links and the sources she hadn't consulted. I took it upon myself to supply the extra info—a job I will complete in, say, 30 or 40 more years.