My Genealogy Journey
My interest in genealogy was piqued when I was just a kid. My family was eating out at a restaurant in town and I was reading the menu, which had a history of the town, founded in the 1650s, on one of the pages. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “The town founder’s last name is the same as my mom’s maiden name.” Coincidence? Not so much. My mom explained that we were descended from that guy from more than 300 years ago. He was our something-great grandfather.
“People can trace their family trees back that far?” I thought. “That’s pretty cool.”
I soon learned that my grandmother was an avid amateur genealogist. Though that founding father was on her husband’s side of the family tree, she had contacted long-lost cousins, decrepit churches, village historians, bought genealogy books, visited libraries, anything she could do to contribute to that line. Eventually she branched out into her own family tree and even my father’s as well. She compiled everything into a family binder that she gave to us and which I poured through every single day – names, dates, occupations, exotic far-off place names like Cork and Copenhagen and Grossbockenheim. I learned I wasn’t just half German and half Irish, but that I had longstanding colonial American ancestry, ancient English ancestors, and a Danish immigrant ancestor as well. Instead of watching TV, I charted my extended family tree on poster board. Instead of playing video games, I entered family tree data into the genealogy computer program my uncle bought for me. And with the advent of the Internet, I realized that I could actually do genealogy research on my own. I had always assumed that all the work had already been done. I had been handed my family tree and everything that could be found was already there. But I began to realize that while my father’s mother’s side of the family was there, his father’s side wasn’t, and that “complete” tree on my mother’s father’s side followed only the male lines – all the wives, all my something-great grandmothers, had empty branches behind them. I began to realize that there was still a lot of work to be done...and the tingle of excitement I felt all through my being at that thought was a sure sign that I was the person to do it. I scoured the Internet for clues and resources, and when those hit brick walls or ran dry, I visited cemeteries, I reached out to distant possible cousins, I spent hours hunched over microfilm in dark libraries and archives, just as my grandmother had done years before, just as family historians have been doing for hundreds of years. And when my own tree proved stubbornly unyielding, I began researching my friends’ trees and started offering my services to others as well – no one’s tree is uninteresting or meant to lie undiscovered. We all want to know where we come from – that’s how we know how we got here and where we’re going!
And the rest, as they say, is history. Family history.
Mary was born and raised on the South Shore of Long Island, New York. She still lives in the same village founded by her ancestors more than 350 years ago. She has a B.A. in communications and media studies, worked for a local weekly newspaper for nine years, and currently works part-time in the Office of Communications for a private school. She has been doing genealogy research as a hobby for more than 15 years and professionally for two years. She is a past member of the National Genealogical Society, attended the National Genealogical Society Conference in Charleston, SC in 2011, and is a current New York Biographical and Genealogical Society member. When not doing genealogy, she enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her husband, her three year old daughter and baby son.