Sunday, December 7, 2008

Finding Our Family History: 50 Years and Counting

: What runs around all day and lies under the bed at night with its tongue hanging out?

It All Started with a Book of Remembrance

When I first started going with Grampy to church in Portland, Maine in 1958, I saw an ad in a church magazine and sent away for a “Book of Remembrance.” It was a long, heavy, expandable rectangular binder, with 2 posts onto which the top cover clamped. Part scrapbook, part personal history, mostly family history, the only genealogy pages I knew about fit in it. I bought some from an elderly lady at church (the only people interested in genealogy then were older ladies, and even they were few and far between) and interviewed my grandmothers. Little did I know that I was off and running in a race that never ends - pursuing ancestors.

For the next 20 years I traced Grampy's ancestors (and half of mine) locally, getting them out of the Maine woods and back into Colonial Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

We had moved to MA in 1961, and three area libraries within a short driving distance had good Local History Rooms for the few hours I had available for research - Lynn, Lynnfield and Wakefield. By now my ancestors, except for the Nickerson family (which the Cape Cod-based Nickerson Family Association had published), had disappeared into the wilds of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, England, Scotland and Ireland, never to be seen again (so I thought). Grampy’s many Essex County, MA ancestors, his several Mayflower lines and the discovery of a birth line for his adopted grandmother kept me going. If I was doing only my ancestors I’d have stopped long ago, but then whatever would I have done with all that time and money?

So I wrote, telephoned, joined societies and once in awhile was able to get to the Maine Historical Society in Portland or the Maine State Library, Archives and Vital Records in Augusta. I read everything I could, but libraries and bookstores had no “how-to” books. The only dealer I knew was Everton Publishers who sold only their own publications, which seemed to be for people who had been doing genealogy for generations.

In 1970 we drove to Salt Lake City for the first time and visited the famous Genealogical Library, as it was called then. In a storefront on Main St, it was as busy then as it is today, with a massive card catalog covering one wall. I never dreamed that I would be back a dozen times, doing research in two other locations as the Library moved to ever larger quarters, which became more crowded with each move.

I was able to get to the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston once in awhile when I could arrange to be away from children and work. I drove to Revere and took the “T” (subway) - Blue Line to Government Center, Green Line to Copley Square - at the special fare of 10 cents after 10 a.m. I made hundreds of photocopies, as Rob’s ancestors filled many books. Just pick one of his family names and a book - or books - tracing them back to a colonial MA immigrant and into England (often nobility) had been written. I thought research was easy and that finding time to do it was the hard part. Little did I know that there was a lot more to it, and no such thing as enough time.

Riddle answer: your shoe

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

50 years and dozens of white boxes!
Didn't you say once that the relatives you usually get along with best are the ancestors?