Revisiting Old Research: Beginning at the Beginning

Looking back to the time when I discovered genealogy; when I felt the first stirrings of what would become a life-long addiction, if only I’d known then what I know now, I’d have approached my personal research in a much more organized way: beginning with a research plan and starting with what I know, instead of what I assumed; setting goals; conducting a self interview; and conducting family interviews, All of which I write down with detailed citations. It’s never too late, however, to pause to look at that early research with fresh eyes.

Genealogy has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. My journey began with the smallest of moments. While on a family vacation in England when I was 13, my grandfather, knowing my love of all things equestrian, gave me a faded, dog-eared photo of a man on a horse.

The photo was 50 years old and the man was my great grandfather, Leonard Turner. Granddad was patient, answering all my questions and then some; spending hour upon hour of that month long visit feeding my hunger for the past. And so it began…

Back on American soil, I painstaking drew out a pedigree chart, writing in all the information Granddad had recalled about his ancestors. As you might imagine, some of the details and family stories were more fiction than fact, but what did I know… Over the years, that treasured document became quite tattered, as I frequently erased penciled-in facts, and scribbled out the ones written in pen. The handwriting became smaller and smaller with each new fact, leaving no room for citations, even if I had known about them then, which I did not! I kept the chart in a drawer, and dug it out whenever my grandparents came for the summer, or we traveled back to England for a vacation. In the meantime, I turned to my paternal side of the family tree—markedly easier than my British roots, because I was surrounded by relatives. And their history. In fact, I sometimes felt I was living their history. Although I was born in England, I grew up in the house my father built, next to door to the house where he’d spent his childhood, two doors down from where my grandmother grew up, and about a mile down the street from the house my German Ebert ancestors lived in following their immigration to America in the 1880s.

Grampie was one of seventeen children, and I grew up visiting a good number of them at the Varrieur family compound in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where they gathered together on Sundays. As it happened, those great aunts loved to talk about themselves! The stuff of genealogists’ dreams! None of my grandparents’ generation is alive today to answer questions in a formal interview, so I will have to rely on my love of story, and my memory of theirs. I do have documents supporting, or in some case casting doubt on, many of those stories and family remembrances, and it will be interesting to look through them as I layout some research goals for bringing the research up to standard and filling in the holes.


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