Knowledge of ancestry is a birthright – Author Unknown
This is a long held belief of mine, that my family history is my birthright. I have no idea why I’ve always been fascinated by history, and specifically my own, i.e. all the people who came before me. It’s a crazy avocation, let alone vocation, and takes great patience and time! But I’m a perpetually curious person, I suppose, and need to know why people are who they are and where they came from. Perhaps it’s because I knew my grandparents well, and they had a huge place in my life, a large impact on me and my view of the world and were some of the dearest human beings in my existence. They lived into old age, and I fairly well soaked up every piece of information they had to divulge over the years about their families and era of history. I began by asking questions at the age of 13 in 1971 and made my own little book and form for data and resources, before I even knew there was such a thing available at genealogy libraries. I was thrilled to find out that my own great grandmother, Granny Buckingham, or “Granny B,” was a genealogist and is referenced in several family histories in Connecticut. I only met her a few times before she passed away at 97 years old, but the legends of her prominence as the grand dame of Watertown, CT were told many times over dinner with my grandparents. Their memories of their childhoods on the East Coast of the USA never bored me, no matter how many times they told a story. I have so many ancestors of whom I am very proud and a few, not so much, as most people will find if they do enough research. My grandparents gave me all their precious photos, and I’ve spent years and years preserving them, first by doing copy negatives and now by scanning them and retouching them. I supported myself as a photographer for 20 years, so the images are an important piece of the puzzle to me. It’s like finding treasure to locate a photograph or painting of someone I’ve been researching for years. Putting a face to a name is like icing on a cake.
I had one of the first PC computers with 20 megabytes of memory and bought the first version of Family Tree Maker that was available. I still use that program but liked the old version format better than the new one. My grandparents were all great story tellers and I could never get enough. I began writing it all down for my family to enjoy. I started to do research on my own because my original goal was to fill in four generations of my family tree. Of course, the moment I had four I wanted to have seven. Each and every one of those people who came before me became real, especially if I had a photo of them, and I wanted to know how they lived, what they did for a living, how they felt, if they traveled, how many children they had, if they were buried in a place I could go visit, if they voted and for whom, and how their lives shaped their descendants’ lives. It became a passion for me and an avocation and remains so to this day.
I have gone on many genealogy trips over the years and joined the NEHGS (New England Historical Genealogical Society in Boston) in my twenties. I’m a member of many historical societies because I like to support them, but also because they share information more readily if you’re a member. I was generally the youngest person in every library and archive. I was lucky enough to have one of the NARA (National Archives) facilities within 30 minutes of my house and spent hours on those machines before they were mechanized. I’d come home with a sore arm from turning the handle to view the microfilm. But now I can view the census records on line, which is such a gift! There are many more research trips I have on my list to accomplish.
Between college, marriage, childbirth, carpools, diapers, jobs, divorces, cancer, graduations and living life, I somehow find time to do research. I’ve often told people that it is a lifelong avocation because you never feel like you know enough. It is like putting a puzzle together. My family has always teased me about my fondness for graveyards, but some of my best finds have been in cemeteries. In fact, my youngest daughter has walked more graveyards all over the world than she probably cares to remember.
I didn’t think I’d be interested in other people’s family histories, but I’ve been hired to do research for people and I love it as much as my own. I’m still learning and discovering but have a protocol now that I use to start from scratch for a customer. It’s a lot of fun. I just love genealogy research! The internet has made it possible to find people, specifically cousins, all over the world and I have connected with dozens of them to share data and photographs. I’ve stayed with them on my travels and made some good friends, who just happen to share my DNA. I feel this urgency to get as much of my research and data online because I realize that once it is there, it will never be lost. This website is one of the ways I am ensuring that my years of research will be enjoyed and available to people, long after I’m gone, should they ever decide they want to know about their family history. All photos are downloadable and I encourage you to do so. I do not guarantee the accuracy of anything herein, because I rarely put sources down in the old days, so am not even sure where I got some of my information. Some of it came right from my grandparents’ memories. That should make some bona fide genealogists shudder, but I welcome sources, if one is not listed. If anyone wants to correct any of my data, I also welcome the corrections, with proof, of course. The biggest challenge is putting all the data into a format that people find interesting to read and look at. I have a few methods of displaying and documenting information and designed a family tree format that I like, a variation of the “bowtie” style tree. I realize that some people, including some of my children and descendants, will never be interested, but if in the future they decide that they want to know about their family, it will all be here waiting for them. I also have a tree on Ancestry.com and am a contributor to quite a few websites, including Find-A-Grave.com, in the hope that these people will not be lost to the ages.
I’ve long collected poems and phrases to try to explain “why I do it.” I have a list of them in the Genealogy Section.
And here is my little piece of prose that attempts to answer “Why I Do It”
They call to me with a need to be found, and reside in my heart, in my thoughts
They mattered and I can’t stand for the memory of them to be lost
From the shores of the River Thames, Cheltenham, Long Island Sound, the moors of Scotland, Nebraska and Watertown
Husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons
They all mean a lot to me, and were cherished a great deal by someone
Why do I endeavor to find them, resurrect them, research their worlds?
Because they lived, and left something of their existence here
I give them back their lives, tell their stories, their journeys unfurled
There were oceans crossed, battles won and lost, prairies braved, streets paved
They settled not for the status quo, they dreamed big, left home and their security zone
They fell in love, pursued happiness, took stands, posted banns, buried children, felt despair, built homes and towns and were buried there
So I dig in libraries, scour archives, mine the Internet, walk cemeteries
I make sure they aren’t forgotten, and discover their destinies
They grew up, had desires, dreamed dreams, felt the fires, married, prospered and sometimes failed
In Wales and Ireland, England and Oregon, California, New England, Canada, and Holland
Sailors, farmers, tavern keepers, doctors, lawyers, chimney sweepers, soldiers, patriots, coopers, pastors, teachers, artists, and political leaders
They pursued their goals, passed on their gifts, made me who I am, gave me my history
They’re all a part of me, they have not ceased to be, it’s what I bequeath to my family, my genealogy is my legacy
Gina Sammis 2014
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