16 October 2009

Where do you go, I asked, with genealogy?

I probably was born to this, and certainly named to it.

My birth year, 1945, the most popular girl's name in the US was Mary followed by Linda.  The top ten included Susan and Sharon.  It did not include Lavinia.   My maternal Grandad's mother, Lavinia Murdoch (Bruce) Cresap died when he was seven, and he named his first born, my mother, for her.  And I was named for my mother.  I would learn later that Lavinia Murdoch Bruce was named for her mother, Lavinia Murdoch Thistle, who also married a Cresap.  I had to explain my name on the first day of school every year.  "What an unusual name," the teachers would exclaim.

But I only got into genealogy ten years ago, right after my father died.  My mother had died 16 months earlier and us four children had the task of dividing up their stuff.  I "the family historian" as Dad said, was willed the boxes of photos, and my mom's DAR files.  I stared at them and almost put them in storage.  But my friend Pam offered a trip out of town.  "Just to get away," she said.  She was going to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to do genealogy which she had been interested in for years.  "What's genealogy," I asked, "and where does that take you?  She answered brightly, "I think you'll like it.  It takes you anywhere you want to go.  That's the joy of it."  "But I don't know how to do it," I whined.  "I'll teach you," she replied. 

I grabbed a binder from my newly inherited boxes and flew to Utah.  I didn't know what was in it, just that it had to do with my mother's mother, "Pi" (short for sweetie pie which she called my brother, her first grandchild, and he tried to call her the same but only got the "pi" out and the nickname stuck).  We lived with my Cresap grandparents in Berkeley off and on during the first 5 years of my life, and I adored her so I took the notebook with Grace Arnold written on it.

This slim blue binder contains tintypes, old letters from my grandmother's aunt to her, sepia photos, baptism certificates and more.  I would never risk traveling with these original documents now, but I knew nothing then and into the library I went with my beginnings.  I grasped pretty quickly that I had entered a world I loved, a world of transitions, epiphanies, and movement.  I have learned that Genealogy will break your heart, and it will mend it again.  So many things I've collected over the years fit into it -- old maps, for instance.

Right away I learned I'd be tracing migrations, and that records are mostly kept at the county level.  So I bought a big US map with present county boundaries on it and I labeled my families with color -- red for Dad's dad, (Gilbert) yellow for Dad's mom (Sale), green for Mom's dad (Cresap), and blue for Mom's mom (Arnold).   I outlined the places each family lived in with their color -- the rainbow being California.  Then I slowly began to mark their migrations west.


  1. Wow - what a moving account of how you got involved in genealogy. It seems like genealogy "came to you" and was somehow calling you rather than you actively seeking it out.

  2. I'm with Thomas - this is such a wonderful story of how genealogy came into your life.

    I love how you said that "genealogy will break your heart, and it will mend it again" - that is so true! You put it in such a wonderful way.

  3. I love your story of the beginnings of your genealogical research! Excellent!

    Caroline Pointer
    Family Stories

  4. Welcome to the Blogosphere, Lavinia. I am looking forward to following your genealogical journey in the posts to come!

  5. Thanks Thomas, Elyse, Caroline, and Family Curator,

    Your welcome is living proof of how fine the genealogy community is. I'm so happy to be part of it--even during those times with the heartbreaks. It's all so very worth it.


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