How I became a genealogist: Part One

Alicia Crane WilliamsI got a chuckle out of Bob Anderson’s preface to Elements of Genealogical Analysis, where he described his path to genealogy through military intelligence and molecular biology. It reminded me of the days back in the 80s and 90s when we belonged to a small group of Boston-area genealogists who gathered every month for a pot-luck dinner and genealogy talk. The dinners were the brainchild of Ann Lainhart and, although informal, the group at one point included the editors of the Register, The American Genealogist, and The Mayflower Descendant. When you have the opportunity to sit and listen to the likes of Jane Fiske, Ruth Ann Sherman, Bob Anderson, David Dearborn, Melinde and George Sanborn, and Roger Joslyn to name a few, one cannot help but learn genealogy.

During one of these dinners we asked each other how we came to be genealogists. Only one of us, David, had actually majored in history as an undergraduate. The rest of us entered college with little or no idea of pursuing history, much less genealogy, as a profession – I certainly didn’t when I entered the School of Agriculture at the University of Connecticut!

But then how did I end up being a professional genealogist? Fate and ancestors.

My four years of undergraduate work as an “Aggie” major were simply a “ruse” to get me close to horses. Born horse crazy into a non-horse family (my mother was terrified of them), my opportunities to work with horses were restricted to a couple of weeks of summer camp each year and a few “off season” riding lessons. It was my father, in fact, who out of the blue one day suggested that I go to agricultural college. I did, enjoyed it, and graduated without any employable skills, since I didn’t have a family farm to go back to.

Next I followed in my mother’s footsteps. She had graduated from Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School in Boston in 1928, and I had often heard tales of how wonderful it was. Mother was always preaching that a woman needed an employable skill in case she was widowed. In looking at my options as a young woman in those ancient days – marriage, librarian, teacher, nurse, secretary – since I wasn’t overly fond of children or blood and pain, I knew my only option was to become an Executive Secretary.

Next time, horse pedigrees and disappearing umbilical lines.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.View all posts by Alicia Crane Williams