How I became a genealogist: Part Three

Alicia Crane WilliamsThere was no light-bulb moment when I discovered I wanted to be a genealogist, but by the time I came back from Kentucky, I’d done enough work on my family’s genealogy to decide history wasn’t so dull after all. It happened that NEHGS was hiring an assistant editor for the Register. I applied, was offered the job, but had to turn it down because of the salary. Sorry, but I also needed to pay rent.

As Fate would have it, I was employed by Honeywell Information Systems where I was introduced to the first word processing computer – the IBM Mag Card Typewriter – and discovered that computerized gadgets were fun to operate. This early introduction to the Information Age was fortuitous, as I’m not sure I would otherwise have joined the technical revolution (note: this was still way before the personal computer era).

Meanwhile, I became a boomerang child living in the home that my parents had designed and built in Hingham before they had to relocate while I was in high school. My brother and his family, who had been living in the house, were now themselves being relocated, and I was asked to move in to take care of it until my parents retired in about a year – I was still there thirty-five years later. I made a deal with Dad to continue living at home while I went to Northeastern University on the work study program for a master’s degree in – ta da! – History. (Well, actually, Historical Agencies and Administration.)

I jumped full force into the professional genealogical world of Boston and practically lived in the NEHGS library between classes and work, attending every lecture and every regional and national genealogical convention that I could. I became a Certified Genealogical Records Searcher, took on clients, and combined my technical skills to help them prepare their genealogies for publication.

I became genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America, was appointed editor of the Mayflower Families Through Five Generations volumes on the Alden family, and became Executive Secretary at the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants (writing the history of the Society for my master’s thesis). Later I became State Historian and editor of The Mayflower Descendant, and carved out a niche as a Mayflower “expert.”

However, when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and my father was in chronic ill health, it was clear why Fate had kept me at home. Of necessity, I withdrew from much of my active work to care for them during the next fifteen years. After Mom went into a nursing home, but while Dad was still at home with me, I picked up a part-time position with the General Society of Mayflower Descendants in Plymouth as a lineage verifier and later as Assistant Historian General. That job got me out of the house for a few hours each week, saved some shreds of my sanity, and helped me keep my “hand in” with research. When my caregiving duties ended, it looked like I was going to settle down and spend the rest of my career as an old Mayflower expert.

And then, unexpectedly, I parted ways with the Mayflower Society. Before I could begin to think about what might be next – after less than a day’s unemployment, and exactly 40 years after I had turned down the job at NEHGS – I was handing out business cards at the meeting of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts when fellow member and NEHGS President and CEO Brenton Simons walked up to me and said “I have an idea for a project, are you interested?” Brenton’s idea became the Early New England Families Study Project.

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