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.

10 thoughts on “How I became a genealogist: Part Three

  1. It is inspiring and enlightening to read about your journey into the field. Your work has so much value to those of us who rely on high-quality research. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I really enjoy your blog!

  2. Alicia, your background and the path that brought you to where you are is fascinating– thanks for sharing it. It is fortuitous both for you and for people like me, stumbling through New England records trying to sort out my lines, some of which came to me tied in a nice neat bundle and then fell apart as I began examining them and trying to verify them! (I know… familiar story!)

    1. Hi Annie, When the story is written down, it seems even more amazing. Mom and I got through all the bundles, but I still have a file cabinet of stuff to “organize.”

  3. Thanks for all the work you’ve done to make our research easier! A few years ago I made a breakthrough in my research that ultimately led me to seven Mayflower ancestors. So far I’ve proven descent from George Soule and Francis and John Cooke to the satisfaction of the GSMD. I’m still working on proving Richard Warren and William, Susanna, and Peregrine White. While I was able to do the majority of the research online with Ancestry.com and the NEHGS website, the clinching piece of evidence was produced by NEHGS researchers: my third great-grandfather’s probate file, which named my great-grandmother by her married name! Thanks for all you do!

  4. Thank you for sharing your journey to become a genealogist. It is amazing how one thing leads to another. My dad often took us on Sunday drives to historical places. I grew up with my family telling family stories. One of the stories they told was that my great grandpa’s family always went to the mouth of the Fox to grind grain. My grandmother wanted to find the mouth of the Fox (Fox Creek in Fleming County,Kentucky) so she went in search of it. However, war was being talked of on the car radio (1940)and she was so upset that her sons might have to go to war that they turned around and came home. In 1970 my dad decided to try to find the “mouth of the Fox.” We started from Kansas City, and my dad decided he wanted to go first to the boot heel of Missouri (lots of history). While there I said I had always wanted to see the Hermitage, so my dad took us there. While there my dad said he wanted to see the Cumberland Gap, so we took another detour. Since I only had a week off, we were left with little time to find the Fox. Daddy thought it was near Mt. Sterling but we never found it. I know now it is in Fleming County. My children have heard about the mouth of the Fox so much they want to find it. Our son is determined to take me there. I always wanted to know more about the family. I grew to love history and even changed my college major from languages to history and political science. Eventually I decided to teach elementary school and taught for 30 years. I married, had 2 children and took care of my semi-invalid mother who lived with us for 18 years. I also did a great deal of volunteering. There was not much time for genealogy. I was blessed when my husband began to carpool with a man whose wife turned out to be a genealogist. She took a liking to me and helped me get started. She helped me get my papers together for DAR. My family came mostly from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina, and lived in Kansas and Missouri, I did not have access to local records as we live in Texas. After retiring I am enjoying the time to do research on Ancestry.com and at a surprisingly good genealogy library just 30 miles away. I have found friends who are doing genealogy as well. I appreciate all the work that professional genealogists do so that the rest of us may find records that tell our family story.

  5. Sue, when you do find the Mouth of the Fox, let me know. My parents lived in Missouri for about 11 years before they retired, and I, of course, lived in Kentucky for a couple of years, but even before that Mom and Dad loved to take camping trips so I have seen the entire length of the Mississippi. Lovely country.

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