Genealogy chaos

There is a great deal of irony here. Having spent 45 years practicing genealogy, I have just had a very rude shock.

The first official genealogy in our family was collected and typed in the 1950s using a manual typewriter and four carbon copies (one for each of her four grandchildren) by my mother’s mother, Alice Mason Crane Hawes. Alice had inherited all the family “stuff” from both her own ancestors and and those of her husband, so she had a rich trove to use that included Bibles, photographs, letters, and much more. Gram had just about all the information she needed from family sources, plus published works in the New England Historic Genealogical Society to fill in eight or more generations of ancestors on my mother’s fan chart. When Gram died in 1962 my mother gathered the papers with the intention of carrying on and, eventually, dumping (er, passing) them on to me.

Mom loved the history of our ancestors and often regaled me with stories about those she had personally known, which reached back to people born in the early nineteenth century. Unfortunately, just at the time these papers came into her possession the family was uprooted and we moved from Hingham, Massachusetts, to St. Paul, Minnesota, and then my parents moved to St. Louis, Missouri, before finally returning to Hingham 14 years later. The genealogy traveled with them, in a suitcase. During tornado warnings in St. Paul and St. Louis, Mom would put the suitcase by the cellar door to make certain it would be with us if we had to seek shelter.

While they were still in St. Louis, I started at Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School, located about three blocks from NEHGS, so Mom took out a membership for me and sent assignments for me to look up in the library. Eventually, as I became more involved in genealogy, the family papers came under my control. For decades I worked on expanding, arranging, and drafting the family opus. Some papers came with me when I moved to Kentucky for two years, then back to Hingham for 45 years, and now they are with me in Plymouth. My good intentions were to pull all the parts together “when I had the time.”

Eventually, as I became more involved in genealogy, the family papers came under my control.

Like shoemaker’s children without shoes, my time has been occupied in tracing and writing about other people’s families. Nothing like a global crisis to spur one to action!
Talk about a fool’s paradise. In my mind the papers were mostly organized, with files alphabetized by surname, charts filled in, information entered in Family Tree Maker, and various text drafts. My mind, it turns out, was about three decades behind reality. Through the years, as professional work and family caregiving took precedence, the papers had been shuffled many more times than I remembered. Inevitably, files had been pulled but not returned to the same place, papers had been raided from one file to another and often “consolidated” into bulging expanding folders. Not to mention the suitcase had expanded to eight file drawers. The last insult came when I moved ten years ago and just took the papers out of the moving boxes, stuck them back into the file drawers pretty much “willy nilly,” all under the delusion that I would “soon” put them aright.

Now I sit here attempting to gather information to compose my “all-my-ancestors” tome, yet confoundedly unable to locate the files and charts I need! No choice but to go back to square one and reshuffle things back into alphabetical order. Yes, there is a great deal of irony here, but at least I have started.

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