Genealogy is like crack

Major news: the 1940 US Census will become available this year in April to genealogical researchers and the general public. It’s the event of the decade, so to speak. Each census is released 72 years after it was taken. People are scrambling to get everything online and make it available to rabid consumers of family history data. Like me.

I first became aware of genealogy, although I had trouble learning to spell it, in a college library when I happened to come across a book in which I looked up my last name and found out that living in the western part of the country was a whole extended family of Hogles who had become professionals, made a lot of money, and had a zoo named after them in Utah! I was amazed and wondered if somehow we were related. I doubted it since that family was in the west and mine I knew had originated in upstate New York.

During a visit with my family when I was in my early 20s, I asked our dad to tell me about all the family members he could recall and how they were related to each other. Growing up, we had been told to call everyone older than us Uncle and Aunt, despite the fact that only two of them were technically an aunt and an uncle. So, I didn’t fully understand how everyone was related. He remembered an amazing amount of detail; I drew up a genealogy chart and tucked it away. I still have it, and most of it has turned out to be accurate.

So, what is it about genealogy that is so addicting? Maybe there’s some inner drive that makes some people so curious about the past and about networks between people. It might have something to do with a love of history, anthropology, and photography. Our parents kept scrapbooks, old newspapers describing famous events, and hundreds of photographs carefully kept in albums. Our dad took all the pictures. And our mother made notes on the back of who, when and where. The why part was missing usually. But most of the photos are identified.

Eventually, I ended up with all the old photos from our parents. My brother Don and I began preserving them in better-quality albums. My curiosity about these relatives persisted. I wanted to know where we came from originally. In the late 1990s, I began to explore connections on the internet. While our mother was still alive, I was able to find out for her what had happened to her father, when he died and where he was buried. I found out the names of his parents and where they were from. I found out about my grandmother’s birth family, that she was the oops baby, the youngest of five, and that her own grandmother had died giving birth to her only child, my great-grandmother.  I found out where my mother’s mother was buried. I visited several cemeteries and photographed stones. And I also found out the name of one of my great-grandfathers, Asahel Hogle, who lived his entire life in Canada. I then found out that the Hogle family was actually of Dutch origin, not English as our dad had thought. The Hogles came to New York State from Holland, possibly in the early 1700s or late 1600s. Another Hogle from Arkansas published a book about Hogles in June 2001 and I immediately obtained a copy. Our Hogle line began with Johannes Hoghil in 1715, who was killed by Indians in his 30s. He had a son, John, who died at the Battle of Bennington, fighting on the side of the Loyalists. Years later, his widow and sons left for Canada where the family remained for a century. Asahel’s son came back to New York in the 1800s and settled in Syracuse. Meanwhile, my mother’s Irish Canadian ancestors ended up in Vermont, a short hop across the border from their original home in Montreal. Her French ancestors appear to have lived near Troy, NY, for a long time, but I’ve not been able to trace them very far. Don and I did a Dead Ancestors Tour of upstate New York a few years ago, staying in B&B’s, visiting with town historians, spending a day at the NYS Archives in Albany, and photographing more stones.

I did learn to spell “genealogy.” It’s such an odd word, not spelled like other “ologies.” I’ve taken several great genealogy classes at the Wisconsin Historical Society, one of the most amazing organizations of its kind in America. I’m not making that up. They have incredible resources and dispense assistance from a beautiful old building on the UW campus. It’s a great place to do research, even if your ancestors are not from Wisconsin!

The turning point in the genealogy addiction occurred last month when I read about the release of the 1940 census data and signed up for a subscription to ancestry.com – they were offering a reduced rate in honor of the census release. As I began to explore the site, I was impressed at how much it had improved in ten years since I first used it. Then I began to think about getting Family Tree Maker, a reasonably priced ancestry.com product that links with online family trees being created by thousands of other genealogy nut-cases like me. So, I looked into it and noticed it could upload PAF files. I had used PAF some years back to start creating a family tree, but I liked the idea of being able to backup my files online and take advantage of the research efforts of others in adding to my own tree.

Last weekend, we successfully imported all 600+ people in my family tree into Family Tree Maker. As I began doing the tutorials, I was truly astounded at how sophisticated this program is! After working in it, then you can sync the data with your online tree! And then you can look at your tree from anywhere that you have an internet connection. What happened Saturday night is that for six straight hours after uploading my data and opening up ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker, I sat in front of my computer oblivious to anything happening around me. Luckily there are no children at home or dogs to be walked. Perhaps I stopped to eat dinner.

When I look at my family tree, small leaves appear at the end of many names, waving gently and calling to me to click. That is the indication that ancestry.com has found some additional data elsewhere in other people’s trees that might be relevant to my ancestor. So, I click, quickly review the new data, and decide if I want to add it to my ancestor’s file. When I add new people, all of a sudden I then see additional small green leaves waving tantalizingly in a cyber breeze, beckoning my cursor to pet the leaf and see what’s hiding there! God, I can’t stop!! As of last night, I had added over 100 additional people to my tree, and wandered back to Belgium in the late 1500’s! How amazing and wonderful and exciting!!

My father’s line is originally Dutch, and my maternal line is French. But my Catholic Dutch grandfather (who probably didn’t know anything at all about his Dutch ancestry) married a Scotch Baptist and they spent the rest of their lives attending an Episcopal church. My mother’s mother, French Catholic, married into an Irish Catholic family who descends from Donegal, Ireland, via Montreal. But way back in the tangled lines of intermarriage, I found German, Belgian, and English ancestors, too. The whole of Europe runs in my DNA. Now I have a serious genealogy addiction fueled by the internet, ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker. And I need to go to Montreal, and back to Syracuse and Binghamton, and there are more graves to visit…. And the 1940 census will be available in just a few weeks!

2 thoughts on “Genealogy is like crack

  1. The Wisconsin Hist. Soc – another example of a leading edge in that ’15 square miles surrounded by reality’ where you live! My sister Diane is the one in our family who has become fascinated. I’ll tell her about the upgrades to the Family Tree site, where she was majorly disappointed before. We do have some interesting documents in the moldy boxes- both my mother and aunt were DAR and Colonial Dames. I enjoy hearing about the family as she discovers it, but I will stick with living trees, myself.

  2. Jan, I enjoyed reading about your newly acquired addiction – multiply Facebook by several centuries, right?! I have been trying to analyze why the genealogy trail has not enticed me to such an extent. I love history; right now I am reading Rutherford’s historical fiction of New York. Here’s what I have come up with. I feel equally as connected to the Tree people as to all the others who came before me. Yet I feel more keenly the burden of their mistakes and sorrow. Sort of like the worst of all worlds. The cup half empty. Love your writing; as ever! I still remember feelings evoked by your creation “The Puppy” from seventh grade.

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