Tracing my family tree at the age of seven

One day while home from elementary school we had a surprise visitor carrying an old book that changed my life.  It was 1976 and I was seven years and currently in the First grade.  At that point in my life cartoons, playing with my toys, and school were my weekly routine.  That all changed when my maternal Uncle Ralph Clarence Lea returned a nearly 100 year old genealogy book to his mother.  Living with us at the time was my Nana – Lillian Mae (Poor) Lea.  She was the youngest of ten children born to a simple Dorchester paperhanger and his wife. At the time of this visit Nana was eighty years old. She was the child of parents who were teenagers at the time of the Civil War.  I watched my uncle hand this book back to my grandmother like it was a scepter being given to a queen from long ago. Now being being a curious kid I peered into this book titled – A Memoir and Genealogy of John Poore published in 1881. Not many photos inside to amuse a child, but I did discover sticking out of the book was a piece of metal.  This piece of metal was in fact a hand painted tintype photograph of a man who I would later learn was my great-grandfather.  My grandmother would show me the pages within the book that contained her parents and elder siblings. I asked her why she was not included? She simply replied that she had not been born yet. Nana then shared with me a story of her father working on a New Bedford whaling boat – after that I was hooked! I suggested we should write a new book to include her and the rest of our family. I started asking her questions about the family and I began to construct a handwritten genealogy with names and dates.  In 1976 I had no internet access or even DNA technology to help me. I felt compelled to know more about my ancestors and to record my Nana’s chapter in history.

In 1980 my grandmother died at the age of 84, and so also closed my connection back to the 19th century.  But I realized even then these stories needed to be preserved in some format.  The following year I finished my first typescript “book”  (if you would allow a 12 year old to call it that).  I was very proud of this hand typed genealogy of my Nana’s parent’s and their descendants. A copy of my “book” can even be found among the manuscripts at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  This work of a twelve year old also includes a not so flattering hand drawn sketch of my great grandfather on the cover by me! Over the years I have had the honor to work on the research for the published genealogies for Ken Burns, Angela Lansbury, Doris Kearns Goodwin and others while working at NEHGS.  However on a deeply personal level the one genealogy that means the most I completed in honor for the lady who inspired me with her genealogical  stories and enthusiasm – my Nana.

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6 thoughts on “Tracing my family tree at the age of seven

  1. Great post cousin! A Memoir and Genealogy of John Poore occupies a prominent place on my genealogy bookshelf. I have both a reprint and the original 1881 edition, handed down through my family from my great-great grandfather, Seth Richmond Dole, who is included in the book (p. 169). We also have a sampler done by his mother, Mary Ann Poor, in 1816, which I would admire when visiting my grandmother’s apartment in Shrewsbury. I love reading stories about how family historians got their start….thanks for sharing your story.

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