I attended the NEHGS Fall Weekend Research Getaway – Breaking Through Brickwalls this weekend.
I got on the commuter train Thursday morning very excited. Although I didn’t know anyone that would be there, any roomful of genealogy enthusiasts is a great place to be, so I wasn’t worried about that.
Aside from the few talks, which looked great, I was pleased with the opportunity to have the research areas I had mailed in a few weeks prior discussed with someone from the terrific staff of NEHGS. I also gathered my documentation of five problems into a notebook.
When I arrived I went up in the elevator with another attendee and Gary Boyd Roberts. He had an armful of papers and asked us our names, then fished out the research summaries we’d submitted earlier, which now had his handwritten notes all over them. If I’d been able to read his handwriting, I suspect the notes would have been incredibly useful.
After an initial talk and library tour, I had a meeting with one of the archivists. That got me on track with some further searching on two problems and that took the rest of the day. She explained some slow steady work that was needed to narrow down one of my problems and also pointed out a few special Connecticut resources. At another session I was told to check a CT church record index on microfilm, and given some tips about, for instance, exploring WHY the minister on a certain marriage record was from another town. Oops, tracking down details that don’t fit … guess I forgot that!
We all had hope of getting some concentrated attention from Gary Boyd Roberts during our three day stay. None of that had been guaranteed or even mentioned, so I don’t want to give the impression it was officially on the program. He asked that we bring paper genealogies. I arrived home the first night at 8 p.m. and began printing. They say in addition to helping you build, he will also ruthlessly chop off sections that he doesn’t trust. “Gary giveth, and Gary taketh away” is how it was put.
I debated whether to bring my copy of Ancestors of American Presidents for him to sign should we end up talking. I’m only related (distantly) to Garfield and Taft. Surely that is enough of a disappointment and he’ll take pity on me and sign the book. Or not.
So on day two, the first thing that happened was that Gary Boyd Roberts was ready to look at my tree. It was an amazing hour and a half. Of the five brick walls I brought with me, he actually solved one and gave me advice on all the rest. He was also interested in the earlier branches of my tree and gave me lots of insight into those early families. One, the Goddards, have royal lineage and the same is true of the Wheelers. My Dwights are probably related to the Dwights of Yale U. My Baldwins may be from Woburn, Mass. He and I share the Whitings. We walked back into the stacks a number of times and he reviewed the books that might be useful to me. If the books contained recent photos, copies of documents, snippets of any kind, really, he dismissed them as “scrapbooks” (which I came to realize was his ultimate insult) but sometimes suggested I consult them anyway. When we came to my Arnold problem he told me that the author of The Arnold Family of Smithfield, Rhode Island was in the library and he would ask him what he thought. So there I sat as the two of them discussed Lucy Arnold. My guess for her identity was approved, so I will continue to look for some proof of that.
Don’t get the impression that I explained any of my problems to him. Gary Boyd Roberts looks at your tree and HE tells you what your problems are. In the end he graciously signed my book and went off to help the others. Later, when we all had dinner, we sat together. I truly admired his devotion to the needs of every participant. He wasn’t just phoning it in, he completely concentrated on each person’s tree – often for hours – and gave some incredible advice. The problem that got solved for me was the Nancy Tefft problem. He found a bad photocopy of a badly organized old book that gave the answer. I then easily found some probate evidence.
I learned an awful lot about every branch. I was left with a lot of copying to do, microfilm to check, manuscripts to request, and indexes and journals to check. My method was to photograph each page without flash, then print them at home (there were 235 pages), and also store the photos. This took the rest of the day and the next day. I still need to analyze all that evidence.
It is a unique and sort of terrifying experience to have your tree examined by Gary Boyd Roberts. And AWESOME!!
The other attendees were great and I hope to see them again. They were at all levels but had the same quality of intensity. We had many wonderful conversations about the work we were doing. The weekend made me value my NEHGS membership and realize that I need to get up to the library regularly, maybe once a month.
It was probably the three most productive days I’ve had in genealogy. And thanks to my breakthrough I have a whole new branch to explore.
clipart courtesy of http://graphicsfairy.blogspot.com