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Roots—they matter

Genealogy club maps family histories

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December 21st, 2010

We all come from somewhere, and it s human nature to want to know from where. These days, even though there is an influx of information on the Internet, it s not necessarily easy to track down one s family roots online. But, according to the members of the genealogy club at Ann s Choice, an Erickson Living community in Bucks County, Pa., it s important, interesting, and fun. These members have a strong curiosity to solve the mystery of their own histories and to unearth the collective stories that have helped shape who they are. And they ve found some interesting discoveries along the way.

A lawyer led him to it

Howard Gant got interested in mapping his family history in the 1970s when an attorney contacted his parents and said they might own some valuable land because of family roots. This man knew more about my family s history than even my parents did, Gant says. They never did get any land because the man ended up in jail for fraud, but the experience sparked an interest. Over the years, Gant has traced his oldest relative on his mother s side to one Hans Manson, who came to America in 1640 as a convict. Manson was caught poaching on the King of Sweden s land and was given a choice to either relocate or be beheaded. The choice was easy. Manson s children later changed the family name to Steelman because of their father s sordid past. It s amazing what you find, Gant says. Now, Gant is using the skills and resources he s learned to help other members of the club, like a woman who is third-generation Russian. It s much more difficult to track down international information, especially since many of those records were destroyed in the war.

The wooden chest

Robert Jacoby and his wife, Emma, are both from German descent. Mr. Jacoby s search has led him to discover that part of his family came to America in 1827. In Jacoby s collection is his great-great-grandmother s handmade wooden trunk in which she packed all of her belongings that she brought to America. It was on that ship to America where she met her future husband. My parents always stressed how important it was to know which culture we represented, Jacoby says. His mother told family stories, a quality he notes isn t present in current generations. Kids don t have their family history top of mind anymore, and these days people have to rely on sources like genealogy.com, he says. In his search, Jacoby has found a cousin, four generations removed. He was tracking the history in his father s background the Snyders and hit a brick wall. He decided to search the German spelling Sneider and found a pamphlet in the Library of Congress, History of the Sneider Family. The names in the book all matched the ones in his line, and he was excited to make contact. Above all things, this work requires patience You just have to keep plugging away, he says.

A man of history

Bob Swan has been around history the majority of his life. He is vice chairman of the Swan Historical Foundation and co-founded the Genealogy Club with fellow community member Andy Pollock. A descendant of Richard Swan, he s traced his line as far back as 1530, and his family came to America from England in 1685, first settling in Salem, Mass. He, like the rest of the club, knows genealogy isn t easy work. You have to work backwards and document everything, Swan says. It s human nature to want to know your roots. Some people get only so far and then get frustrated, but we have skills and resources to dig deeper and go further. There is a small annual membership fee to join the Genealogy Club, which allows members access to the ancestry.com software, along with knowledge, experience, and support when mapping one s history. The club meets once a month, on the third Thursday, and goes on field trips to places like Salt Lake City, Utah, where there s a five-story research center run by the Church of Latter Day Saints. Part of the Mormons mission is to keep records on people from all over the world, Swan says. The challenges of genealogy name changes, destroyed documents, children born out of wedlock, global connections make the research more interesting and ultimately more rewarding.

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