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Blast into the past

Fox Run genealogy club researches historical roots

Created date

December 25th, 2012

In the 1980s, when Lynn Hockenberger s husband William got a job transfer to Salt Lake City, Utah, she took advantage of one of the nation s largest genealogical libraries, the Family History Library. She began learning more about her own ancestry, but when the couple moved back to Michigan a few years later, she returned to work and no longer had time to devote to her genealogy hobby. She put her research on the shelf. Lynn s is a common story. Perhaps that s why when she and William moved to Fox Run, an Erickson Living community in Novi, Mich., in 2007, she discovered a whole group of people interested in genealogy. With more time to devote to simple pleasures instead of house maintenance or careers, Fox Run residents started a genealogy club. Lynn jumped right in.

Renewed interest in genealogy

At Fox Run, Lynn found a group of about 40 people who shared her interest in genealogical research. The club meets once a month. Most frequently, the club hosts speakers on various topics related to genealogy. One speaker taught the club how to do archival photography work. Another talked about the history and the construction of the Erie Canal. I was fascinated to hear about what [the Erie Canal] did for Michigan, Lynn says. We learn a lot in our monthly meetings. When they re not hosting a leader from a genealogical society or other family history research expert, the club sometimes takes the field. They have visited the Michigan Library and Historical Center, the Detroit Public Library (which Lynn says has a good deal of genealogy resources), and the Novi Public Library, where club members received training on using the Internet to research family history. The group is wonderful, Lynn says. It s a very stimulating group because genealogy is really about history, so we discuss all sorts of interesting historical events. At other monthly meetings, the genealogy club s leaders organize workshops to educate members on the latest research tools like, a popular website for genealogical research. Or, members will present their latest and most interesting findings about their own family trees.

Community of recreational historians

Resident Bernard Balser, one of the club s members, recently shared his family history research with the group. Bernard s curiosity about genealogy was piqued in the 1980s when his mother-in-law challenged his daughter to find an ancestor who would qualify her to become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Bernard developed a keen interest in genealogy after that project, and over the years, he has pieced together most of his family tree. He discovered that his family originally hails from Wales and came to Long Island, N.Y., in 1640. He says his research has not uncovered any huge surprises, but his ancestors are distantly related to a few American presidents. About four years ago, Bernard and his wife Barbara moved from Texas to Fox Run to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Prior to that, Bernard had been conducting his genealogical research largely on his own. When he moved to Fox Run, he found a whole gang of new neighbors who shared his interest in ancestry and with whom he could swap stories and research tips. I was very happy to see that the genealogy club was here when we moved in, he says. A few months ago, Bernard discovered that one of his ancestors is Joshua Hempstead, a Connecticut man who kept extremely detailed daily diaries during the 1700s. When his journals were discovered, they were transcribed and are now kept at the New London County Historical Society. They are heralded for the insight they provide about local history during the time period that he was alive. Bernard recently shared his discovery in a presentation to Fox Run s genealogy club. Bernard says he s spent a lot of time scouring books in research libraries and asking questions at historical societies to cobble together a thorough and colorful family history. In fact, he once spent a week at Salt Lake City s Family History Library. They have volunteers who work with you one on one. They take you by the hand and get you started, Bernard says. There are several floors filled with archives; you could spend weeks there. In addition to sharing his discoveries with his friends at Fox Run, he wants some other important people in his life to enjoy the fruits of his labor his children. Each kid has gotten as much genealogy as I have found, he says. I have given it to them on CDs, so they have everything that I have at this point.