7    Sep 20131 comment

Family Heritage: Patriots, spies and other surprises

While some genealogists have been at it for only a few years, MyHeritage member Gary Fenton Kemp, 76, has been researching for decades.

Gary became interested in computers in the early 1970s.  He also observed his parents, then in their 70s, trying to put together their genealogy by typing and writing everything out by hand. He knew that there had to be some way to use computers and began searching for a program that would be able to organize the data.

I found PAF and started using it. In 1987, I went to my parents’ home and spent three days entering data for 752 names.

Gary has many interests in addition to family history, such as surfing, fly fishing, geocaching, glider racing and lifting weights. He’s been an educator from kindergarten through university, and conducted teacher training programs in Fiji and elsewhere. Although now retired as a teacher, coach, high school principal and school district superintendent, he is still active, serves as a local school board member and as a Boy Scout merit badge counselor.

The San Tan Valley, Arizona resident has been married to Nancy for 54 years, has four children, 13 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and four more on the way.

Gary's paternal grandparents' wedding photo,1881

He’s discovered so many exciting and interesting things about his family history.

Everyone has a story and I have tried to collect as many as I could. I have a lot of information going back to the early history of the US. I was surprised many times about some of my ancestors’ experiences, and it would take a lot of time to write them all down.

One of his surprises concerned his fourth great-grandfather, who fought in the American Revolution.

I assumed he was a patriot, but it turned out he was a Loyalist and a spy for the British. But the biggest surprise came when I began doing my wife’s genealogy and kept running across the same family names and place names. I said, “We must be related.” I then received a bunch of information from one of her cousins and, sure enough, we are fifth cousins.

Gary joined MyHeritage about 3 1/2 years ago.

I love the site, particularly putting up my family tree and inviting people to join my site. I have received so much information that has been added by my relatives. Smart Matches have helped in building my tree.

Many of Gary’s relatives are members of his family site at MyHeritage. He knows that his paternal grandfather has more than 2,000 descendants, so Gary is still looking for relatives.

Through my MyHeritage family tree site, I have been able to get family members to update data. Communication with family members has increased dramatically. Often, after a monthly anniversary or birthday bulletin goes out I will receive an email informing me that a person is divorced or deceased.

His MyHeritage tree includes some 70,000 individuals, but since he and his wife are related, that also includes her tree. His family lives everywhere, although most relatives live in the western states of  Utah, Arizona and California.  His wife’s family is mostly from Pennsylvania. Some still live in their countries of origin - England, Wales and Germany.

Gary has received hundreds of Smart Matches and has used birth and death data – that he didn’t already have – from them.

I look at how close the relationship is to the target person to determine to use their dates. Again, because of the size of my database, these matches come from genealogists who live all over the world.

During his research, he’s discovered previously unknown relatives and those who were lost to him. He’s made contact, and received additional information and photographs.

My dad was the youngest of 16 and some of his older brothers’ and sisters’ descendents were hard to find. MyHeritage has helped me to contact many of them, and learn more about them, receive more photographs, names and dates.

One surprising find was making contact with a distant relative of Andreas Schurtz, a Palatine German. Gary had not known about the origin of this line.

The Palatines were a group of Protestants who were being forced into the Church of Rome. They emigrated from Germany, to Rotterdam and to England where they became British citizens under the Naturalization Act of 1708. The refugees so crowded the British facilities in London that the Navy convinced the government to use them to set up camps in the colonies to provide tar for ship building. Nearly 3,000 Palatines were loaded on 30 ships and sent to New York, where the population was then only 5,000. Subsequently, some were sent to fight in Queen Anne’s war. Many of the German colonies in New York and North Carolina were settled by these immigrants.

Gary also provided some tips for beginners just starting on their family history:

  • First, start! Talk to all your older living relatives. Record the information they have, ask them to identify people in photographs, and gather their stories.
  • Start and maintain a tree on MyHeritage.
  • Search, search and search.
  • Utilize local resources such as the Family History Centers of the Mormon Church.
  • Get help from someone who has been there.

Thank you, Gary, for sharing your story.

What are some of your surprising family discoveries? Share them in the comments below, on Facebook, Twitter, Google+.

Want to share your own family history story? Send it to stories@myheritage.com

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Comments (1) Trackbacks (0)
  1. A great motivational piece! I have been toying with my family tree, but maybe now I can put my procrastination on hold, and really get going !! Thanks!!

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