Raymond (Ray) Malenfant always thought of looking into his family history, but it remained at the back of his mind until after his mother died.
We know all too well stories of family history research that begin only after a death in the family - too late to ask questions. Although it makes research more difficult, it is a great motivator to delve into family history.
Ray, 66, is now a retired civil engineer. After receiving his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Northeastern University (Boston, Massachusetts, 1971), he moved to Dover, Delaware with his wife Ellen and their son, then 2. He now lives in Marydel, Delaware - retired since 2008. He has two sons, Mark, 45, and Jon, 42.
After trying to start a home inspection business in a slow real estate market, he discovered genealogy, and hasn't looked back since!
The genealogy bug
Ray’s mother lived with him and his family for nearly 13 years and had a wealth of family knowledge. Yet, Ray rarely asked her about it.
What a mistake it was to not ask more, since she died very unexpectedly over the course of three days.
After his mom died suddenly, Ray began to go through all the memorabilia she had saved.
I started going through all the pictures, trip details and letters she had saved, but that just brought on so many questions. For example, I heard her speak of a Grampa Rose many times but didn’t know what that was about, and naturally I didn't ask.
Ray’s biological great-grandfather died at a young age, and his great-grandmother remarried. Her new husband was a widower whose surname was Rose, aka Grampa Rose. More interesting was the discovery that this Grampa Rose became a widower upon the death of Ray’s mother’s grandfather’s sister! A top priority in Ray's research was to prove that Rose was originally married to Ray’s great-grandmother’s sister. After some digging, that was verified. “Digging” is half the fun!
After talking with many people, Ray has helped others gain appreciation for researching their heritage as well.
After talking - I don’t mean preaching - they gain some appreciation for their own ancestors. After all, they got us to where we are now!
Ray was also very close to establishing a connection between his wife and a descendant of the Mayflower.
As I went back in generations, I happened upon a note in one of my ancestor matches talking about Degory Priest, a passenger on the Mayflower’s 1620 voyage. It seemed, and I say that in retrospect with the greatest of hesitation, that I could link my wife up to him. That was not to be. One link around 1722 blew the trail out the window. The name of the wife was right, but she was not the right one for the proper linage. The right name never made it to 10 years old, so that ended that. Then I came upon another apparent link of myself to the famous John Alden. There was again only one link that was not solid, and that too fell apart. This was after making application to the Society and their informing me of my ancestral shortcomings. Frankly, I was a bit crushed.
Ray then embarked on another quest to find a connection with another Mayflower passenger, Thomas Rogers. This one appeared to be a winner and it was!
Not only was that journey a winner for me, but for my wife also. It turns out that Thomas Rogers and his wife Alice (Cosford) had a son John who married Anna Churchman. They had four children, the most important to myself and my wife were Abigail and Elizabeth. It turns out, and has been verified by the Mayflower Society, that my ancestor is Abigail and my wife’s ancestor is Elizabeth. So that means we have common ancestors in John and Anna. I get some interesting looks when I relate that story to others.
Fortunately for me, one of my ancestors in line from Abigail was in the Revolutionary War, so now I am also a certified member of the Sons of the American Revolution. My wife has a similar path and she could, if she wishes at some point, be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
His second biggest surprise was learning how many of his ancestors have split and come back together again over a couple of generations.
I surmise that the pool of people back in the late 1600s and early 1700s was small enough that it was difficult to avoid some second-cousin marriages. Mapping these out is most interesting! Frankly, I did find some first cousin marriages, but it didn't seem to affect me too badly!
Ray has also reconnected with cousins with whom he had lost contact.
I restarted communication with my first cousins. I don’t have many cousins, but I did miss them. I sent an invitation to the one that I had some very limited communication with and that expanded a bit. I have yet to see them face-to-face, but at least we have something now.
Ray has done extensive research into his wife Ellen’s ancestry as well. Together they work on developing her side of the family tree as Ray discovered things about her family she didn't even know.
It was very rewarding and truly fun to find information on the immigration of my wife’s great- grandparents and her grandmother through Ellis Island. We were able to locate the date and even found pictures of the vessels in which they came over. Her great-grandfather had come over the year prior to set things up - a pretty common practice - and her great-grandmother came over the following year with the kids, which included the person who would end up being my wife’s grandmother. I still want (need!) to find out more about that heritage.
After just a few short years on MyHeritage, Ray has over 1,200 people in his family tree.
I found the basic MyHeritage site for free about a year ago and thought 'that’s for me.' I found myself falling into the trap of my ancestors and I was rather quickly expanding my tree to include more than the free version would accommodate. I quickly bumped up to where I am today - and I’m very glad I did.”
I am only focusing on a pedigree tree. I have found that many families were very large and therefore if I had included them, it could be well over 5,000 people. They are spread into two general areas, the Province of Quebec and the State of Massachusetts.
I have gotten some family members interested, but no one is yet interested enough to do any footwork - maybe later! I have used MyHeritage to explain how we link up. This has been most recently valuable in one of my grand-daughter’s projects for school. I was able to answer exactly the question she was searching out using MyHeritage.
There have been a lot of SmartMatches, and it appears I have gleaned information from these matches, but I am very cautious in trusting anything now.
Ray hopes to take a trip to Quebec in the near future to explore his roots and see where his family came from. He is looking forward to pursuing his family history further after his wife retires.
Tips for others beginning their research
-- Don’t automatically believe everything that you read. My experience with the Mayflower research has proved that. People link up other people with the best of intentions, but it’s not always right. Proceed with caution and accept nothing as positive without real proof in hand!
-- Talk with your living relatives every possible minute that you can do so. Probe… probe… probe. Don’t let a simple answer be the end of the discussion. Try the trick, 'Do you remember telling me about thus and such? Can you remember anything else about it? Something doesn't seem clear to me.' Questions can be the beginning of more stories to come.
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