Chapter 5B: More Retirement Activities, Writing Family History
How ironic that I went from getting a paddling in sixth grade while living in Cooperstown for not completing a writing assignment to composing several personally memorable term papers in junior high while living in Moon Township. After that, it seems like college and grad school at Indiana and Penn State were all about theses and dissertations. This installment will concentrate on the development of and all that has gone into my family history website, E-gen.info, an Electronic Genealogy, which I consider the pinnacle of my life’s work just before and after retirement from paying propositions in various careers.
I have always loved history. Surely my earliest recollections of going to church involved Sunday school, and both worship and study are founded on the Bible, which is the history of God’s reaching out to mankind. I suppose my first responsibility for a formal newsletter came my senior year of high school when I inherited the helm of “The Eyes Have It,” the voice of Pittsburgh Youth Presbytery’s District I. In those days before computers and composition apps my girlfriend Niki taught me on the church typewriter how to get a straight margin on each side of a page by counting back spaces from the right to reach what had already been typed from the left: double space neatly when necessary to eliminate wide gaps in a sentence. That’s a far cry from the Jewish scribes using quills and vegetable matter to “inscribe” from right to left on sheep skin scrolls. Maybe I should have worked in the press room for our Johnstown Tribune-Democrat instead of the studios of its sister company WJAC Radio.
After getting married and settling down in Forwardstown I recall writing several “Letters to the Editor” of the Trib, one concerning President Jimmy Carter’s 1986 massive expenditure to develop the B-1 Bomber and another in protest of our State highway department’s 2006 plans to cut down dozens of massive, century-old sycamore trees standing proudly along our Somerset Pike to honor the veterans of World War I. Well, I’m sure Jimmy never read my letter and the bomber got built, but those in our tree-hugging community did manage to save about half of our glorious trees.
Our son Matthew built a model of the historic Forwardstown in junior high based on a map in the Beers 1876 Somerset County Atlas, while I experimented with a village newsletter I called The Forwardstown Forecaster. One of the humorous criticisms of my attempt was that I was concentrating on history, yet the periodical’s title suggested predictions of the future. Oh well, the title did demonstrate the poetic device of alliteration.
With often hours between teaching daytime classes at Mt. Aloysius College, I found myself either huddled over my ancient personal computer in my tiny office or waiting in line to get a newer school computer in the lab to research and write the earliest articles for what would become E-gen in 2011. In those days, most of the pieces were e-mailed directly to family members. This link provides the actual letter I sent out with a mission statement in 2001, asking for addresses. I was using a free Yahoo! service called “Geocities.com” then and, with the research limited to my father’s side of the family, I originally called it “Pearce2002.” One of my favorite activities was to create short quizzes based on family history. Unfortunately, the response was not much better than it is today – almost non-existent. But, my passion for personal genealogy was so great that I pushed on.
Here is a list of just some of the first “original family narratives” posted and their sources:
* Pearce – written before 1901 by one of our Austens giving the working class origins, romantic marriage, and unexpected destination of two families.
* Leslie – collected from family notes more recently by cousin Gary and me but going back to the pioneer days of the Pittsburgh area frontier. We realize how fortunate we descendants are to have survived the Typhoid plaque of the early 1800s.
* Lee – changing and expanding over the years with help from fellow members of the historical societies in Springs, PA, and Grantsville, MA. Perhaps the biggest question is whether Grandfather Tommy Lee was German, English, or Irish.
Each story has a multitude of interpretations, which are posted, and best of all as technology improves and new sources are found, the narratives continue to grow. Some of the family trees go back hundreds of years and dozens of generations with multiple surname spellings, like our Jack family: almost 700 years, 22 generations, and at least three spellings, depending on national origins. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of writing family history and posting it on a private platform is the license I sometimes take and the speculation I sometimes make. For example, having found a reference to “Brother Pearce” in evangelist and theologian John Wesley’s 18th century journal, and knowing that his preaching travels took him right through Wiltshire County from where our Pearces originated, and knowing that my great-grandparents were staunch Weslyans, I surmised that my ancestors were somehow related to “Brother Pearce.” Of course, as a proud scholar, I try to qualify my thoughts carefully. But, from that article I branched off into a list of relatives in Susan and my families somehow connected to “preaching.” I figure that my extensive research and unsponsored platform entitles me this license.
A decade after beginning my small endeavor, I was using the free posting app WordPress and a commercial website provided by GoDaddy, publishing articles for 55 family trees from all four of Susan and my paternal and maternal sides. Today, that has expanded to over 200. E-gen became a clearinghouse for family reunions and other research sites like Ancestry.com, their free counterpart FamilySearch.org, and several specialty resources such as FindaGrave.org. These and more are located to the right at the top of the page under “Tools.”
While I have taken some months off from regular research, writing, and posting family history to write and share my Memoir, my desire is that you will continue to explore E-gen and send me your own inquiries and findings to pass on to our readers. After I have finished writing the first draft of the autobiography, I intend to conduct an intensive revision, making corrections and additions, mostly based on comments provided by my immediate family, with whom I shared early drafts. After all of that, probably in the fall of this year, I hope to fulfill the pledge I made in a recent estate plan revision to to edit and send copies of all applicable E-gen articles to regional libraries and history centers. I’ll talk more about that in the next installment. Meanwhile, two of the most thrilling activities I hope to continue to engage in are personal visits to those same sites and others around the world and write about my many experiences with E-gen postings and several proud publication in periodicals such as Mennonite Family History (MFH).
Furthermore and finally, in addition to visiting libraries, history centers, and places of family significance around the world, I have been able to attend in person and virtually meetings and conferences dealing with many aspects of genealogy and genetics. For example, I had the privilege to sit in on a workshop at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh on researching sources in other languages, entitled “Google Like a German,” a report of which MFH published for me. Unable to personally attend the annual FamilySearch.org conference called “RootsTech” in Utah each winter, I have viewed those various meeting topics online and, with the moderators’ permission, have either posted highlights or links which I believe pertained to E-gen’s families. For example, in 2021 Dr. Amy Harris spoke on “Getting Started with 19th Century British Research,” and I posted a link. Such possibilities are endless, but closer to home are the annual meetings of the Casselman River Area Amish and Mennonite Historians in Grantsville, MD, or the Swiss Anabaptist Genealogical Association (SAGA) on which I occasionally report. Sometimes topics turn me as close as our church library. For example, my wife put me on to a trilogy by Olivia Newport entitled Amish Turns of Time, and I posted a summary. Sometimes Facebook or YouTube provides a source of information and/or videos, such as my Pearce’s North Park tour. If you’ll give me the rest of your life, I’ll spend the rest of mine reporting on sources that pertain to any subjects common to our family ties. I have faith that you’ll e-mail me any I may have missed. I look forward to beginning a big revision of my Memoir first draft in a few weeks. As I’ve said, there will be corrections, of course, and additions like photo albums appropriate to each chapter; video clips from as far back as 70 years ago; and more copies of artifacts like birth certificates and awards. My ultimate goal is to provide color copies of my work, apart from the internet, to family members who will accept them and public history institutions that have room. Stay tuned!
Move to: Chapter 5C – More Retirement Activities, One Last Move
Move to: Table of Contents
Last revised 7/4/22