Secrets of the Past

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She’s a mild-mannered children’s librarian by day; by night, she dons another persona. She is an investigator sifting out the secrets of long dead people. She is Wendy Taylor: Miss Wendy at the library who is also an intrepid genealogist.

Photo provided by Jackie Hemond
Children’s Librarian Wendy Taylor, outfitted here for that job, has also become a competent genealogist.

Wendy’s grandmother belonged to the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) which served flavorful cookies during their dry meetings. Grandma talked incessantly about ancestors and introduced Wendy to too many cousins. To a little girl, family history was not interesting. But the grown-up girl became interested. Wendy found stories hidden in the dry dust of the past. Little by little she got hooked by the genealogy bug.

A video, called Belonging: Finding Your Legacy was produced by the Connecticut State Library and filmed at our library. In it, Mark Kittrell discusses the difficulties of African American genealogy and the joy of finding people like Wendy, who help him. Wendy is also in the film. She talks about her desire to find something, no matter how small, which connects to an ancestor. The video was viewed at the Roots Tech Conference, the largest family history conference in the world with over 1.1 million people attending on-line in March.

Here are some of Wendy’s small scraps of information.

“I once had someone ask for *something* about his great grandfather. All I could tell him was that he might have had only one thumb due to blood poisoning. Then I found that he farmed tobacco, his original Lithuanian name was on a tobacco sale! Checking the births of his children, I discovered the town of his birth. Then, I unearthed two brothers who came to America — no one knew about them!

“I found one person’s grandma on gut instinct, without any proof. I called several states. I completed the entire family tree, without any proof of who she was. It took me a year, almost to the day, but finally someone pointed me to a memoir written by her cousin — and that was all the proof I needed.

“My 3x great grandmother had a brother who was born in Brooklyn, but joined the Civil War in Mexico, under an alias. His pension record with the alias was on Ancestry. Then I saw an entry under his true name. Since his father had died and he wasn’t married, his mother applied for his pension. A letter with his signature was submitted by his sister, proving that he enlisted under an alias. Later, a niece requested information on his war service. A cousin signed some affidavits. In the end, I found the soldier, his two sisters and a *five* volume set on the family’s genealogy. Five. Volumes.

“For a distant cousin, I found a census record for his great-great grandfather. He was Irish – but the family he lived with was Italian. It didn’t make sense. Looking at the actual census page, I noticed a tiny notation. He wasn’t living with the Italian family. He lived on a different street, ten pages away from his real family — who owned a hotel complete with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins! I found three generations all at once!

“Another 3x great grandmother, from Suffield, had a brother who purportedly died in the American Civil War. One day, a family member found his photo, with his name — he was a *twin* brother! He had enlisted in Longmeadow. But on each record his name was spelled differently until his name was totally changed. He must have had an awesome Irish accent. The newspaper reported that he was wounded on his side in Spotsylvania. The Norfolk hospital records show that his wound was in his groin; perhaps a location too indelicate to mention in the 1860s. He lived for a few days, then died and was buried in Virginia with the wrong spelling of his name. His “effects” were cataloged by the hospital. He had a signet ring. I wonder where the ring ended up.

“I have been able to prove parentage through journal entries despite no birth records. I have been able to find marriages in church records, not logged by the town clerk. You just never know what genealogical treasure you will find.”

Wendy is very humble about the video, but beams about her genealogy successes. She is both a very popular Children’s Librarian and a sought-after genealogist. Video link:

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