“Beginner’s Luck”

Multnomah County Library

In 1948 my parents packed up and moved across the country from New York City to Portland, Oregon. They intentionally moved far away from any family members so that they could reinvent themselves. Genealogy and family stories didn’t interest them when I was growing up. They were part of the post-War West Coast immigrants making a break from the ethnic enclaves of the East.

However, my grandfather in Buffalo, New York was very intrigued with the history of his family. He had known both his father and his grandfather very well and undoubtedly knew many family tales. Sadly, by the time I inherited what little research he had done, he was no longer alive. I had caught the bug from his rough notes and decided to take up where he had left off.

Before the internet, research could only be done in person or in the library. I went to the local library to its genealogy section and grabbed a bound volume of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society Journal off the shelf. I looked in the index for his name “Carpenter” and for my grandmother’s maiden name “Durham.” To my astonishment there was a lengthy article tracing the descendants of Major Benjamin Woodward. And at the end of the article was my grandmother. There I learned for the first time of her Aunt Lucy who had gone as a Presbyterian missionary to Canton, China.

I was hooked. But that was the last time that such a wealth of information came with so little effort!

26 thoughts on ““Beginner’s Luck”

    1. Lacking the word of mouth for the most part I began with actual written correspondance to towns around the country where I knew my grandparents had lived. Then on to microfilm and fiche.


  1. Fascinating stuff, Elizabeth. We have a couple of people in our family that love doing genealogy research. Thank goodness it’s far more accessible today.

    By the way, the photo of the Multnomah County Library made me think of Multnomah Falls that my nephew and his wife took us to the last time we were in Portland. Very impressive! I’ll bet you visited there when you used to live out west.


    1. Multnomah Falls has a great dining room lit by a huge wood fireplace. Charlie and I used drive out there on Saturday mornings now and then. I ate the oatmeal and he eggs and bacon. Wonderful place. Now it so overrun they are instituting timed entry passes for the summer.


  2. I used to go to the small Local History library in south London, close to London Bridge. They had microfiche records that were free to look at. I managed to trace some of my dad’s family back to the early 1800s as birth/death records were kept in church parishes. Sadly, most of those had been destroyed during WW2, or long before that during the Great Fire of London in 1666.
    The most distant relative I found mention of was listed as a ‘Horse Handler’ in a coaching inn in Southwark. I discovered much later that this was a self-employed job where men would offer to water the horses of coachmen while they ate their meal. It only paid a penny or two each time, and they had to compete fiercely with other ‘handlers’ trying to get the same job.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  3. I am not much for tracking my genealogy, but I do find it fascinating. I would have thought tracking anyone’s ancestors would be easier now with technology at our fingertips than back in the days of searching through libraries.


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