Genealogy is a journey, not a project

Brian and his son, Garrett, asleep on the couch after a long day of genealogy research.

Brian and his son, Garrett, asleep on the couch after a long day of genealogy research.

Who knew six months could go by as quickly as it did?  From a time standpoint, my first blog seems like it was just a few weeks ago, but from a genealogy journey standpoint, it seems as far in the past as can be.  So much has happened, both personally and genealogically.

I had never been much of a writer prior to this experience, and while I still wouldn’t call myself a writer, I do feel I’ve improved greatly with practice.  Dare I say I started to enjoy writing after a while? As I wrote the early posts, I would often worry if I could keep it up.  How could I possibly make enough exciting discoveries to have enough to write about for six months, and how would I keep the readers engaged? Would Tyler, my editor, realize he had made a mistake in picking me, and thus let me go? I struggled with these questions for a bit before I realized that it’s not about making mind-blowing discoveries every week.  Who could possibly maintain that? It’s more about the stories along the way.  When I took the cemetery trip to Chicago to find the grave of my Great-great-grandfather Rocco Parotto, I was disappointed that there was no headstone.  But then I realized that the story behind him not having a headstone is just as interesting as it would have been if I’d found the headstone.

I began my assignment with several main goals, and am proud to say I feel I’ve accomplished most of them.  Six months ago I was a disorganized, unfocused “genealogist”.  Today I’ve got my files nicely organized, backed up and referenced in my tree with almost-proper citations.  I learned a great deal about what sources are available to me through the great courses I took, and also by being persistent and thinking outside the box in my searching.  The research-specific goals I had related to finding my ancestors’ homelands, learning more about Rocco Parotto, and finding out what happened to Nelson Blake from 1920 to his death in 1940.  Most of the ancestral towns of my family are no longer a mystery.  The Blakes hail from Dublin, Ireland, the Lindsays from Ballymacashin, County Down, Ireland, and the Parottos from an Italian town called Calvello, although I need to do a bit more research on that.

Rocco Parotto was a musician, who did his best to provide for his family, although he didn’t even make enough to afford a headstone for himself or for his first-born son, who passed away at a young age.  Nelson Blake had a falling out with his wife, and either left or was kicked out of the home between 1920 and 1930.  He stayed at various homes until he landed at Oak Forest Infirmary, where he died in 1940.

Looking back at some of the big activities in which I did partake, I realize that I really broke out of the Ancestry.com comfort zone.  I visited with relatives to interview them, worked with my great uncle to do a Lindsay DNA test, and went to see where the Parotto patriarch is buried.  The DNA test didn’t reveal any direct matches, and Rocco didn’t have a headstone, but I am hopeful the future will bring a DNA match, as well as a headstone for Rocco purchased by descendants he never even met (us).

I took Family Tree University classes on tracing my Irish & German roots, learning how to use Google Earth and court records, and many others.  Because of these classes I was able to find homelands, wills, pictures of actual homes, and too many other things to list.  While these classes, at times, were difficult to keep up with because of my busy schedule, the hard work was worth it because they were so beneficial to my research and development.  I can honestly say I wouldn’t have stumbled across many of the research findings that I did without them, and I know they will continue to pay dividends as I continue my research.

Of all these great activities, the ones I rank the highest are my trip to Detroit with my mom and aunt, and connecting with distant cousins online.  The Detroit trip was amazing, and though we found great articles and records, my best memory of the trip was walking with my mom and aunt through the streets of the town in Canada in which our ancestors kept a summer home.  It was a surreal experience to know they may have sat not far from where we did and looked out over the same view of the Detroit River.  Connecting with distant cousins was also a huge highlight for me.  It’s neat to build out the tree more with their help, to trade stories, and just to talk with them because not only are we family, but we share the same passion for genealogy.

Since I watch a lot of awards shows with my wife, I think it’s only appropriate that I thank a few people before I wrap up.  First, thank you to all the readers who followed my blog.  Thanks for sticking with a scatter-brained beginner.  Thanks for your comments and support.  Thank you to my editor Tyler, the Family Tree University instructors, and the Family Tree Magazine team.  It’s been a truly great experience for me.  I’ve learned so much about genealogy, my family, and about myself.  I appreciate the opportunity more than you know.  Finally, thanks to my wife for putting up with my six-month commitment.  I know it’s been a lot of late nights and the bags under my eyes are a little more pronounced, but I promise they’ll go away!

So the big question from my introduction is: Was I able to juggle this assignment, along with marathon training, work, fatherhood, family commitments, friends and being an attentive husband? Let’s see… My running miles are slowly increasing, and I still have a job that’s going well.  I was able to read to my son almost every night.  We are finally nearing the end of the busiest two months of our lives with time spent with friends and family.  And best of all, my wife and I managed to spend plenty of time together and had fun all the way.  Sleep may have been the only casualty in this journey, so I’d call it a success!

Next for me is an upcoming “presentation” to my Blake side of the family with my findings.  I’m looking forward to it, but I’m more excited about taking a long-awaited break after that.  I’m sure it won’t be for too long, but even a week will be nice.  A few days off of work, research, and hopefully social plans is just what the doctor ordered.  Then it’s back to my research, building out more branches of my tree, and who knows, maybe I’ll start my own blog at some point!  Crazier things have happened.  Writing a blog helped me to put stories to the facts of my research, and bring the trees to life.  The second most important lesson I learned is that family history research is about the stories, not just dates and facts.  And finally, the most important thing of all is that genealogy is a journey, not a project.  The story of family is never-ending and ever-evolving.  I wish everyone the best in your research and in your lives.  Thank you for following my story!


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Brian Parotto of Hampshire, Ill.


Here are some of the tools Brian used to launch his genealogy education. Check them out:

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