Passion Spotlight: Genealogy

Every family’s got one — a long-ago relative with whom the family-history trail goes cold. The question for the genealogy enthusiast is what to do; the answer just may be: Join a genealogy club.

To be sure, genealogy clubs have not yet solved Sandra Crowley’s problem, her great-great uncle Arasapher — “my brick wall,” as she puts it — who’s eluded her research efforts for nearly 20 years. Just when Crowley thinks she’s got a lead on this 19th-century ancestor, “he disappears,” she says.

But Crowley’s not giving up on her genealogy network. Far from it. Instead, Crowley’s working to grow ties among enthusiasts as channel leader of GroupWorks’ Genealogy Channel.

“I do like to think of it as a virtual club,” Crowley says. “I try to give members new techniques to use [in their searches]. I get questions. I try to point them in the right direction.”Crowley brings a wealth of experience to the channel. The past president of the Dallas Genealogical Society, and current executive board member of the Texas State Genealogical Society, Crowley has been active in genealogical groups for some 20 years.

As a child, Crowley enjoyed studying history, and spending time with her large, extended family: She was virtually destined to be drawn to genealogy. One summer, some 30 years ago, she sat down with a grandmother, and started to sketch out a branch of her family tree.

“I honestly don’t remember when I wasn’t interested in family history one way or another,” Crowley says.

And though her career led her to a life on the road as an in-demand tech professional, a move to Texas in 2001 allowed her to put down roots, and, along the way, become more involved, if not engrossed, in genealogy.

“I knew what my family tree is — I knew a lot of it,” Crowley remembers. “The curiosity made me want to know more.”

It also led her to genealogical societies.

“I wanted to meet other people who were doing research, and to pay it forward [by preserving and sharing records and research] as a thanks for all the people who’d gone before me,” Crowley says. “Just as people created indexes years ago that allow me to find my ancestors, I want to help make sure data from today is available for our descendents years from now.”

If researching family history can be a solitary pursuit, then becoming involved in a like-minded, family-history club can be a game-changer.

“It’s particularly beneficial when you’re just getting started,” Crowley says. “You get tips from others. It’s always helpful to get somebody else’s perspective. If you’re stuck on a problem, sometimes sharing the information can help solve a problem. You may even find someone who’s searching for the same family.”

You may even find someone who’s solved their Arasapher.

“One society I belong to has a sharing session: Everyone gives a talk on a brick wall they’ve knocked through,” Crowley says. “It’s amazing the kind of stories you hear there.”

Crowley’s made some amazing finds herself: She says she’s traced some branches of her family back to the colonial United States of the 1600s — she’d always believed her ancestors had all immigrated from Ireland in the 1800s. “It was mind-blowing,” she says.

Ask a genealogy enthusiast like Crowley how far she hopes to trace her history back, and the reply is quick and sure: “As far as I can,” she says.

There will always be challenges. There will always be Arasaphers. And there will always be other detectives out there working on their own cases. If nothing else, there’s strength in numbers.

“It’s like [working] on a puzzle,” Crowley says. “You have to pull out all the pieces.”