How I became a genealogist: Part Two

Alicia Crane WilliamsI am the last woman in six generations of my umbilical line (which is as far back as I’ve been able to trace). My mother’s mother, Alice Mason Crane, for whom I was named (I was going to be Alice, too, but Gram didn’t want to be called “Big Alice”), inherited generations of family material from her ancestors and from her husband’s family. All of the Bibles, letters, photographs, and more ended up in her home in Natick, Massachusetts. After she lost her only son in World War II, she spent the next years sorting this material and typing it – with four carbon copies for her grandchildren (she had also trained as a secretary) – into a genealogy. She created identical photograph albums for everyone with pictures from all of the family portraits, old photos, houses, and antiques that she had inherited. She and my grandfather, Ed Hawes, took trips around New England to photograph gravestones, churches, and buildings.

After Gram’s death in 1962, Mom tried to pick up the work, but she was then living in Minnesota and later Missouri, so when I decided to go to Katharine Gibbs, Mother’s eyes lit up – that’s only a few blocks away from the NEHGS library! For the year I was at Katy Gibbs, she sent me assignments to do in the library. I didn’t mind and I particularly liked making charts. But my heart was still with the horses.

Where I got the idea I don’t remember – I was a kid who was so shy I had panic attacks – but I decided to send out my new Katy Gibbs graduate resume to several Thoroughbred horse farms in Florida and Kentucky, and, stunningly, I was hired at the most prestigious farm in the world at that time – Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. How, you ask, did that happen? The lady who was in charge of hiring had a daughter who went to Katharine Gibbs. I even got points for wearing my hat to the interview.

My two years as an executive secretary to Mr. “Bull” Hancock of Claiborne Farm were exciting, and I loved every minute of looking out my office window at horses in the pasture, typing million dollar stallion contracts, and recording the breeding and births of every foal – note: I was at the farm before Secretariat got there – but I also realized that I wanted to be home with my family, so I returned to New England.

So what did the farm have to do with genealogy?  Well, what do Thoroughbred horses have that genealogists’ use? Pedigree charts! It was part of my job to type the five generation charts for every horse on the farm.

Next, how I got a job at NEHGS forty years later.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia is the lead genealogist on the new NEHGS study project, Early New England Families, 1641-1700. Prior to joining the NEHGS staff, she compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant, the Alden Family Five Generations project, and the Harlow Family : Descendants of Sgt. William Harlow (1624/5-1691) of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University. In October 2016, Alicia was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists.

15 thoughts on “How I became a genealogist: Part Two

  1. I never made the connection but my parents and grandparents raised purebred Holstein cattle from the 1920s until 1965, with the pedigree!! And I grew up showing cattle at the county fair. Maybe that is where I got the “bug” for genealogy.

  2. I’ve always thought that my life-long obsession with breeding and showing giant schnauzers directly triggered interest in my own lineage. Once the computer age began and it was suddenly easier to access records and share info and tips with other researchers, I was hooked!

  3. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all you have written for Vita Brevis. I am reading my father’s diaries from 1912 to 1985, presently reading 1934, so my interest is not in genealogy specifically. You write of what rings true to me and sometimes relates to other work I do to make the information in the diaries more understandable. Your sense of humor is delightful and is the extra treat. By now, I’ve been hooked. I’m ready for the next phase after the horse farm. Sometime tell us if you still ride horses!

  4. Very interesting. I guess we all came by different routes to our interest in our ancestors. My great regret is that I did not write down all the wonderful stories my grandmother told me and my sister about her growing up years in Minnesota. We have been unable to reconstruct them in any detail

    1. Deane, My mother told me many stories that I have either forgotten or that I find my memory has not quite remembered correctly, but fortunately, she also wrote a lot of them down in letters to me — she loved to write letters.

  5. I am at the point your grandmother was when she started–trying to get together all the information and pictures I have inherited, in a coherent manner, for my granddaughters. As I am in my 70’s I feel a bit of pressure to wade through 140+ years of family pictures, etc., and create stories on the ancestors so they will understand their roots. (Not to mention making lists of who gets what and what goes to historical societies and museums.) Becoming the oldest in the family carries with it a responsibility I didn’t really key into when I started tracing the family tree in the late ’90’s.

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed this story, especially as I live about 30 miles from the farm where Secretariat was born and raised in Caroline County, Va. Ever since I read a biography many years ago of the famous racehorse Sir Archie, I have been oddly fascinated by thoroughbred pedigrees. They are every bit as entertaining to me as human lines of descent. I think your job working with those would have been quite interesting.

    1. Mike, lovely country in Virginia. When I was about twelve, I saved 50 cents a week until I had $7.50 to subscribe to “The Thoroughbred Record,” and have studied the pedigrees ever since.

  7. Alicia, your recounting how you were hired at the Claiborne farm echoes the experience of so many graduates I encountered while researching Katharine Gibbs: Beyond White Gloves. Graduates were hired immediately because people knew the quality work that would be produced. Often there was a family connection also. A Gibbsonian, the alumnae magazine, mentions a graduate who breeds thoroughbreds for a living. I will find her name. Perhaps she is the daughter of the woman who hired you.

    1. Hi Rose,

      The lady who hired me was the Office Manager, so her daughter is not involved in the Thoroughbred Industry, but it would be interesting to find out who the graduate in the Gibbsonian is. I do exchange Christmas cards with one of the daughters of my old boss at the farm, who very kindly keeps me on the mailing list for the farm calendar each year.

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