Interview with George Findlen

In less than 2 months, the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) conference will begin! If you have never been, I urge you to try to attend. The conference is biennial and the location rotates between the six New England states. My first experience with this conference was in 2015 when it was held in my home state of Rhode Island. NERGC 2017 was in Springfield, MA and it has been a long two years waiting for NERGC 2019 in Manchester, NH! There are so many lecture topics to choose from. Not to mention the luncheons and banquets with marvelous speakers… This year, I was given the opportunity to interview two of the conference presenters. Today’s post contains my interview with George Findlen.

 

How long have you been interested in genealogy? What sparked your interest?

I have been interested in genealogy since about 1999 when I retired. I wanted to understand why my father’s family (educated, socially and politically involved farmers) was so different from my mother’s family (uneducated, not socially or politically active farmers). By answering that question, I hoped to better understand what led me to become what I am, a researcher and teacher.

In your personal research, what is the most surprising thing you have discovered? The biggest brick wall you have overcome?

The most surprising event in my research has to do with a murder-suicide. The brother of an ancestor killed his wife and then shot himself. The fun, from a research point of view, came from looking at the values of the community and the teaching of the church. (It appears that the local Catholic priest refused to marry a couple who were cousins. So the couple got married before a justice of the peace in a neighboring township. Maine did not prohibit cousins from marrying. The couple and the woman who seems to be the local midwife [and her husband, my ancestor’s brother] may have been ostracized by members of the community. When a neighbor came to the house of the midwife, her husband forbade her going. She got her bag and left. Her husband followed, picked up an axe, and killed his wife with a blow to the head. He shot himself later that morning. I view the story as an insight into the power of the Catholic church and of local values in that community in that year.)

I do not think of myself as facing brick walls. Instead, I see myself as trying to make the best sense with limited documents. To that end, I have turned to local histories and social histories to help me fill out my ancestors’ lives.

As an attendee of several of your lectures, I can attest as to how beneficial and enjoyable they are. After each, I’ve come away with new knowledge and great ideas to apply to my own research. What do you enjoy most about lecturing and what do you hope your audience gets out of the experience?

I am a teacher at my core. I like to help people get what they want. My hobby horse goal as a teacher and genealogist is to beg Acadian and French-Canadian to go beyond family trees (names, places, and dates) and to look for documents that will tell them how their ancestors lived. Helping people make that shift is what most satisfies me.

You specialize in French Canadian and Acadian research. What prompted you to choose this focus? What are the biggest challenges?

I have just completed volume 1 of a family history of my lineage (4 generations from 1650 through 1800–the book is being laid out as I write this), and that has required that I do research in Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Maine. I will specialize in the blended Acadian / French-Canadian families of the Upper Saint John Valley since that is where my ancestors settled in 1785 and after. So my focus is on my mother’s lineage.

My largest challenge is that I live in Wisconsin, and the records I want to work with are in New Brunswick and Maine. I will be dependent on others for looking up records and on cousins who will put me up in a guest bedroom when I can to Aroostook County to do research on both sides of the border.

What does this year’s conference theme mean to you? What would you say to convince a first-timer to attend?

This year’s theme, “Families — link to the past, bridge to the future” is an excellent one-liner for what I am trying to do. I don’t think we can understand ourselves if we do not look at our past. Likewise, I don’t think we can formulate our hopes for the future if we do not look at the past. To the first-timer, I say, “Want to find your ancestors? Come to the NERGC. We’ll help you find them.”

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More details (and registration information!) can be found here. Register by February 28th to take advantage of the Early Bird discount. Hope to see you in Manchester!

 

George Findlen is a retired academic administrator who has served as a faculty member or administrator at nine colleges and universities in seven states over thirty years. In retirement, he has re-invented himself as a genealogist, becoming certified in 2005 and recertified in 2009 and 2014. In 2014, he became a certified genealogical lecturer. He researches Acadian and French-Canadian families in Eastern Québec, the Canadian Maritimes, and New England. In addition to researching his family, he writes articles for publication. His articles have appeared in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and genealogical society journals in New England, Louisiana, New Brunswick, and Québec. A recent effort describes the results of a DNA study which documents that the two Acadian Martin immigrants are not related. The article he is proudest of is “The 1917 Code of Canon Law: A Resource for Understanding Catholic Church Registers,” published in the June 2005 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. The article is the first ever in any language to explain how Roman Catholic canon law can explain unique parish register entries. He is currently writing a history of his Acadian lineage, a venture covering eight generations and 300 years of history. He likes to give talks to genealogists, and has addressed groups in four Upper Midwest states and has presented at regional and national conferences. He volunteers at the Wisconsin Historical Society Library where he helps visiting groups of genealogists, and he currently serves on the board of the National Genealogical Society where he chairs the Education Committee and serves on the editorial board of the NGSQ.

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