I graduated from an excellent college preparatory school run by the Episcopal nuns of the Order of St. Helena.  Margaret Hall School, Versailles, KY, gave me a fine secondary education, and when I see what children are being taught these days, I cringe.  I studied Latin, French, the usual high school mathmatics, English lit and comp, the usual histories, the usual sciences, and various theological subjects, including church history.

Oh, how I detested history… at the time.  I guess in order to really understand the importance of history, one has to be old enough to tell a youngster, “When I was a child…”  Now I have grandchildren.  I see what passes for “Social Studies” and…  I digress.

My own interest in history  was kindled when a relative gave me a copy of the family trees of my great-great grandparents.  All of those people, Shumways and Paines, had arrived before 1700 and most arrived before 1640.  That was in the late ’60’s, and I lived in a small town with a poor library, near a small city with a library that wasn’t much better.  Then Dad gave me a copy of our Gates genealogy, pointing out that the English origins of our Stephen Gates of Hingham, as told in that work, were “hooey.”  When Grandmother Gates died, I received a copy of her Farley/Coolidge line, and her D.A.R. membership certificate.  When Grandmother Smith died, three velvet-covered albums of old photographs came into my hands.  Some of those old photos were tintypes!  There was also an old and faded Bigelow family tree, with the work done by my Great-grandfather Smith, finished in about 1900.

There I was, busy earning a living as a registered nurse and raising two children, so I couldn’t do much about any of it then, but at last, when my daughter married and I had two grandchildren, it became quite important to me to record and document the family’s travels from 1620 onward, and to make notes about the part that these people played in the history of our Republic.

My husband, the first immigrant in the family since 1850, has not shared my genealogy interest to any great extent, but he has been quite tolerant of my outbursts of both joy and frustration as I worked on my tree.  He even accompanied me on a camping trip to Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts to do “cemetery crawls” to locate graves. 

When I boot up the computer to go hunting for the information that might tear down a “brick wall,” I often think about how much work my great-grandfather Smith put into his tree, and how painfully slow that work must have been for a man living in a rural area outside a town in Louisiana. 

I should say something about people’s motives for doing genealogies.  Some people need to find notable kin in the ranks of Revolutionary War soldiers, or Mayflower passengers or European Royalty, and they will “fudge” a connection if it suits them.  Some people want to build huge computer databases and don’t care much about the People whose names are in them.  There are a lot of people like me though, and we are detectives.  We don’t care much where the truth takes us, because it’s the truth that really matters, and accuracy is everything.  The joy, when we do it OUR way and discover something that had been lost, is quite overwhelming.

That is why I start this blog with the tearing down of a “brick wall” that has stopped me for eight years:  the identity of Mary Denison, wife of Daniel Wise.

While the research for this project was entirely mine, the help I have received from Joanne Langdon, the Denison Society’s genealogist, has been beyond price.   Over and over again, she has helped me proof-read and edit the material I have written.  So here’s to my friend Joanne!  Patient and supportive, she’s a gem!

Sarah Gates Sully

Published on May 1, 2009 at 7:15 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This blog is principally for genealogy and American history. It begins with the most exciting “brick wall” in my own family tree, and perhaps it will help others who have been banging their heads against the same wall!

    Please be patient with me while I navigate the learning curve!

  2. Hi, Sarah,

    I saw your post on the Denison message board and I thought I’d say, “Hello”. I am the assistant genealogist for the Denison Society and Joanne Langdon is the official genealogist. Nancy Hauser, who is a former genealogist, manages the message board where you left your message.

    I have a blog which contains many Denison gravestones of the Stonington, CT area.


    I am five times a descendant of Capt. George. I will look over your blog with great interest. Are you planning to post gravestone photos?

    Midge Frazel

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