Anyone who knows me is aware I'm from Buffalo. I'm proud of where I'm from and being from Buffalo is an important part of my sense of self. If you've heard me speak about my family history, you know I'm a mutt. German, French, Italian, English, Polish, Canadian, Luxembourgian, and Belgian (like the waffle.) My ancestors came to the western New York area in the early to mid-1800s, some stopping in Canada first, so no Mayflower or Revolutionary War ancestors for me. Which leads to the lecture I heard last night.
The Western New York Genealogical Society sponsored 2 lectures last night by John Philip Colletta, a renowned genealogist and speaker. His first lecture was on the Erie Canal; I've heard this a time or two before and it's a great one, but it was his second lecture that made me want to write. Titled "An Italian-German-French-Swiss American Boy’s Story: Genealogy in Buffalo in the 1960s," John talked about being a new genealogist as a tween/teen living in Buffalo. In the 1960s, genealogy was all about getting back to your Mayflower and Revolutionary War ancestors, which was seen in the first book he got out of the library on the subject, "Searching for Your Ancestors: The How and Why of Genealogy" by Gilbert Harry Doan.
So John went off in search of his ancestors, planning to get to those who arrived in 1630 like Gilbert's, and found, well, nothing. He talked about his research at a church and in the library, about talking to family members and flipping through census microfilm. Finally, one day, he headed to the cemetery where he found his ancestors, surrounded by other people whose names he knew. He searched in Sanborn maps and city directories and found more ancestors. He eventually realized that he may not have had those ancestors who came over before we had a country, but that his family looked like those all around him in Buffalo and that that was even better than what he had started to search for.
He talked about those people who settled Buffalo and Erie County, those who came from Baden, Wurttemberg, Alsace, Lorraine, Luxembourg, and Poland. As he mentioned these places, I teared up, because they were my people, too. There are no kings or Revolutionary War heros, but there are farmers and coopers and gardeners and railroad men and even an innkeeper or two. People who are like me, who lived and worked and raised their families and helped their neighbors.
John mentioned how much genealogy has changed over the past 50 years. He never knows what ancestry people will have in his audiences and he's been changing his lectures to be more inclusive of all ethnicities (my one recommendation here is for him to not use "ladies and gentleman" to be inclusive of all genders). He also mentioned his book "Finding Your Italian Roots. The Complete Guide for Americans," which came out in 1994 and was actually either the first or second genealogy book I ever bought (along with Unpuzzling Your Past), and how books and classes for different ethnicities continue to expand.
I don't know if John does this lecture widely or if he wrote it just for us, but if you get the chance to see it, please do.