A Change of Plans

I was quite literally in the middle of writing up today’s blog post, all nerdily excited to teach you a thing or two about weighted silk, when I was interrupted by some young researchers.  So, instead, I’m going to tell you about one of the reasons I love my job (don’t worry, you’ll hear about silk later!).


Map of Europe, 1830.

I first noticed them standing in front of the Waterman Research Center looking in the window at all the books.  When they came in, a little family group consisting of Mom, Grandma, and two brothers (maybe 6 and 9?), I expected that they were just interested in what this room is and what people do in here.  Boy was I wrong!

Mom signaled for the older of the two boys to ask his question, so he carefully pulled out a piece of paper and asked if I could help him find his great-grandparents.  The paper was a print-off of a ship manifest listing his grandfather and great-grandparents arriving in New York after leaving Germany in 1949.  They had left Lithuania a few years before when the boarder was being fought over by the Germans and Russians.

We walked over to the computers and I pulled up a chair beside him, leaving him in the computer “driver’s seat” to do the typing and the clicking.  We were soon searching around on Ancestry for anything we could find about these individuals…trying to discover the town they came from in Lithuania, birth dates, and death dates for great-grandma and great-grandpa.  It took a little digging, and quite a bit of passing on things that required you to know Lithuanian…as none of us did!

As he typed names into the search fields and clicked through the hits, I had the opportunity to teach our young researcher about what it means to be Naturalized (we found naturalization records), what an obituary is and what it might tell you (we found out great-grandma’s maiden name through one), and talked about how sometimes immigrants would be sponsored when they came to America and how they might even change their name if people found it hard to pronounce.

Although we didn’t end up finding all of the answers, we did find some death records that told us the great-grandparents’ birth dates, death dates, and where they were living at the time.  When we found great-grandma’s the young man turned to his mother and asked her please if he could take the printout for show and tell when school starts up again. 

I love the rare occasions when young researchers cross our threshold.  They have such a sense of wonder and awe at everything we find that I can’t help but smile.  This young man might not have found all of his answers, but he left with a new excitement to go home and ask grandpa so many questions that I can only hope he remembers them all!

History isn’t just about facts and objects, it is also about discovery.

And THAT is what I love about my job.

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About Karen

Karen DePauw is a Research and Collections Associate at The Connecticut Historical Society. Along with aiding patrons who visit the museum in their research efforts, Karen works behind the scenes with the costume and textile collection. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History, double minoring in Theatre and Theology, from Quincy University. Karen obtained her Master of Science degree at the University of Rhode Island in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Design, with a specialization in Historic Costumes and Textiles.

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