Jane Wilcox has been dabbling in the stories of the dead since she was a little girl. Now, she makes a living digging up births, marriages and graves to piece their tales together.
A lifelong genealogist descending from a grandmother who was the genealogist for the Daughters of American Revolution, Wilcox casts her family net all the way back to Charlemagne, the kings of England and the Plantagenets.
“I’m a story-teller,” she said. “History is dead if you’re just looking for dates, names. Most people do want the story. I want the story.”
Wilcox is a five-start rated expert member of the Association of Professional Genealogists. She’s the author of the biography From England to America: The Odyssey of the William and Margaret Wilcockson Family and host of “The Forget-Me-Not Hour: Your Ancestors Want Their Stories to Be Told” radio show on WHVW 950 AM radio inPoughkeepsie. (It can be heard online at BlogTalkRadio.com/JaneEWilcox.
Wilcox has also consulted for the producers of the police-procedural show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for a genealogy mystery TV pilot. Her work takes her between the Dutch inNew York City, Germans inAlbany,Philadelphia and Westchester, the Irish inKingston the Swedes inDelaware and beyond.
While the burgeoning availability of records on the Internet has sparked a surge in genealogy, it’s not all online. In fact, said Wilcox, don’t even go there. “Even though they have started digitizing records, so much of it is not accurate,” she said. “Websites offer your family tree. A lot of it is not documented or uses books published in the 1800s, early 1900s.”
So, what can you trust? Wilcox works with church records, county clerk records, vital records registered with municipalities, baptisms, death records, gravestones, obituaries and primary military records. “The closer you are to when the record was generated, you’ll have a higher chance of accuracy,” said Wilcox. “But it was more about survival than record-keeping.”
The Dutch kept excellent and detailed records, starting around 1600s, said Wilcox, whereas the other ethnicities or religious groups didn’t see the need, and so many records and statistics don’t even begin until the 1880s in New York, when state vital statistic laws mandating better record-keeping went into effect. Many church records have been lost or destroyed in fire, wars or floods. Some churches, like theBaptistChurch, don’t hold marriage records (the minister does). Wilcox said that she concludes a person is deceased around the date when the paper trail seems to be lost for about five years.