Saturday, June 18, 2011

What Exactly Do I Research?

I think a lot of times people aren't really sure what I do and who I do it for.  So I thought I would put it out there so you could understand my research focus better. 

The over-arching broad theme of what I do revolves around Southern New England - the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  (I loosely research all of New England but my real focus is southern New England.)

That means that nearly everything I do has to do with one of those three states.

Within that, I have three main research interests - house histories, African American history/genealogy and 17th & 18th gravestones.  My interest in those three categories is restricted to New England, though I do background reading beyond those borders to expand my understanding of the topics.

The ultimate project for me involves an old house where an African American lived and has a gravestone nearby.  I was lucky enough to do a project like that this year.  Not too many of those come around.

What I do for money

Professionally I call myself a house historian.  It might be more accurate to call me an historical researcher who is a house historian, genealogist, local historian, speaker and writer.

I take paid clients who want the history of their houses researched.  I will be doing less of this in the future as I spend more of my time focusing on writing.

I also take genealogical research projects that specifically focus on probate, deed, tax record or town record book research.  I do not take genealogical research projects in the sense that I will not trace anyone's genealogy.  I will take genealogy projects for folks who need to answer specific questions that fall within the realm mentioned and know exactly what they are looking for.

I will also do antique provenance research and background research for books and films.

Lastly, I do public speaking for a fee.  My topics run the gamut of my interests.  Typically half of the talks I give are house history talks and the other are genealogical talks on a wide variety of topics.  I don't make much doing public speaking.  It mostly covers my expenses.  

What I do for fun

I photograph 17th and 18th century gravestones every chance I get.  If I find myself in a new town I get my camera out and see what I can find.  Living in New England there is no shortage of historic cemeteries.  My main motivation is to preserve the gravestones for future generations because the weather and acid rain are slowly destroying these historic stones.  But I also really enjoy learning about the carvers and the art and being able to make connections between them.  I will always be amazed how walking through an old cemetery is like coming face to face with generations of a town's early citizens.  I don't like new cemeteries. I steer clear of those.  In my mind new cemeteries are about death and old cemeteries are about history.  I stick with history!

I photograph old houses and walk through them any chance I get.  My camera is at the ready all the time to photograph houses that are about to fall down, be torn down, have beautiful architecture or are "naked" because they are under reconstruction or rehabilitation.  I particularly love naked houses because they allow me to see what the house looked liked when it was originally constructed and the changes that have been made to it.

I also research my own family history for fun. I don't get to do this all that much but I am trying to do more of it lately.  Most of my ancestors come from New York or Pennsylvania.  It's not easy for me to do onsite research in either of those locations because of the distance but I imagine as my kids get older it will be easier to do that.  I'm also interested in finding ways to make family history fun so that more members of my family can become interested in learning their family history.

I keep a few research projects on the back burner constantly simmering along.  Mostly these are projects involving African Americans in New England.  I'm trying to learn as much as possible about the early history of African Americans in New England because I feel it is a topic that has been too long overlooked.

Lastly, I like to meet other genealogists, local historians, historic house nuts and preservationists.  I like to go to meetings and conferences and learn from other people and get excited by their shared passion for history. I love to go to talks about stuff that has nothing to do with the things I research.  I find it relaxing and it broadens my knowledge.

I also like to blog, meet genealogists across the country and the world through Facebook and Twitter and generally keep up with everything that is happening in the genealogical community.

Any Questions?

I think that pretty much sums up what I do. I hope I'm not forgetting anything. If you have any questions or your curiosity is piqued, leave a comment or send me an email. 

Or just let me know that you are interested in the same things that I am.  It's fun to meet people with the same interests.


  1. Very interesting to know what you are about Marian. Thanks so much for sharing.


  2. I'm amazed at all you do do, with the family size you have! Thanks, Marian, for illustrating that it's possible! :-)

  3. Alice - it's about multi-tasking. If an out of town soccer game takes me to a new location, I steal away for a few minutes and photograph the local cemetery and historic houses. It's all about mental prerparation and keeping David Allen Lambert's book handy! :)