Side Hustle: Constructing a Genealogy with Mark Mayo
Over 20 years ago, Mark Mayo’s grandmother handed him a copy of the family Bible that listed direct descendent lines and a few dates. After some investigating, he found that the information turned out to be mostly accurate. He began devoting some spare time to looking for more detailed information on different generations. Now, years later, he has traced a direct line about 11 generations back, to around 1650 in Colonial Virginia.
Pre-Internet, Mayo’s research sometimes physically took him to the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), and Mormon Family Research Centers. Mayo found the process more frustrating than intimidating. He would find a bit of intriguing information, but not quite enough. When information became accessible online, research got a lot easier. Currently, he has 1000 names in his database.
“Instead of having piles and piles of boxes of papers or sorting them into folders by family groups, you can now scan so much of this information and put it into your online database,” Mayo says. “Other people can see it, share it, comment, and may have additional information that can help you.”
Not only has Mayo found new details or verified information, but he has clarified family history details as well.
“One of my family stories is that we’re related to John Hancock, which we are. But it’s not the John Hancock who signed the Declaration of Independence. It’s just some other guy named John Hancock,” Mayo says. “If there are three Solomon Mayos, someone may pick the wrong one to attach the data to. You have to verify that information. If you type in ‘John Smith,’ good luck because there are a couple of hundred John Smiths, and not all of them were founders of the New England colonies.”
Mayo has uncovered a 1963 letter that his grandmother wrote to her daughter on her thirtieth birthday on what life was like in 1933 when they were in the middle of the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression in Oklahoma (the letter was accepted into the Dust Bowl Collection of the Oklahoma State Historical Society). He got a story from a cousin about his maternal grandmother, a protestant, who married a Catholic, to the chagrin of her father. Through clandestine means, she took Catholic classes to convert.
Constructing a genealogy may seem daunting—without question, it is a significant amount of work—but Mayo encourages people to just start with a simple family tree. Fill in as much information as possible about your immediate family, collect oral histories, then start working your way back. This can be an even tougher challenge for African-Americans, who are often only able to trace back a few generations because they are descended from kidnapped Africans who were forced into slavery.
“I watch a lot of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS and he has talked a lot about this. My grandson is bi-racial and even though I have a little bit of information about his father’s parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, it ends there,” Mayo says.
He says ancestral DNA test kits and oral histories can help fill in these gaps. DNA tests estimate what populations your ancestry comes from (though there are limitations) and may link you to 2nd and 3rd cousins or other relatives you did not know you had. Oral histories are valuable because they can add context or lead to additional information. In fact, Mayo has recently begun asking his relatives for stories rather than just dates.
And after all these years of research, Mayo still learns tips new to him.
“I’m trying to find information about my grandfather and great-grandfather, both of whom may have participated in the Oklahoma land rushes,” Mayo says. “I started looking at land records, which is something I never bothered to look at before. There’s also a site called Find a Grave. People take pictures of grave markers in cemeteries and submit them. If you know a name, date, and place, it could be on there.”
Mark Mayo is a healthcare consultant involved in the development, establishment, and operation of ASCs for over 30 years. He is a former board member of the American Association of Ambulatory Surgery Centers and is currently working on the development and licensure of an ophthalmology surgery center.