Why is genealogy important? Joey Caccarozzo says, “I think it is important to understand the decisions, challenges, and sacrifices that our ancestors made in order for us to be living our lives today.” For today’s spotlight, she shares how she got started in family history, school projects that inspired her, and the what she does now to share family history with her children. I met Joey at a genealogical society seminar in our area a few months ago. Despite being a busy mom of three working full time, she makes does family history research as a way to challenge her brain and forge connections with family members who have passed on. For those of us who aren’t sure how to make time for our family history research, she is an inspiration.
I am originally from Youngstown, Ohio. I graduated from Austintown Fitch High School in 1996. I went to Baldwin-Wallace College (now University) in 2000 with a BA in Criminal Justice and minors in Sociology, Political Science, and Business Management. I then went straight to law school at the University of Akron School of Law and graduated in 2003. I work full-time as an attorney in the immigration field. I worked on the South Texas border for over 5 years, worked 3.5 yrs in Baltimore, then came to Tucson approximately 4 years ago. While I was in Texas I obtained an MS in Criminal Justice in 2008. I am married with three young kids. I have a very sweet dog and my mom lives down the street – she is such a huge help. My husband is also very supportive in watching the kids so I can attend seminars or research at my local family history center.
How did you get started in family history? Do you remember an initial “spark” or incident that inspired you? Did you have any experiences as a child/teen in school or at home that helped you be more inclined toward family history?
My interest in research my family’s history began when I was pregnant with my second child in early 2011. Several things influenced my decision to begin my research. At the time, I lived away from family. I missed relatives that had passed on and wished they were able to be a part of my children’s lives. Finally, my day job changed drastically. My job changed from a very stressful but personally rewarding career to just a job. Family history research helped to fill the void.
I had several experiences in school that helped me to be more inclined toward family history. One of my assignments in elementary school was to create a family tree. I only traced my maternal line, but I remembered every ancestor’s name I put in that chart.
During middle school, I had an assignment to interview a grandparent. I interviewed my paternal grandmother. A photo of my grandmother and I, as well as a description of the event, was published in our local newspaper. I found the original report a couple weeks ago and my daughter enjoyed reading the interview, in which my grandmother talked about her nicknames, how she got along with her siblings, and what she did for fun as a child and a teenager.
What mentors influenced you to get started in family history and genealogy research?
My maternal grandmother. She died when I was 18, long before I became interested in tracing my family history. However, she left very detailed worksheets, as well as, detailed birth and burial records. I did not realize she was the family historian until I found letters from her sisters and other more distant family members sending her documents or just information to help her with her family history research. I feel close to my grandmother by continuing her legacy.
Why do you do genealogy? Why do you think it’s important?
Genealogy is so challenging. It really makes my brain work. My ancestors hail from Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Slovak Republic, Ukraine, and France. It is difficult to familiarize myself with all the different records available and learn how to read those documents.
I think it is important to understand the decisions, challenges, and sacrifices that our ancestors made in order for us to be living our lives today. I constantly try to link our ancestors’ stories with what my eldest daughter learns in school or on the news. For example, when Pope Francis visited the United States, I told my daughter that the Swiss Guard is an elite fighting unit that protects the pope and her 8th great grandfather was an officer in the Swiss Guard, assigned to Fort Mobile in Alabama in the early 1700s. I showed her photos of the uniforms the Swiss Guard wore and drawing of what the fort looked like when her great grandfather served there.
What is the most rewarding part of researching your family’s history?
The most rewarding part is sharing my family history with my relatives and sparking an interest in them to do some of their own research or dig out old photos.
What has been the most difficult part of your genealogical journey?
Two things – lack of time and inability to travel much. I work full-time and I have three young children. I do not have large blocks of time to research my family history. I wish there were many more hours in the day!
What are your research interests?
Testing DNA of family members and working with the results to try to identify known relatives. I also really enjoy trying to identify old photographs and tracking down descendants of the relatives pictured in the photographs.
How do you preserve your family history?
I created scrapbooks for my school years and exciting trips I have taken. I put together a yearly photobook that exhibits my family’s special events throughout the year. My main family tree I keep on Ancestry.com and invite other family members to upload photos and documents. I make sure that every document or photo I obtain is digitized and kept in archival quality sleeves and placed into a binder.
What is your favorite way to share genealogy and family history with others?
I belong to a couple private family Facebook groups where we share photos and information. I have a private YouTube channel where I share family movies with my friends and relatives. My future plans include holding periodic virtual family reunions through Google Hangouts and starting a blog to try to encourage my family to become more involved in tracing our shared family history.
If you had all the time in the world to spend on family history, what would you do?
I would visit with all of my known relatives that I have not seen in a while. I would record them telling stories and scan any photos or documents they have. I would also spend a lot of time in Europe digging through church books, visiting archives, and walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.
What’s the best discovery you’ve made about your family?
My 8th great grandfather’s plantation home has been restored and opened as a museum last year. This summer my family and I will tour his former residence.
Who is your most interesting ancestor?
My maternal grandmother is my most interesting ancestor. She was the only one of her family to leave the New Orleans area. At age 21 ventured out to Baton Rouge to work as a stenographer. Then she moved back to New Orleans to work for General Electric. I have an article from General Electric’s employee newsletter as the first woman from General Electric to join the military as a Navy WAVES in World War II. During the war she worked in Washington, D.C. At one point she was a model in advertisements for a whiskey company. After the war, she married my grandfather and after a few years she moved to Ohio where she was an owner-operator of a gas station and corner store. She definitely took chances and lived her life to the fullest.
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