The desire to learn about one's ancestors is a powerful draw for many -- and Long Islanders are no exception.
Proof of this yearning was evident when the National Archives and Records Administration released online the 1940 census containing responses from individuals, and people rushed to view it. The census data, the first to be released on the Internet, had been kept confidential for 72 years. Under the weight of 37 million hits, the agency's website -- 1940census.archives.gov -- crashed April 2 within hours of going live.
That curiosity has remained strong. Weeks later, the website still was getting 20 million hits a day, Dorothy Dougherty of the National Archives' New York regional office told more than 100 members of the German Genealogy Group at its meeting last month in Hicksville.
Joysetta Pearse, of Freeport, co-founder of the African Atlantic Genealogical Society, called the 1940 census a key resource "because it really has accounted for so many people." Lack of documentation can confound the search for an ancestor, she said, noting that birth records weren't even a requirement until 1915.
In a time when vital records are shielded by privacy laws for anywhere from 50 to 75 years, the census can help locate family members, often providing information about an entire unit, said Terry Koch-Bostic, a professional genealogist from Mineola.
The four Long Islanders whose stories of discovery appear Saturday in the news section and in Act 2 say they will share these tales with their children and grandchildren to keep family connections alive for future generations. Mark Waldron, one of the four, said his immersion into genealogy began in 1994, when he came across a book at his in-laws' home that traced their family tree. "I said, 'I can do that,' " he recalled.
So he began, motivated by the 50th wedding anniversary of his parents, Virginia and Norman Waldron, in December that year. The result: a 20-foot scroll of paper recording the family history he knew about then.
Now, the family tree is up to about 5,000 direct and indirect relations, he said, and dates to "almost" the Mayflower.
Waldron, 65, of Kings Park, wasn't expecting any revelations from the 1940 census. He had hopes of finding a record of his mother, 92, searching for her as an occupant of her parents' house on the south side of 103rd Avenue and 114th Street in Queens, in what the family always called Richmond Hill but the census called Ozone Park.
He was a bit disappointed not to find that address at all.
"They seemed to have skipped it," Waldron said of the long-ago census taker. "Her house is number 4 on the south side, 113-04, and the census taker did Number 2 and Number 10."
His great-grandmother, Sophia Bieg, lived on the north side of 103rd Avenue, along with other relatives. They were recorded in the 1940 census.
"My great-grandmother was living in this house on the north side of 103rd Avenue with one of her daughters and her daughter's husband," he said. "She moved out at some point and my parents moved into that house" with his mother's parents. It was the house in which he spent the first five years of his life.
Waldron's father and paternal grandmother show up on the census two blocks away from his mother's family, living over a store on Liberty Avenue.
The census said his father worked as an electrician's helper for the Long Island Rail Road, earning $780 the prior year.
Waldron's paternal grandmother, Anna Waldron, was a 44-year-old widow and made her living as a "machine operator [of] men's collars," as the census records it. Waldron said his grandmother was a seamstress. She made $500 the prior year.
Waldron, an electrical engineer who retired from KeySpan but now does consulting work for National Grid, said his genealogy work has led to the discovery of cousins he didn't know he had. He and his wife, Betty, are vacationing with three of them this summer.
Making the connections, he mused, is "a sense of accomplishment to, you know, pull the family together that never was."