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Burb's Eye View: It's getting easier to find the right genes

January 17, 2012|By Bryan Mahoney

The steps leading down to the quiet storefront added to the intimidation. He remembers it not as a cellar, exactly, but it was a small, dense room underneath the street-level life pulsing away in the evening.

Leo Myers, then just a teen, approached the door looking for answers. He sought to expand the hobby that began one afternoon in a converted chicken house in Eureka, Calif., where his grandmother lived. One afternoon, she pulled out a trunk containing the treasures on which Myers would spend his free time for the rest of his life.

She scooped out photos like a pirate king might watch rubies pass through his fingers. With each snapshot Myers received a story, augmented by a scribbled description on the back. Each chemical-coated paper was another window into who he was and where he came from.

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It wasn’t enough. He sought more answers, and in his research he would find that answers often led to more questions. He read an ad for a meeting of the Southern California Genealogical Society — and it was here he stood opening the cellar door and officially entering his avocation.

“I felt like a little kid amongst the grown-ups,” said Myers, now 62. “But they were friendly, and very open.”

Today, the genealogical society is out of the basement and in its own building in Burbank just off Glenoaks. Upon entering the headquarters, I immediately relate to Myers’ first impression all those years ago.

It’s not exactly a library in the conventional sense, though every part of its DNA — the muted tones of collaboration, the rows upon rows of old books, and the alternating wall colors of beige and beige — holds that same gravitas of research.

Naively I approach the rack of books for New York state, thinking I might find my name or my family somewhere hidden in the hardbounds. The “New York Genealogical and Biological Record” is one of the shorter titles I find, and there I begin.

It is not an easy thing to navigate — its chapters meander between biography and phone book. “Incidental Intelligence” and “Thomas Cheesman, Shipwright of New York and His Family” contain no mentions of Mahoneys, and if I’m to find them in this or any other record on the shelves, I’ll need some help.

That, says society Director Paula Hinkel, is what the volunteers like her are there for.

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