Reunion 2002, Allan Green, History of the WRG
History of the Whitney Research Group
by Allan E. Green
[Presented 9 Aug 2002]
My name's Allan and I'm a genea-holic! First thing I need to do is tell you about something I did which was incredibly stupid. You remember those lovely little refrigerator magnet things that we were given when we registered. I put mine in my shirt pocket, right next to my room key! Guess what? I had to go to the front desk and get my room key remade. I guess if that's the worst mistake I ever made, I'm not too bad off.
How many of you had the scrod tonight? For how many of you was it your first time? Three or four of us. My experience with the scrod tonight for the first time put me in mind of a story I once heard. It seems that there was a gentleman who was flying into Logan Airport who had heard of scrod all of his life, and he had never previously had the opportunity to visit the northeast. So, when he arrived at the airport and claimed his luggage, he found a taxicab and said to the cabbie, "Take me someplace where I can get scrod." The cabbie looked at him, and this was his reply. "I ve been hacking in Cambridge and Boston for almost twenty years, and that is the first time I have ever heard anybody ask for it in the pluperfect subjunctive!" Scrod -- it was an interesting experience, let's just leave it at that!
Can I ask, how many of you were around and can remember the days when we each tried to keep an up-to-date list of everybody else's e-mail addresses? I know you [Jan Whitaker] were there, and I know Robert, and then Marion, and Mike Poston, sure. Well, as part of the preparation for this, I dug out a letter that I sent to everybody else on the list -- there was no "Research Group" then -- dated April 14, 1996. It's got quite a list of addressees, here, and we were getting along pretty well except that some were better than others about keeping up with all the additions and drop-offs and so on in the list. I kept getting e-mail notes saying, "I don't want to participate anymore, but people keep sending me those e-mails," or, "Why do I get things only from you and Jeanne Muse?"
It was becoming apparent that we needed to grow up and move from just simply copying address lists, to a LISTSERV, but I was not particularly anxious to take on the task. Ginny and I were preparing for a long-delayed trip to England and the Continent. We were, among other things, going to spend six or seven weeks touring England and visiting the Public Record Offices in Hereford, and in various other counties like Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Shropshire and so on. We were also planning on at least two weeks in the library of the Society of Genealogists in London. Then we had some sightseeing and other things to do, and we were going to go over to the Continent and visit some of our other ancestral sites, such as the tiny little village of Durrenmoos in the Swiss Alps overlooking the Zurichsee. I kind of left things in the most wonderful and capable hands of Jeanne Muse, who served as the list monitor and troubleshooter while I was gone.
BUT, there was a beginning that even went back before that. Everybody looks at beginnings or their memories of how things came about in terms of their own experiences. Back when I got my first IBM-type computer (I had been using an Apple, but they drove me away) and began to look into using the Internet to look into Whitney genealogy, I had just gotten signed up with AOL. I went to their Genealogy Forum and posted a message asking to contact anybody interested in the Whitney family of Massachusetts. I got a nice e-mail back very shortly from a lovely lady who lives in Santa Rosa, California, named Mary Ann Lindsay, whom many of you may remember as MALINCAL. Mary Ann had one other friend who was also looking into the Whitneys, named Arvy Whitney. I later got a chance to meet both Mary Ann and Arvy on a trip west some years later. Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately) we seem to have met their needs, and they have dropped off and are no longer actively with us.
I highlighted a number of the addresses and names in this letter I referred to before. Immediately after those two was MRJ79, an address that I hope is familiar to almost everybody. that is Jon Aston, our John-and-Elinor official collector, who has been responsible for the generation of what turns up on what is now our web site, the versions of the collections of descendants of John and Elinor. Here is another one -- Kim Walters of the Math Department at Mississippi State University. I hope some of you remember Kim -- she was interested in Whitneys as well as other families. My best memories of her were that neither one of us could manage to leave a communication (to the group) without saying something about the basketball teams at the University of Kentucky and Mississippi State University. We had a continuous rivalry, and I think the high point was the year that both UK and MSU went to the Final Four. UK won, of course.
Next on my address list, and also right in front of me I see MarionL -- our charming Marion Martin. I also see the name KTrouvat. Anyone remember that one -- Karen Trouvat? As far as I know she's our only member living in France. I have her on my Buddy List. In fact, a whole lot of you are on my Buddy List for AOL members. I often see her turning up on-line in what for me are the wee small hours of the morning like three o clock -- my time, not hers.
Another fellow that I enjoyed meeting and chatting with in this first bunch is RayWhit79. I have no idea why Jon Aston had a 79 in his address, but RayWhit told me that RayWhit79 was because he was 79 years old, so I guess by this time he must be RayWhit85. That was six years ago, at least.
I also see WhitneyMR. That's Michael Ray Whitney who is our list owner and has been since the beginning. He's the one who took the bull by the horns and met our needs, and he deserves a lot of credit for that. He also got a lot of curses from me when he disappeared for about eight months, and nobody could get him to answer anything. I had to forgive him when I found out why. He had been sent to Indonesia to consult with the government down there on how to cope with the tremendous forest fires that they were having. He ended up staying almost nine months, advising and helping them deal with this tremendous ecological disaster. He came back and just sort of picked up the reins, and we went right on. We managed while he was gone without too many difficulties, and I think that's a credit to everyone involved.
Then there is JHicks8311. A lot of you will remember Joan Hicks. She, for quite a while, was sort of the patron saint of the lost and uncollected, and the folks that were struggling with their descent from Henry. She served as their mentor. I know that was particularly true for Mary Ann Lindsay out in California, who, when she discovered that she was descended from Henry and not from John and Elinor, and that we weren't really cousins after all, was helped quite a bit by Joan. I did feel bad about that, and I knew that there were problems with Henry. When we went to England in 96, I spent three full days trying to follow the track of Henry Whitney, taking the information that was known and that appeared in the Phoenix book, and looking at Berkhamstead St. Mary s, his reported birthplace. The three days work brought absolutely no results other than negative, particularly that which had appeared in Ancestral File. A day or so later I found a report in a vertical file at the Society of Genealogists Library that clearly showed that a supposed professional researcher named Mrs. DeSalis had hornswoggled Stephen Whitney Phoenix into accepting from her pen an entire ancestry and genealogy for Henry Whitney that is absolutely spurious. She was quite sneaky about it. She cited a few references that were real, and upon those real references, she proceeded to hang a fabric of lies and misconceptions. She claimed the existence of documents that no one else has ever been able to find. So, I had to come back from my trip and tell Mary Ann that I hated to rain on her parade, but everything that was thought to be known about Henry and his ancestry was just flat-out not true. By the way, that report I found was transcribed and is available on the "whitneygen.org" web site.
Further to my chagrin, it wasn't more that six or eight weeks after I returned from this trip that Robert Ward (I think) fed me the reference to Paul C. Reed's article in The American Genealogist that takes all that apart and proves not only that Henry did not have the ancestry that was claimed in the Phoenix book, but, unfortunately, that Thomas did not have the ancestry that we all thought he had either. Thus, I, too, had to say, "Bye-bye!" to my dreams of royal ancestry, at least until we find a new set of connections. I ll obviously be most interested to hear what Robert has to say when he discusses the ancestry and possible origins of Thomas Whitney, gentleman, of Westminster. I seem to remember that I did once hear that such royal connections might possibly be found through Mary Bray [at this point Robert Ward began to make vigorous negative head movements] -- Oh, you don't believe that either, eh? Here [pointing to Robert] is the conscience of us all!
Well, to recapitulate on the origins -- they were accomplished by wonderful people -- people like Jon Aston and Jeanne Muse and Randy Winch, who was our first to put the Whitney pedigrees on the Web. Also, as I mentioned, Joan Hicks and Michael Ray Whitney. The latter not only began the process of making us a real mailing list, he also salvaged things for us when Larry Stephens's LISTSERV at Indiana University was struck by spammers and had to reduce its activities. MR took us lock, stock and barrel to Rootsweb, with the minimum of fuss and interruption.
Since that time there have been a number of really wonderful things that have happened to the Whitney Research Group. Some of you, at least, will remember our first big project that we undertook together, that of transcribing the Whitney entries in all of the MA Town Vital Record books. Many, many people helped, but I have to remember particularly the leadership and tireless work of Jan Whitaker and Peg Sanborn. Then we tackled the Pierce project, and began the business of distributing copies of the Pierce book in five-page chunks to be retyped -- because we discovered that scanning was just not a possible option. I took three batches, and I know some of the others of you took six or eight or more. Eventually we got through to the end. The entire Pierce book, with its help and its myriads of errors, was available electronically on our web site. Tim Doyle is essentially the name to be remembered when we think of this project and what it has done for us.
Following all this, Tim and Robert have produced what I think has been almost universally recognized as one of the finest family sites available anywhere on the Internet. When I hear anything from anybody, I am constantly steering people who come up with a question -- my first response to them is, "Have you looked at 'whitneygen.org' and seen what information and resources are available there?" The next letter I get back says, "I'm absolutely amazed at what's available at your web site. It is by far the most complete, the most reachable and approachable, and the most informative web site I ve ever seen when it comes to dealing with genealogy." I'm extremely proud to be associated with the Whitney Research Group and the people who have done that for us. If we have anyone in here who would like to make a similar contribution, I hope that you're all aware that Robert has quietly begun the process of doing the same thing with the Stephen Whitney Phoenix book on Henry's descendants. However, I would guess that Robert probably is only going back as far as Henry Whitney's arrival at Southold. Everything that's in that book prior to that point, as we have said earlier, is complete hogwash. I am sure that he can find a way for anyone who would care to volunteer a little time to contribute to the collection of the material on the Phoenix book. After all, it's only 2700 pages long! We ought to be able to knock that out in a few months, right? It is something that will probably will take a little longer than that, but eventually, I'm hopeful, we ll be able to get it included on our web site as well. In addition, of course, Robert is responsible for so many transcriptions. He's the one who arranged permission from The American Genealogist to reproduce articles from that magazine, and put them on our web site. He's the one that is now, among other things, available to provide assistance. He's done a tremendous amount for those of you who just get the e-mail from the Whitney Research Group mail. There are just countless responses to questions from Robert. Many of them are simply URL's that show exactly where the information that the person is seeking may be found on our web site, sometimes from Pierce, sometimes in the Archives. It's amazing how many people he has helped. I'm very proud to have worked with him and I really admire him tremendously.
That last thing that I think I want to say about the history of the Whitney Research Group and what, among other things, sets this one apart from hundreds and thousands of other mail lists and groups of people working collectively, in one way or another on genealogy over the Internet. That is this! -- I can honestly say that never have I ever seen a harsh word or an unkind word sent through the WHITNEY-L mail list to someone who has asked a question, posted a query, and we ve had some doozies, from newbies who didn't have the foggiest idea what they were talking about. Someone always answers, kindly, gently, and with courtesy, and made an effort both to provide information to a point, and teach how to find it as well. In every instance, the finest, kindest people in any group that I ve ever had the opportunity to work with. I thank you all for that, and I really applaud you and everybody else -- all three hundred and whatever-it-is-right-now. That's why we ve grown from the three people that I started with back about the Fall of 1995. It's come a long, long way, and I'm very proud to be a part of it.
Copyright © 2002, 2006, Allan E. Green and The Whitney Research Group