Jennifer Zinck

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Professional genealogist, president of Connecticut Professional Genealogists Council; advanced instructor of Genealogical Research at Boston University

Age: 47

Talk about how you came to Granby…

As of this May, I have lived with my family in North Granby for 10 years. Prior to that, I resided in New Haven County and I sometimes still miss the shoreline. I love spreadsheets and while house hunting, I found myself evaluating each home listing based upon qualities including great schools, low crime, and an abundance of wildlife and undeveloped land. Granby fit the bill.

Talk about your work as a genealogist…

In 2002, my son was working on a badge for Cub Scouts that involved creating a family tree. I helped him to complete his own four-generation pedigree chart but when it came time for my own, I had some questions. I began making phone calls to family members and visiting town halls. Soon I was hooked and before long, I realized that I wanted to be meticulous about finding the correct information. Together, my family and I learned many new facts about our history.

There are many avenues to explore when researching family roots. My journey to becoming a professional genealogist entailed many hours of self-study as well as attending conferences, workshops, and continuing education courses over a period of close to twenty years. Currently, I consult for private clients and teach at Boston University, which offers courses of study in Genealogical Principles and a Certificate of Genealogical Research.

I love my job for many reasons. It allows me to be a lifelong learner while helping people. It also involves a lot of detective work to find the truth. My work allows me to examine many interesting documents from a variety of repositories such as cemeteries, libraries, historical societies, probate offices, and town halls. Sometimes the documents that people have in their homes, like postcards and letters, hold the most interesting clues to the past.

Can you talk about any unusual cases?

One thing I find very rewarding is helping adults to find their biological families. Whether due to adoption or simply a lack of information, many people seek information about their parents or grandparents. Not too long ago, I worked with three sisters in their 60s who had questions about their family tree and suspected that things might not be what they had been told by their parents. It wasn’t long before we discovered that all three had different biological fathers, all of whom worked in the same profession.

Working with the living has different challenges than working with ancestors who have passed on and the results can sometimes be life-altering. I have a list of resources I can provide to people who find themselves in tough situations.

In my own family, I have found several surprises. The biggest one was that my grandmother’s father was not her biological father. I was first tipped off by an unexpected DNA match and I began to research further. 

I created a family tree structure based on DNA matches and eventually, with the help of documentary evidence like census records, land records, and probate, I figured out where my family fit into the bigger tree. Prior to tests like AncestryDNA, which have only been available for less than a decade, this would not have been possible.

In hindsight, there were some small clues about the connection between the two families but none of them would have been big enough clues to tip anyone off. 

One of the clues was a postcard mailed from the town where my grandmother was conceived, postmarked nine months and one day before her birth. Another was an obituary which revealed that her paternal biological uncle, who she presumably did not know was her uncle, was a pallbearer at her maternal grandfather’s funeral. My grandmother’s father was not an Irishman from County Cork after all, but a descendant of knifemakers from Sheffield, England. My grandmother also had a third father, her stepfather, the man who raised her. This led me to the conclusion that people can have three mothers or fathers—legal, biological, and social.

Many people are interested in genealogy and DNA testing for ethnicity but for me, the important things are to bring families together and to find the truth. I am also hopeful that this information will someday assist the medical community with advances in personalized medicine. However, I am an advocate of using our family history data for purposes other than genealogical research only with fully informed consent.

Have you learned anything about the early settlers here in Granby?

George Seymour Godard, son of Harvy Godard, was born in Granby in 1865. A plaque embedded in a rock wall across from the end of Silver Street memorializes the life of my favorite Granby resident of the past. During his tenure as the most important Connecticut State Librarian in history, George S. Godard was responsible for saving many of the documents that genealogists and historians use today, including military records and countless manuscripts. He was also a driving force behind the Connecticut State Library building, which still stands today at 231 Capital Avenue in Hartford.

The neatest part of the whole thing? I didn’t know when I was looking for my home that I would end up settling on the land owned by this North Granby family of past.