Meet Joan Wood, Genealogy Specialist at the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives

Meet Joan Wood, Genealogy Specialist at the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives

Joan Wood has worked as an Archives Assistant at the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives for ten years. She has a passion for genealogy, and as our resident genealogy specialist she has helped countless researchers uncover ancestors who once lived in the Winchester-Frederick County area. Joan also leads a genealogy discussion group known as Family History Hunters open to anyone interested in learning more about their family history, regardless of research experience. As the Family History Hunters kicks of its 2022 programming, we thought it would be a good time to let Joan tell you a little about herself and how she became interested in genealogy.

How did your interest in genealogy begin?

Since I was a child. I have always had an interest in my family history.  When  my grandmother would visit I would always ask about how she grew up.  When I became an adult I began to research my family.  I took genealogy classes and developed skills that gave me the ability to eventually help others do their research.

Have you learned anything interesting or surprising when researching your own family history?

I have found many interesting things about my ancestors. There are always a few skeletons in the old family closet and those “characters” that seemed to have caused havoc during their lifetime. There are those who have achieved great things as well.  I have a four-star general in my line, President Zachery Taylor’s doctor, inventors, veterans of wars, men who worked as Native American translators, and even a person who was aboard the “Maine” when the ship blew up.  He assisted the injured and helped them get to shore. 

As we research our family, we might develop strong feelings about these individuals.  My great grandfather placed his children in an orphanage and went to jail.  I thought very little him at first because of the wreckage he left behind.  It took years to discover all I could about him, and I realized that, while he did make some bad decisions, many of his choices came from the grief he felt at losing his wife and son. He couldn’t care for his children and the family splintered.      

Do you have a favorite memory of helping a researcher?

There was one occasion when a gentleman wrote to ask us to find his ancestors in the records of a local church.  He was interested in two names. Fortunately, we had the records from the time period he needed.   As I began reviewing the material, I realized that many members of his family were baptized and worshiped at the church. I extracted all the names and sent them to the patron. Many early church records have been lost or destroyed and so it was wonderful to be able to help this researcher.

What inspired you to start Family History Hunters?

After dinner with some friends who were also genealogists, I began to think it would be great if other people could have an opportunity to discuss their research. I wanted to begin a group with a casual and friendly atmosphere so that all could share their ideas, talents, and experiences with one another. 

The group has grown since our first meetings. My hope is that now we can attract not only experienced genealogists but also individuals who are new to genealogy and need help getting started.  I would like to see the new people try the ideas that are given and come back and tell the group about what they discovered.  We’re also planning to have speakers, genealogy classes, and other events that will help people learn more about finding their family history.

Family History Hunters meets every 2nd Thursday of the month, beginning January 13th, from 12:30 to 2:00pm. If you are interested in joining the group please email archives@handleyregional.org. Image shows Joan in the stacks of the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives.