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Genealogy demystified

Photo Credit: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Richard Halliday taught genealogy when genealogy wasnt cool. Now he has many students seeking their familly histories at his classes in Lake Oswego.

If you are curious about the history of your family, the best person you could possibly meet is Richard Halliday.

First of all, the 84-year-old gentleman from West Linn is a really nice guy. But best of all, his knowledge of genealogy is huge, and he knows how to lead people down the path of discovering their past.

Halliday’s credentials are remarkable. In fact, he was interested in genealogy at a time when very few people were. He taught the very first genealogy class at Brigham Young University in the early 1950s. In the following years the rest of the country caught up with Halliday on the desire to discover their past, especially when the blockbuster novel and TV series “Roots” made a tidal wave impact in 1977.

“I always knew I wanted to work in genealogy, and it has carried on,” Halliday said. “I’ve had a passion for family history as long as I can remember.”

Because he was a genealogy pioneer, Halliday paid his dues. In the early days, he would use an India ink pen to copy down his mother’s records. He survived becoming a fledgling genealogist by learning how to call at square dances, so he could earn $10 a dance, which allowed him to continue his studies at BYU.

Halliday wanted to take a genealogy class in 1952, but BYU did not have one. So, while he was still a student Halliday taught the first-ever genealogy class at BYU. Today, the university has a family history center, and it is because of the tenacious Halliday.

Halliday still teaches genealogy these days, and he has a lot more tools than an India ink pen and some scraps of paper. He is currently teaching classes at the Mormon church on 1271 Overlook Drive in Lake Oswego.

Photo Credit: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - A battered old family scrapbook from 1925 is displayed by Richard Halliday. He started his genealogy career by researching his own family.

Halliday is president of the PAPAFUG. That is not a punk rock band but the Portland Area Personal Ancestral File Users Group, and the organization’s classes have it all when it comes to finding family histories. They’re even free of charge. This includes training on Ancestor Quest, the finest genealogy research tool available.

Halliday had fine careers as a U.S. Navy officer and software engineer for Lockheed. He became a husband and raised a big family. But his genealogy research never stopped, and Lockheed helped a lot.

“They sent me on five trips to England,” Halliday said.

When Halliday wasn’t bolstering our national defense, he was going to the town of Trowbridge, where his family saga began. (“They treated me like a long-lost prodigal son,” he said.) He was able to trace his roots all the way back to 1609. It was a woman named Brown that threw Halliday a curve. He was slightly thrown when he discovered that people of that era spelled a word as they darn well liked.

“I found eight different spellings of Brown,” Halliday said. “They were very creative.”

His adventures were many. He found the Halliday family Bible, which records births, marriages and deaths. He met a dude with an English accent at a family reunion in Utah, who turned out to be a relative. He discovered how his family came to accept the Mormon faith and later migrated to America.

Beyond the numbers and names, however, Halliday found something much more interesting: the stories. Like the ancestor who pulled the wrong trigger on a shotgun and blew off the leg of his wife, who was holding a baby at the time.

Then there was the woman married to an abusive man. She grabbed the chance to come to America and eventually married another man. Technically, this was bigamy. But when the woman was asked if she had divorced her previous husband, she said, “Well, no. He’s there, I’m here, and that’s enough of a divorce for me.”

Perhaps the best story is about his great-grandfather Thomas Morley leaving England and coming to America, where there were already plenty of Mormons waiting for him.

On that voyage, Halliday’s forebearers discovered it paid off to be a Mormon.

Morley and all of his brothers and sisters in the faith were huddled into a tight space when a storm caused the Atlantic Ocean to flood the ship.

“So much water went down the hatch that suitcases were floating,” Halliday said. “There was one woman passenger who wailed, ‘Lost, lost, all is lost!’ But the ship captain told her, ‘You don’t have to worry. We’ve got a cargo of Mormons.’ When a Catholic priest objected to this statement, the captain said, ‘I’ve been making these voyages for 18 years, and I’ve never lost a cargo of Mormons yet. That goes for the other captains, too!’ “

These unsinkable Mormons settled in Utah and made lives for themselves that would have been unthinkable in England.

“They had no chance to own their own home or eat regularly,” Halliday said. “Many of their children died young. After they came to America they never lost another child.”

Halliday now wants as many other people as possible to have the same experience he has had.

“Doing family history is a lot like military intelligence,” Halliday said. “I laugh about it because they’re so similar. You get what clues you can, analyze them and deduce what you want to know. Today we have tools for genealogy that we never had before. Doing this has made my life so much richer.”

For more information about genealogy classes taught by Halliday, go to www.home.comcast.net/~papafug/site.

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Richard Halliday is shown as a young U.S. Navy officer with his first wife Catherine back in the 1950s.

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