Hello there, welcome to the 2nd edition of Voices of Genealogy. This is the 8th interview of the Voices of Genealogy series. This season we are expanding past professional genealogists and showcasing some other careers within genealogy and also some #GenZGenealogists.
A Little Info about Harley…
Harley Sears is a hypnotherapist based in Los Angeles, California who runs his own business. He graduated from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in Southern, California. Not to mention, he has been certified in Positive Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Currently, he is working to complete another certificate in Wellness Counseling from the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. All in all, Harley has become an expert in his field. However, one of Harley’s biggest hobbies is genealogy research and he’s been doing it for about as long as hypnotherapy.
The Interview Questions…
- Give us a brief introduction about yourself; Tell us a bit more about your work as a genealogist.
I have actually worked as a hypnotherapist for the past twenty years. I maintain a full-time private practice in Beverly Hills, helping people with emotional, behavioral, and substance abuse problems. I developed an interest in genealogy in my late-teens, and began researching in my twenties. I consider myself more of a family historian, as most of my work surrounds my own family.
- How did you get into genealogy and what inspired you to start researching?
I was very close to my grandmother when I was younger. She shared many fascinating stories with me about our family. Unfortunately, when she passed away she took all of those stories with her. As I got older, I realized that I didn’t really know much about who I was or where I came from, and other family members weren’t much help filling in the blanks. My inspiration to start researching was really a journey of self-discovery.
- What was it like being a young genealogist in the 1990s? Did you meet anyone your age at the time who also was interested in family history research?
I found it very challenging and frustrating at the time, as I didn’t have much information and really didn’t know where to start. No other family members seemed interested, so I didn’t have much direction. Also, I had limited access to the internet. Those were the days of AOL dial-up, which was incredibly slow and expensive. It wasn’t until my mother unexpectedly passed along a pedigree chart from a distant relative that I was able to fully dive into my research. I took this information to an acquaintance, who happened to be an officer in the “Sons of the American Revolution.” He was able to transform a few sheets of paper into a treasure trove of information!
- How do you think genealogy research has changed since you started back in 1995?
The difference is incredible. We now have technology that either wasn’t available, or was very limited at the time. Unlimited access to the internet, websites such as ancestry.com, DNA testing, and an online community at your fingertips. It’s definitely an exciting time for genealogy!
- Have you come across any difficulties while researching your family (e.g., Conflicting sources, brick walls, etc.)?
Absolutely. This is inevitable when researching your family history. Conflicting sources, brick walls, and most interestingly, many of my findings have disproved family lore and the stories I was told growing up. This can be a touchy subject, as it challenges all of the things you (and your family) believed about your identity. As far as brick walls, while I have traced much of my family history all the way back to medieval times, I have hit a total brick wall with my maternal grandfather and have been unable to successfully identify his father during my years of research.
- What interesting things have you discovered about your ancestors?
My 3x great-grandparents were Henry Sears (1805-1900) and Bathsheba Baker (1810-1894). They were early settlers to Illinois and close friends to young Abraham Lincoln (living in Mason County at the time). In fact, the first deed of land was made out to Henry Sears by Abraham Lincoln. They are mentioned in several books and articles about Lincoln’s life. My 11x great-grandfather, Christopher Branch (1602-1681) was an early English settler in Colonial Virginia. He served as a member and justice of the House of Burgesses and was a 3x great-grandfather of United States President Thomas Jefferson. His lineage has been traced to King Henry I of England, and is featured in the book, “The Royal Descents of 900 Immigrants to the American Colonies, Quebec, or the United States” by Gary Boyd Roberts.
- Who/What are you currently focusing on in your research?
My current work is focused on my 6x great-uncle, General Hugh Mercer, a Scottish physician who fled his country after the Battle of Culloden and sailed to America. During the French and Indian War, he became friends with George Washington (a friendship that lasted 20 years). During the American Revolution, Mercer rose to the rank of Brigadier General and fought alongside Washington (there are rumors he exclusively originated Washington’s plan to cross the Delaware River). At the Battle of Princeton, he was stabbed 7 times by the British and left for dead. He survived, but died 9 days later. His sword is owned by The Saint Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia and is said to be one of their prize possessions. His tomb at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery has been cared for by the Society since 1840.
- What advice would you give to people wanting to start genealogy?
As I said earlier, this is an exciting time for genealogy. We now have access to technology, information, resources, and networking opportunities that simply were not available or accessible when I was younger. Have fun with it. It’s easy to get discouraged when you find conflicting information or hit a brick wall — but keep hammering away! Also, join a genealogical interest group such as the National Genealogy Society — or for young folks, The Hidden Branch!
If you wish to keep up with Harley and his projects please check out the links below:
Start with the building block of all narrative.