Hi WikiTreers,

Welcome to a new installment of “Meet our Members.” It’s time to get to know another awesome member of our community: Meet Claire.

Claire Nava became a WikiTreer in February of 2015.  She is an enthusiastic Greeter and a sleuthing Data Doctor.

What are some of the surnames you are researching? 

Nava, Chapel (long a, please), McNabb, Van Schoonhoven, Gage.

What are some of the locations you are researching?

Currently, I am researching extended family in colonial America – New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont. 

When and how did you get interested in genealogy and family history?

My first memory of genealogy was on a trip to my paternal grandmother’s house. This was in the early 1960s, so children were expected to just sit and listen. Grandma would pull out a box of photos. They would study the pictures and Grandma would tell stories. One day, she pulled out this picture and handed it to Dad, saying “Isn’t she scary looking?” (I glanced up at it as it changed hands. They were, indeed, scary-looking). Grandma died and left her records to my father who carried on the research. When Dad died, I inherited their records. I started to sort through the photos and letters and such, and began to meet my ancestors. I was hooked.

Who’s your favorite ancestor and why?

 Can I have two? 

  1. Corp. Joshua Gage. He was a short man of 5’ 4” or so, who fought at the battle of Breed’s Hill. His commander was Lieut. Samuel Brocklebank (Brocklebank-55), over six feet tall and heavy. Brocklebank was wounded by the British and lay bleeding. Gage saw that the British were bound to charge, but he would not leave his Lieutenant. He half-dragged Brocklebank to a nearby haystack, made a hole and helped Brocklebank in. He crawled in after him and covered both of them with hay. The British did charge, but somehow they did not find Gage and Brocklebank. Brocklebank recovered from his wounds, and they must have remained close friends because over twenty years later, Joshua’s son, John, married Samuel’s daughter, Lydia. It was in a flowery tribute printed in a local paper and re-told by my great-grandmother.
  2. Edith Orilla (Bonney) Gage. Her husband, Benjamin Franklin Gage, was a grandson of the American Revolutionary War hero, Joshua Gage, so of course the grandson volunteered for the Civil War. He came back broken physically. I don’t have the details, but the best work he could find was as a leather tanner; a nasty, dirty job working with dead animals and old urine. Most tanners lived in poverty, but Edith Orilla was an excellent artist. Not only did she care for her poor, battered husband, but she also raised their daughter, was a devout member of their church, managed the household, and helped support the family financially. When her daughter or husband needed something extra, Edith would pull out her oil paints and create charming, original landscapes and still lifes. Even though she was also frequently ill, she earned enough money to send her one precious daughter to college in the late 1800s Michigan.

Tell us about a brick wall you were able to break down or one you hope to bust through.

Margaret (Mitchell) McNabb. When I was little, my mother said that I was related to Bonaparte (nope), Billy the Kid (also nope), and we had a genuine Lady in the family (unproven so far). The best story was about Margaret Mitchell. She was an Irish heiress, daughter of a baronet. The story goes, she fled with her sweetheart, John McNabb, and they emigrated to the colonies around the time of the American Revolution. Fully expecting to see this story shot down, too, I put it into a G2G question a couple of months ago. Guess what? It was true! G2G members gave me sources for her birth, their marriage records, their children … And an extra little fillip – apparently, she ran away with one sweetheart, met John McNabb on the boat to America, and married her new sweetie when they landed. I was shocked and delighted to have the story confirmed. 

Thanks to the G2G crew, I learned new research techniques and was able to add new life to an old story.

If you could pick one person in history to be related to, who would it be and why?

I’d have to say, Richard III of England. His name and character were blackened by the Tudors and by Shakespeare’s play, but it wasn’t true. He was an excellent and well-balanced king. Yes, he probably did cause some people to die. He was a general; it happens, but contemporary evidence does not support a hysterical neurotic or cold-blooded murderer who went around killing his own brothers, women, and children.

What are some of your interests outside of genealogy?

I love my church family (Lutheran LCMS). I’m the current president of the LWML, our women’s group, which supports missionary work, feeding the homeless, services for the deaf and the unborn, etc. I love to read mysteries, fiction, history, and medieval lit. I also enjoy old time radio shows. I drive quite a bit, so I listen to Dragnet or Sam Spade or Lux Radio Theatre as I travel. I work with a group called OTRR (Old Time Radio Researchers) to improve the quality of the recordings.

How long have you been on WikiTree and what do you spend the most time doing?

I’ve been on WikiTree for just over five years. I have gone as far back as I can with most of my direct ancestors, so now I’m volunteering with the Greatest Greeters (Hi all, you’re the best). I can’t take a regular shift since my schedule’s tricky, but I love working on the Merge Feed – when people merge profiles – to make sure that everyone has been properly greeted and knows how to get started.

My new current favorite is being a Data Doctor. I was an English teacher for a number of years, so it’s nice to use my detective and proofreading skills to help people strengthen their profiles. Sometimes, it’s just a quick sneak attack – a suggestion will say that someone was born in Massachusetts, USA in 1700. Whoops! No USA in 1700. I’ll just pop in and change “Massachusetts, USA” to “Massachusetts Bay,” leave a note to record my visit, and then I’m off. I do enjoy unraveling convoluted profiles, but they do take a ton of time.

What brought you to WikiTree?

I started with Ancestry, but I came to see that not all of their sources are reputable (AGBI or International Marriage Records, for instance) and it bothered me that Ancestry has such a stranglehold on public resources. Next, I tried FamilySearch. The research capabilities are excellent, but their profiles can be hard to manage. Finally, I tried WikiTree. I loved the idea of one big family tree instead of all those duplicated family trees on Ancestry, but I was worried. Why was WikiTree free? I kept waiting for something to go wrong. Were they going to sell my data? Was I suddenly going to get a bill? Was I safe from deranged genealogists or soulless hackers? Where was the catch? Finally, I began to relax and enjoy myself. Five years later, I have never been hacked or heckled, but I’ve met generous and friendly people of good will and learned about myself and my family.

What is your favorite thing about WikiTree, or which feature(s) do you like the most?

The range and flexibility and depth of the system. If you’re a newbie, it’s easy enough to join in. If you like helping others, there are ways to do that. If you are like me and like to unravel complicated puzzles, that’s available too. And there are always people with similar interests to chat with, which is a real blessing.

If you could improve one thing about WikiTree, what would it be?

I can’t think of a thing that hasn’t been covered. Basic rules and advanced techniques are covered by videos and webpages. Volunteers help expedite and keep things flowing. Leadership listens and addresses any problems quickly.

What is an example of how WikiTree has helped you with your genealogy?

Definitely finding Margaret (Mitchell) McNabb. She went from a dubious fairy tale to a real woman with strength, fire, and a stubborn-streak a mile wide.

I enjoy my time on WikiTree. I like solving puzzles, helping people, connecting with like-minded people, and learning more about history and my own ancestors. 

Any tips for someone just starting out on WikiTree?

Please take advantage of all the great webpages and videos supplied by our leaders, and listen to the WikiTree volunteers who post on your profiles (especially the Greatest Greeters) – they are kind people with a world of experience and patience.


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