My Grand-aunt Rita played an amazing part in my life, one for which I will be forever grateful.

In 2008, after my nana (grandmother) Mary died, Rita called me and told me she was adopting me as one of her own grandchildren. This meant so much to me. She was a very kind lady and she stepped into the role with complete resolve. I soon found out that if I didn’t call her at least once a month she would worry about me.

Rita was born on 29 July 1923 in Boston, Massachusetts. A child of Irish immigrants, Rita was the fourth of eight children born to Coleman Joyce and Annie (Loughlin) Joyce. She claimed that the registrar made a mistake on her birth records as name was supposed to be “Margaret Rita Joyce”.

I only found this out when I was unable to locate her in the hospital after she broke her hip. Finding no reference to her in the hospital directory under the names “Margaret or Rita”, it was not until her daughter told me the story and I was able to locate “Marguerite Overacker”.

During WWII Rita worked in the shipyards as an IBM keypunch operator. At the time her future husband, Arthur Lewis Overacker, was in the Navy. It is no know how they met, but her children believe it was while Arthur was on leave in Boston from the USS Clemson.

Arthur Overacker was later transferred to the destroyer USS Jenks (DE-665). Their he served as a sonar operator and was aboard for the capture of the German U-Boat (submarine) U-505 on 4 June 1944.

After the war, Arthur and Rita married on 5 October 1946 in Dorchester, Massachusetts at St. Margaret’s Church.

The young couple moved to Ohio (Arthur’s home state) where he soon got a job with the General Motors Corporation. They had six children: Ann Marie, Arthur “Artie” Lewis Jr. (1951-1986), Mary Jane, Patrick Joseph, John (stillborn Overacker), and Thomas Francis.

Like most Irish from Boston, Rita was an avid tea drinker. When later cautioned by her doctors to quit, she ignored them.

Always devout, Rita could be found at services every Sunday. She said she had never visited the church cemetery after her husband died, as her name and birthdate were already etched into the marble headstone.

Rita died on 11 December 2016 at the age of 93 in Marysville, Ohio. She is buried at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Cemetery with her husband.


annie-joyce-with-snowballAnnie Loughlin was born in Tierney, Gorumna Island, Galway, Ireland in 1898. She died before my birth, however, through the stories of her children, I feel a connection to her.

Tierney (spelled many ways) was on a small island off the southwest coast of Ireland. Since it was a rocky island that was not near the shore, it remained untouched by the English and remained a Gaelic island.

When Annie arrived in Boston about 1917, she brought with her Irish superstitions about fairies, banshees, marriages, pregnancy and death, not tainted nor diluted by English rule.
Annie married my great-grandfather Coleman Joyce in 1918. Their children were: Mary Agnes, (my grandmother), Bridget Josephine “Jo”, Eileen Veronica, Margaret Rita “Rita”, (Coleman Francis) “Frank”, John Joseph, Anna Theresa and Thomas Joseph.

Early in 1939, my grandfather proposed to my grandmother. That same year her sister Jo became engaged to Edmund Keohane. Annie insisted the first daughter need be married first or Jo’s wedding would be cursed. Not heeding the warning of her mother, Jo and Edmund planned their wedding four months before my grandparent’s wedding. The day after Jo and Edmunds marriage, the top headline in the local newspaper read: “Girl Weds Injured Fiancé as He Lies on Hospital Cot.” Edmund was involved in a car accident on his way to the church and broke his leg.

Jo and my grandmother were the best of friends. My grandmother asked her to be her maid of honor. Jo was pregnant and Annie forbade it. Pregnant women were not photographed or the child would be cursed. Jo heeded Annie’s warning on this occasion.

My grandmother’s next sister, Rita, stood in Jo’s place. Annie believed in Irish fairies which liked to collect beautiful things. Fairies were drawn mostly to brides. Annie insisted that every woman in a wedding party wear a small veil. This would confuse the fairies as they wouldn’t know which women was the bride until the couple was pronounced man and wife, and the brides veil was lifted from her face. That is why Rita wore a veil as well.

The Irish Banshee were another of Annie’s superstitions. Banshees would wail or weep to a family member warning them of an impending death in the family. I’m sure she believed someone was warned, however, they did not know what it was nor what it meant.
Annie’s husband Coleman Joyce died in 1953 and a traditional Irish wake was planned. An Irish wake is when the deceased is laid in the house where they lived or died. In this case, Coleman was washed and prepared and laid out on the families dining room table for friends and family to come pay their respects until his burial. The body needed to be watched so the soul was not stolen prior to the burial. My grandmother and her siblings took shifts watching over their dead father until the day of his burial.

Annie died on 24 July 1967 and her children had to decide what birth date to use. They knew she was born in 1898, however, after her first 4th of July, she changed her birth date so there would always be fireworks on her birthday. Unlike her husband, Annie was given a standard wake and burial. When she died, most of her superstitions died with her.


My mother grew up in the small town of Torrington, Litchfield, Connecticut.  The population of Torrington was 36,383 as of the 2010 Census. That may not seem all that small but it is if you’re related to half the town.  Jonas “John Michael” Grinvalsky & Anna Zaharek had seventeen children between 1901-1926, many of whom stayed in Torrrington, CT and had children of their own. John Michael Grinvalsky also had two sisters and a brother that came from Slovakia and settled in Torrington, CT. They all married and had between six and nine children of their own who then would marry and mainly stay in Torrington, CT. Anna Zaharek had two brothers and a sister come over from Slovakia as well and settled in Torrington, CT. Combined her siblings had 20 children born in Torrington who then had children and so on. Remember, this is just my mother’s paternal side.

Mom’s father is James Jacob “Jack/Jake” Grinvalsky, one of the seventeen born to John Michael & Anna Grinvalsky. He would marry Julia Margaret Tomala and have four children, mom being the youngest. In kindergarten, my mother would meet her best friend of sixty two years. They went through school together and both attended St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing in Hartford, Connecticut. After graduation, my mother went to work at Mass General in Boston, Massachusetts. Her best friend returned to Torrington, CT, married her high school sweetheart and had two children.

In 1998 what they had always joked about actually happened. One of her best friend’s sons announced he was engaged to be married. He would be marrying the granddaughter of my mother’s Aunt Susan Grinvalsky [her father’s sister]. The wedding took place in 1999 in Torrington, Connecticut with my mother in attendance. It was a beautiful wedding, but for best friends of 62 years it meant even more. My mother and her best friend were now legally cousins, remain close, and will be attending their 50th High School Reunion together this fall.


I recently taught a RootsMagic 6 workshop that covered the basics of the software and I explained why it was a good idea to have genealogy software on our hard drive and not just have family trees online, i.e.

During the workshop a question was asked about tape recording family members and whether it was a good idea.  My answer was a definite “YES”. However, I felt I had an even better suggestion – VIDEO.

I got my first webcam in 2002 to stay in touch with close friends moving to Europe. I never did think of it then to use it for genealogical purposes.

In 2006, my Nana [Dad’s mother] needed to have an operation and would be in the hospital for a week. I volunteered to spend the week with my 91-year-old grandfather to alleviate any worries the rest of the family had. I also saw this as a great opportunity to do an in-depth genealogical interview with him.

The second day I was there I pulled out my interview questions and tape recorder and sat in front of him at breakfast.  I was surprised to learn my grandfather could answer open-ended questions with just one word.  The only new thing I learned was that he had seen every Charlie Chaplin movie.

On the third day, I woke up early and my grandfather walked in on me making a video diary of my trip with my webcam.  He looked like he had seen a ghost – I didn’t know what was wrong. Then he smiled – then he frowned. Just then I realized my grandfather had never seen himself on TV before just by the expression on his face.

At this point the doorbell rang so I was gone about ten minutes while Grandpa was left alone with my computer. Later, I discovered ten minutes of hysterical video as he tried to figure out how the technology worked.

That afternoon I brought my computer and webcam with me when we went to visit my Nana in the hospital.  To my surprise I filmed two minutes of a humorous video clip of my Nana, Grandpa, and myself. Before I left Boston I decided to do a walking video tour of the home they had lived in since before I was born.  I took all three clips, made a CD, and sent copies to my immediate family. I hoped they would cherish it as much as I do.

Although it was off topic, I decided to share the short clip of my grandparent’s interaction. The class roared with laughter as it played. When it was over I showed them how to link the file into RootsMagic 6. Since I shared it with the class, I thought I’d share it will all of you.

My grandfather would pass May 2007, the day after his great-granddaughter was born [my niece]. I was so lucky that I had made that video. Every May when I miss my Grandpa, I watch the CD and it always makes me laugh.

This year, I decided it was my goal to interview my parents on video. My mother was very reluctant at first but she agreed.  After asking just one question about her childhood, she spoke for 45 minutes about her life all the way up until she met my father.  I’m still working on getting my father to sit down with me but I still have to the end of the year.

I know you are probably wondering what the point might be. Now that video is so readily available there is no excuse not to use it via digital cameras, cell phones, etc.  It can be used not just for your ancestors that are still alive, but for yourself as well for future generations.  Sit down and tell your story and put it away.  Your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will appreciate it someday – I’m sure of it.

Someday when my niece is older I will share the video of her great-grandparents with her. And someday far far far into the future when my parents are gone, I will show her the DVD I’m making of them.

If one day you were lucky enough to find video of your great-grandparents and grandparents wouldn’t you cherish it? So stop procrastinating, and do it.  I promise it will be worth it in the end!!


Just so I don’t miss out on possible connecting with a distant relative, I put a rough sketch of my family trees on I advise my clients to do the same, but to make the tree private so that other people don’t just take a piece of their research without contacting them.

Coleman Joyce was my father’s mother’s father – my great-grandfather.

5 October 1846 at his daughter’s wedding

He was born in Ireland in 1893 in Galway, Ireland. I know his parent’s names and where they got married. I know exactly where Coleman was born in Ireland; however I keep that off public sites.

Coleman Joyce was one of eleven children, however on my tree I only list the six that came from Ireland to Boston, Massachusetts. I know the fates of all the children except for one – Anne Joyce.

Anne “Annie” Joyce was born in Ireland in 1891 and once she came to Boston, MA she married a Coleman Kelly in 1914. On Coleman’s draft registration card for WWI he listed he had a wife and two children and was also born in Ireland. This is where I got stuck – I could find the family on the 1920 US Federal Census.

To cover my basis I sent in two requests for death certificates – one for Annie (Joyce) Kelly and one for Coleman Kelly. To my surprise I received one back for Coleman. It seems he died from the influenza epidemic in 1918. I was stuck again – I didn’t know Annie and Coleman’s children’s names and didn’t know if Annie may have remarried prior to the 1920 Census. So that was how the story ended in the Family History Book I compiled for the Joyce Family.

I was on the other day and I had about 238 “hints” for my research. I don’t really follow the hints as I do my own research and only use other people’s trees as guides and I add documents into my genealogy software instead of adding them to a person in my online trees. However, I notice I had eight messages that I didn’t know I had and one made my heart stop.

It was from a woman who claimed to be the great-granddaughter of Coleman Kelly and Annie (Joyce) Kelly. She said her grandmother was their daughter and she wanted to know more about the family and share information with me about their other children. I almost fell out of my chair.

I immediately wrote back to her and probably sounded like a desperate stalker. I told her that Annie (Joyce) Kelly was one of eleven children born in Ireland and that six had come to the Boston, MA. I also told her that the family lost touch with Annie after her husband died of the flu and no one knew what became of her. I actually gave out my phone number, something I never do but I was overly excited.

After that, I called Joyce descendants that are still living. There are six children still alive from the original eleven that were born in Ireland. There are also numerous cousins that I also dug up along my journey. So many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and so on that our now not only relative, but friends. Everyone I spoke with is excited about this possible lead.

Now all I can do is wait, and patience it not once of my strong personality traits. If this is not a hoax this would completely blow through another one of my brick walls and bring an end to what happened to Annie (Joyce) Kelly. What a great holiday gift that would be.


If you’ve ever read my biography [] you know how I got started as a genealogist. It was my grandfather’s request. However, with all research, at some point, many genealogists and family researchers hit some kind of a brick wall.

I started out my grandfather’s research by starting with him as the main person and going backwards to his father and his grandfather whose names were both named Dennis Leary. Such a common name for an Irish man, I thought it would be difficult to fill in the details and put flesh on the bones of my research.

That was until I hit my grandfather’s great-grandfather and I was shocked. His name was Bartholomew Leary. I had never come across the name Bartholomew in any of my Irish Research before. That is how I was able to trace my grandfather’s family all the way to their crossing from County Cork, Ireland to Boston, Massachusetts in 1849 at the end of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.

That is also where I got stuck. I did at least know Bartholomew’s parent’s names as he died before his wife and they were on his death certificate and he was born about 1820. However, County Cork is very large, and after examining every documents I could get my hands on, I had hit my brick wall.

I decided to leave it alone and instead put my grandfather’s family story together for his birthday as I had promised, but I still had that unfinished feeling.

Every so often I would Google Bartholomew Leary with no results however I kept trying hoping someday I would find out something about him in Ireland.

This year, my Google search paid off – one hit for a Bartholomew Leary. I tried not to get my hopes up but they were and I went to the website I was directed to. There was a baptismal record for a Barth Leary so I opened it and guess what? It had the same parent’s on it as his Bartholomew’s death certificate in Boston, MA. I was overjoyed – and I wished my grandfather was still alive so I could have shared that moment with him.

Now that I know where he was born and baptized there are more questions to be answered: how many siblings did he have? When were his parents married and what were their names? I got so excited and overwhelmed at the same time.

It only took 15 years for me to get past that brick wall. Patience in genealogy is definitely a virtue.


If you can believe it, this is just one family. This is my maternal grandfather’s family. The elderly looking woman in the center of the picture actually gave birth to seventeen children – yes I said seventeen. One unfortunately died at a young age. This family picture was taken to commemorate my grandfather’s brother becoming a priest on 26 May 1938.

My grandfather’s father Jonas “John Michael” Grinvalsky was born in current day Slovakia. He and his brother Conrad arrived in New York in 1899 and they moved to Torrington, CT. Anna Zaherek was born in current day Toporec, Slovakia and in 1898 her and her brother James arrived in New York and they moved to Torrington, CT. John Michael Grinvalsky and Anna Zaharek married 9 June of 1900.

In 1901 they had their first child and they would go on to have a total of seventeen. My maternal grandfather was child number eight/ James Jacob Grinvalsky [Yes – I always refer to them by their name and birth order number]. The last child was born in 1926. Family lore says Anna was actually pregnant 20 times, but had three miscarriages. Can you imagine being pregnant for 25 years? Or raising seventeen children? I chalk it up to fertility and devout Catholicism.

What I find strange is that the children did not follow suit and have large families. Most of “The Original Seventeen” as I call them only had one or two. My mother is from a family of four which is the second largest besides Dr. Henry Grinvalsky [number 15] and his wife who had ten. Five originals would never even marry. Maybe, growing up in such a large family they decided to have smaller families, however I can only speculate. Unfortunately, all the originals passed before I started researching my family history. On the bright side it’s been fun tracking down cousins I never knew I had and hearing their stories.

In Beloved Memory Of

Margaret Mary “Marge” (Palker) Grinvalsky

Wife of the late Dr. Henry Grinvalsky



In my former life, before becoming a full-time genealogist I was an Account Executive with an insurance company. I kept spreadsheets on all my clients that included their children’s names, birthdays, what they always ordered when I took them out to eat, etc. Everything was saved on my work computer and I thought nothing of it – until I almost lost it all.


I was working at home one day when my computer started to smoke, and then a small flash of fire burst out [this is a true story]. I yanked the computer out of the wall, threw it on my front lawn and called the fire department. They checked all the wiring in the room I was working in and everything was fine, but I was still panicked. Was my hard drive affected? Had it melted? Did I just lose everything I had been working on for ten years?


The next day when I brought the computer to the IT department, they didn’t believe me until they opened up the computer. It turns out that two wires had come loose and touched each other which had caused the smoke and the flash of fire. I could have cared less. All I wanted to know was whether my hard drive been affected. Thankfully it wasn’t. They were able to put my hard drive into another shell and I was on my merry way. However, this was when I realized I couldn’t put all my eggs in one basket, or one computer, in this case. That’s when I started talking to computer people about backing up my data.


Back in those days they had come out with these big and bulky external hard drives which were expensive at the time. I bought one anyway as a business expense, and every month on the first of the month, I would lug the drive out of my closet and backup my data.


Now that I have switched professions and am aware of the tragedies many have faced when their computers have crashed or died, I am extremely careful with my data. My laptop is just for genealogy and if I were to lose it I would lose years of research and data.


Now that backups are inexpensive, there is no excuse to have all your data in one place. You can back up your data to discs, flash drives, portable hard drives, the cloud, etc.


If your eyes just glazed over because what I mentioned sounds complicated, it’s really not. And if you don’t want to do the work yourself there are always services like Carbonite (  that backup up your computer continuously for a yearly fee.


What do I use? Since I’ve had a computer catch on fire and another one die on me, I am extra careful. I have an iMac that I don’t use since I got my laptop, so I used Apple’s ‘Time Machine’ to back it up onto a portable external hard drive, which I keep in a safety deposit box.


As for my genealogy laptop I have multiple backups. I have about six flash drives; one for each of my family lines, one for client data, and one for miscellaneous projects. I also have an external hard drive to hook up to my laptop at the end of the day to backup anything I have worked on that day. Once done, I put it in my purse to carry with me when away from my laptop, or leave it at home when I have my laptop with me. Lastly, I have a Carbonite account as the end-all safety net.


I’m not saying that you need to take after me and have the “what if everything fails” mentality. But if you have all your data on one computer, what would you do if something catastrophic happens? I encourage you to look into using one of the above suggestions to have a second copy of your hard drive. That way, if your computer does die, when you get a new one, you can use your back up to reload the information onto your new computer and your data will not be lost forever.