Genealogy business is ‘bridging the gap between generations’

Genealogy business is ‘bridging the gap between generations’


WESTERLY — Sarah Brighton believes that genealogy is more than just names and dates. It’s about learning the full story of someone’s life.

“I much prefer taking that data and putting together a fuller picture of what a person’s life was like,” Brighton, founder of Westerly-based Brighton Genealogy, said. “Who they were and what challenges and victories they had in the context of the culture and time in which they lived; it’s like putting a puzzle together, only you don’t know what the picture will look like in the end.”

It seems to Brighton that family history doesn’t seem to matter as much to people until they get a little older, she says.

“I think we get more contemplative as we age and look back on what our own legacies will be, what we want them to be, and we realize that we may be the only ones who still remember certain things,” she said.

A few years ago, Brighton decided she wanted to go back to work once her daughters were at an age where she was able to put more focus on her hobbies and interests. She wanted to find something that she both enjoyed and found fulfilling. Since she had considered herself an amateur genealogist for years, she decided to look into doing it professionally.

Although Brighton already had a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Colorado at Boulder, she knew she needed more formal training, so she took an online genealogical research course through Boston University.

After completing the course, she launched her business in August 2014 and has kept busy either with paying clients or pro-bono work since.

Brighton says that everyone is able to do a certain amount of research on their own but that as a professional genealogist, she has access to far more resources and databases.

“I know where and how to look for information and data, partly because I’ve been trained to do this kind of research and partly because I’ve paid to have access to many different resources that help me piece things together,” she said. “I also belong to all kinds of online genealogy forums and am able to speak with some of my more experienced colleagues in the field to get their advice on certain issues I run into.”

The most important thing Brighton recommends to those trying to uncover their ancestors is to talk to family and write down their stories.

“Not only will these stories and memories help you figure out your family’s history, but having them written down or recorded will make it much easier for future generations to know the family genealogy,” she said

Her interest in genealogy began during high school in her American history class, when the teacher asked each person in the class to make a family tree going back five generations or as far as they could. She remembers sitting down with her parents and asking them where they had lived and grown up and what they knew about their grandparents and ancestors.

“My parents started making phone calls to find out the whole story about our family,” she said. “Even once my project was finished, my mom and her sister, my aunt, would go to the federal archives in Denver with me to go through the microfilm to find out more information about our family.”

Brighton remembers that during family road trips through the Midwest, they would frequently stop at cemeteries along the way to take pictures of gravestones of those they thought they might be related to.

On her father’s side, Brighton’s great aunt, Rosie, and her husband sold their home in the 1960s, bought an RV and traveled throughout the country.

“They went from relative to relative and collected as much information from each one as they could,” she said. “So, now I’ve inherited all of that and am putting it online at; I’ve always been the family historian, the one everyone told all the little tidbits so I could put it all together to add to our life story.”

Brighton has hopes that in the future, she will be able to collaborate with local high schools to help students do family tree projects similar to the one she did that first got her interested in genealogy.

“I’m very passionate that kids should learn about local, national and world history, and bringing family history research into that is one way to breathe life into various cultures, historical events and dead relatives,” she said. “Even if they don’t ‘get it’ right away, researching that history, learning their family stories, may narrow the generation gap as they remember them through time.”

Brighton sees genealogical research as a way of personalizing history’s events and times gone by.

“Making people from the past seem real again,” she said of her mission. “It bridges the gaps between generations, and can broaden our perspectives about how our world works, finding similarities between ourselves and our ancestors.”

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