Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Father

“What do I care about those people they’re dead…I didn’t know them.” Imagine my surprise when I received this response from my father, John Alzo, when I once asked him what he could tell me about his ancestors. 

While my dad was not all that interested in genealogy, he said he appreciated that I was and that it was  “a lot of work.”  Since I wrote a post on Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Mother for Mother’s Day, I thought I would remember Dad on Father’s Day with a similar post.

Daddy and me. Image from family photo collection; held for private use by Lisa A. Alzo 

1. Generosity goes a long way.  My father was one of the most generous people I know. When my father passed away in 2005, one of my cousins, said the following about him: “If all the people in the world could have someone like him in their lives, the world would be a much better place and there would be peace through out.”  I try to be generous with my time and sharing my knowledge with the genealogy community.  

2. It really is important to talk to your relatives. The fact that my father said “he couldn’t help me” made me realize how I should have asked questions of family members while they were still around.  

3. Work hard and then work even harder. Despite the popular perception today of “everything is online,” genealogy research is hard work.  My father worked as a carpenter and used different tools and skills than I do as a researcher and writer, but in a way we are both builders. Dad always finished his jobs through to completion and I feel compelled to do the same. 

4. Smile. My father had a beautiful smile. He was generally a happy guy who loved to laugh and joke. It is important to smile through the brick walls in both genealogy and in life. 

5. Surround yourself with trusted friends. My dad had the same circle of friends from the time he was in high school up until he passed away. Dad taught me how to be a good friend. Many of my closest friends today are fellow genealogists. We bonded because of our love for chasing ancestors, and the common interest has helped us to develop a deeper friendship. 

6. Build a solid foundation. My father’s family was his foundation and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for those he loved. I always keep in mind that the reason I do genealogy is to honor my family—my foundation.

John Alzo (front, center) with his family (L-R): Elizabeth Alzo (mother), Betty Alzo (sister), Anna (Sr. Mary Camilla) Alzo, sister, Helen Alzo (sister), John Alzo (father). From Alzo private photo collection, held for private use by Lisa A. Alzo

7. Love what you do. My father had a real passion for his work and also for play—as in playing basketball.  Things were not always easy on the job or on the court, but Dad stuck it out because he loved carpentry and loved the game of basketball. I am passionate about researching and writing about family history and about inspiring others to learn more about their roots and ethnic heritage.

8. Be proud of your accomplishments, but don’t brag. Dad was a star basketball player in high school and when he played for local fraternal teams in Pittsburgh, and several semi-professional teams. I have Dad’s scrapbook of all of the newspaper articles written about him during that time of his life. Yet, Dad never bragged. I had to ask him about his accolades and only then could I see he was proud of his contributions to the wins of the various teams he played for. I am lucky to be able to work in a field I enjoy, and I feel proud of the work I have done as a genealogist and a writer, but like my father, I don’t always feel the need to talk about it.

9. Appreciate the time you have with living relatives. I spent 14 years as a caregiver for my parents. I don’t regret a day of it. I’m grateful for the times I spent with my mother and father. As genealogists, we spend time and money to seek information mostly about dead relatives, but sometimes we forget about our living family members. It is important to call, video chat, message, and spend time in person just talking with those who are still around. One day it will be too late. 

10. Shoot Your Best Shot! Dad used basketball as a metaphor throughout his life. He met the challenges of life like he would a tough opponent on the court; with one simple phrase in mind: “When the chips are down, shoot your best shot.”  Whether I’m facing a perplexing research problem or just general challenges in my own life, I try to think how my father would tackle a problem or address a situation and try to keep this phrase in mind.

Today is the tenth Father’s Day since my father passed away. Recently, while looking through some family memorabilia, I came across a Father’s Day present I made for my dad in 1972. It’s a paper heart booklet. On the front cover is a paper cutout of my hand and in the center is my school picture from the third grade.

The inside pages contained some special verses in honor of Father’s day which I neatly printed:

“I give my heart to love you Daddy dear.
I give my hand to work for you each year.
I give you myself, my prayers to bring you cheer
On Father’s Day this year.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I miss you!

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved