Featured Story

One man’s vast genealogical database given to all

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO Mattituck-Laurel Library director Jeff Walden looks over the many donated files.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO Mattituck-Laurel Library director Jeff Walden looks over the many donated files.

In the margins of hundreds of pages filed in binders, Greenport native Bill Hulse took copious notes and tucked them away in boxes of old family photos, newspaper clippings and cemetery maps.

Next to records of each wedding celebration, every obituary and on all the birth announcements, Mr. Hulse recorded numbers.

Those numbers were linked to the database he built up over decades documenting more than 60,000 descendants of the founding families of the North Fork. Each number represented an entry in the catalogue, which traced the history of the North and South forks and Shelter Island, fanning out from the first Hulses, Raynors, Hallocks, Youngs and Hawkinses.

“He was just a genealogy powerhouse,” said Jeff Walden, director of Mattituck-Laurel Library, where Mr. Hulse spent many days poring over microfilm of The Suffolk Times archives. “His mind was just unbelievable. He could remember names, dates, people, places, he could just go off the top of his head about a particular family.”

But his life’s work was never fully completed. Mr. Hulse died Aug. 20 at 73 after an extended illness. But as one of his last wishes, he made it clear that he wanted his research to be accessible to all.

Last week, the Mattituck-Laurel Library accepted a donation from the Hulse family of his entire collection of research and rare genealogical books worth thousands of dollars. The gift nearly doubles the library’s archive of local histories.

“It’s a lifetime full of research,” Mr. Walden said. “He would be thrilled to know all that work would be living on and helping somebody else out.”

Mr. Walden met Bill Hulse about 10 years ago, when he first began using the library’s collections in his research.

Mr. Hulse’s love of genealogy started when he was 18 years old. His grandfather, Ellsworth Hawkins Randall, gave him a briefcase filled with research material. Until his dying day, Mr. Hulse kept that worn suitcase among his prized possessions.

He became well-known in the local genealogy community, helping countless other amateurs discover their family roots.

“If you look at any genealogical collection on the North or South fork over the past 20 years — family ones, self-published — [it’s] guaranteed Bill Hulse’s name was probably somewhere in the acknowledgements,” Mr. Walden said.

Genealogy may have been his passion, but it couldn’t be a career. Mr. Hulse worked as a banker, then as a dispatcher for the Southampton Town Police Department and owned a liquor store owner in Westhampton before retiring young. That gave him more time to devote to his hobby and his time as a board member of the Suffolk County Historical Society.

Mr. Hulse met his wife, Pam, 24 years ago at a reunion of the well-known Raynor family on the East End. She was just getting into genealogy, and the two hit it off.

Their first date? Dinner for two and a trip to the local cemetery to find her ancestor’s gravestone.

“He found my relative,” Ms. Hulse recalled in an interview this week. “He knew!”

The two would travel up and down the East Coast, always stopping to do a little research along the way, she said.

“It was like every place we’ve ever been, we mapped it out by the cemeteries or the libraries he wanted to visit,” Ms. Hulse said. What was even more remarkable, she added, was that Mr. Hulse’s collection began long before the Internet or cell phones made it easy to share information. He spent many years armed with nothing more than a clipboard.

“He was a marvel, as far as that was concerned,” she said, adding that after she “dragged him into the 21st century,” he became a pro with digitized tools.

Ms. Hulse said her husband had always wanted to donate his collection and was adamant that it should go to the library.

“People who are now getting interested in their roots, they’re going to go home to where they think their families are from. He wanted that to be there for them,” she said. “His genealogy will live on.”

Most of the records — which have been lovingly dubbed the William Hulse Collection — are currently piled high in Mr. Walden’s office. Slowly, he’s begun working to sort the information and make it readily available for others to use. That process could take years due to the sheer volume of Mr. Hulse’s work, Mr. Walden said.

“We’d really like to digitize this whole thing,” he said. “The linchpin is going to be his database … he’s very meticulous the way he organized it. I just have to see if I can get into his head and see if I can understand what he created.”

Although Mr. Hulse dedicated his entire adult life to genealogy, Mr. Walden said the local historian’s collection still includes folders of papers that hadn’t yet been filed away and work that was left unfinished.

“He wished he had another lifetime to finish what he really set out to accomplish,” Mr. Walden said. “As much as he did, he wished he had more time to dedicate to it.”

Ms. Hulse said she’s sure her husband is finishing that work from the other side. In fact, she joked, he’s probably been sidetracked on the way through heaven: after all, there are so many ancestors he needs to meet.

“Bill hasn’t even gotten through the gates yet, because he’s got his clipboard and he’s writing down names and dates,” she joked.