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Friday Night Dialogues: Karen Kiaer on family genealogy

“But everyone has a story,” Karen Kiaer shot back when asked if all family histories are as fascinating as her own. 

Still, Kiaer’s family history is about as compelling as it gets, and she has set it all down in her new book, “Ancestors Through My Eyes: The Story of an American Family — The Ingersolls of Massachusetts, New York, and Michigan: 1620-1920.” 

“I wrote the book,” she told me, “to simplify the genealogy of one ancestor on my mother’s side over ten generations.” That ancestor was John Ingersoll, who sailed from England to America arriving in Boston in about 1651. That first Ingersoll in America had three wives (two died in childbirth) and sired 14 children. 

“This was perhaps the biggest surprise in all my research,” Kiaer said. Another unexpected detail was learning that her great-great-grandmother, who lived during the Civil War, was married twice. The second time was to her own son-in-law who was eight years younger than she was. Kiaer’s research took her to Massachusetts, New York, and Michigan where she visited at least two dozen cemeteries looking for names and dates on headstones. She interviewed over 50 people, and she read through dozens of genealogies, one of which was from her great-great-grandmother. 

Along the way she discovered she is related to Noah Webster. Yes, that Noah Webster. Closer to home, Kiaer is the Chapter Historian of the Shelter Island Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). 

Through that connection she learned she is related to fellow Shelter Islander, Barbara Barnes. A Barnes married an Ingersoll way back when. Through that same DAR connection, she discovered she is also related to Paulette Van Vranken of Shelter Island, a descendant of one John Proctor. Proctor was sentenced to death during the witch trials by another ancestor of Karen Kiaer. She told me her one regret in researching and setting down this 400-year history of her family is that she was too young to ask her beloved grandmother all the questions to which she’d now love the first-hand answers. 

Karen Kiaer will tell these stories as well as give audience members guidance about doing their own family histories at Friday Night Dialogues on December 7, at 7 p.m.