Sorting through details, connecting the dots and unraveling mysteries are Ed Wright’s things. From naval intelligence to genealogy, Wright has always been a details guy.
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Surrounded by books at Colonial Roots, his small shop on southbound Route 1 just north of Five Points, Wright muses about family histories, and the growing, curiosity-driven interest in ferreting them out. “You answer one question, and it brings up so many more,” said Wright.
His interest in genealogy started when he was in the Navy, working in Washington, D.C. He was in communications and intelligence at the time, and a petty officer suggested he visit the National Archives to learn more about his family. So, he went. “I looked at the Census records. They revealed a lot on my family, but I made a lot of mistakes and too many assumptions,” he said.
Just as his intelligence work required him to sift through piles of data to draw conclusions, genealogy requires the same. Wright thinks in some ways the two pursuits are linked.
His 21 years in Naval intelligence provided training for his second career. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1956 and embarked on a career that took him through the Philippines, Okinawa and California, where he met his wife, also a Naval intelligence officer.
“I had six months seniority on her until we were married. Then I lost all my seniority,” Wright said.
Wright’s come a long way since his days in the National Archives. He established Family Line Publications when he was living in Maryland. He has some 200 titles in his name and has published 1,000 more. Wright and his wife moved to Lewes to be closer to her mother in southern New Jersey. Now that he lives in the Cape Region, he is still publishing and has a dozen researchers working on projects across the country.
They, like Wright, sift through myriad colonial records – church records, deeds, surveys, orphan’s court records and more – and transcribe or abstract the information. Usually, they work from microfilm, and it can take from six weeks to a few years to complete a work, said Wright. The finished product makes the original data more available to others searching their roots – it’s easier to read, they don’t have to travel to the centers that house the microfilm and they don’t have to read colonial handwriting.
Now, Wright is transcribing marriage records. Marriage records help genealogists identify people and sometimes their parents and children, which helps researchers establish family relationships.
When Wright began publishing Census records, he said, there weren’t many books available for genealogists. “There wasn’t a great deal published then. Now, with the internet and easy word processing, public interest in genealogy has really blossomed,” he said, looking around at the colorful bookbindings in his store.
Wright says most of his sales are done online or by mail order, but sometimes he gets walk-in traffic. He’s interested in his customers’ stories as much as in his own.
“I’ve discovered three lines of Wrights from the 1680s in Caroline County,” he said. Identifying the descendants of those people, he found 15 married couples with direct relationships. He sent fliers to the descendants he found.
“This fellow called and said, ‘I think it’s great, what you’re doing, but you sent me a letter, and you also sent my wife one,” Wright recalled, laughing warmly. “I said, ‘Well, you’re related!” The twinkle in his eye says there’s a serious sense of humor with Wright’s academic side.
The records are even amusing, Wright says, and Colonial court reporters rarely minced words. Look for insults in court cases and coarse language that would not appear in today’s courtrooms.
Wright isn’t the first genealogist in his family. He is descended from the sister of Ezekiel Cooper, who died in 1830. Cooper also made a family tree, and Wright found a portrait of Cooper in Barratt’s Chapel. “That was pretty neat,” Wright said.
Wright has taken his quest to uncover his personal family history and produced volumes that have helped others discover their own histories.
“With my family search, as I got into it, I got an appreciation for details and history,” Wright said. After discovering that his great-great-grandmother received a veteran’s pension in 1880, he developed a special interest in the War of 1812. He learned that his great-great-grandfather had been a militia man.
“The British raised Cain all over the Chesapeake region,” said Wright. They made an infamous landing off Lewes, in search of cattle. “Of course, the people of Lewes refused. And they got bombed,” Wright said.
In response to British looting and burning, militias across the Delmarva Peninsula were called up regularly, he said. Trying to learn more about his ancestor’s role, Wright was disappointed by the scarcity of details he found in history books – there was much more focus on the Revolutionary War. “There was so little in the histories, it really annoyed me. So, I went to the National Archives,” said Wright.
He combed through militia records from Delmarva and transcribed them. It was a lot of work, but it proved a useful product. Fort McHenry requested the militia muster Wright assembled. He gave it to them.
Wright’s years of dedication to family histories have provided genealogists with heaps of readily accessible records, enabling them to search out their own histories and learn about their families as he has learned about his.