Thursday, May 26, 2011

“Get Lucy”

Perhaps it was those formative high school years that set me on a course to eventually realize my love of history. By some divine design, I attended classes at a high school that just happened to have its own radio station.

There is something about public school pedagogy that likes to focus on the rift between “process” and “content” and this radio station did not escape that conceptual paradigm. For them, “Educational Radio Station” meant content, not the process of learning how to run a station.

So, for the opportunity of being on the air, I had to submit to the rigors of preparing program material that was educational. For one series of programs, I developed the concept of delving into the local history of the many villages dotting Long Island.

I remember creating the script for one town, Sayville. I knew absolutely nothing about that town when I started, other than how to drive there (and in particular, how to drive to my favorite shopping find). But by the time I finished the program, complete with interviews, I fell in love with Sayville’s history.

Sayville was a quaint village where colonial Americans settled, but failed to actually name until nearly eighty years later—and even then, managed to misspell their chosen designation.

Sayville was where urban New Yorkers fled for extended summer vacations at the shore. Or to stay and snag a piece of real estate near the other other Roosevelts.

Sayville was the spot where Marlon Brando was “discovered” while doing summer stock for those hordes of vacationing New Yorkers.

And at the turn of the last century, Sayville was the location a fledgling German communications company chose to install a test device in its new line of wireless transmitters. The device went mostly unnoticed in that bucolic setting until a message was sent via the device three years after its installation.

The message? “Get Lucy.”

In May of that same year, and on the opposite side of the ocean that fronts Sayville, the RMS Lusitania was sunk, precipitating the entrance of the United States into World War I.

I found wonderful tidbits of history not only for Sayville, but for every town I included in my radio production adventure. Of course, my student (and professional) radio days are over, but now I research for genealogy-related purposes. The research process that began with the content development for my program has stuck with me for decades.

Every town where my ancestors settled became part of what shaped my family. Johnson City, Tennessee, and the surrounding towns became the hub for not only my Broyles ancestors, but my Boothe and Davis forebears, too. Lafayette and Fort Wayne, Indiana, told the story of my husband’s immigrant Stevens family as they settled in this New World. From rustic settings to the urban neighborhoods of my own father’s family in New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, I follow the trails of family history, dovetailed with town records preserved by local historical societies.

These ancestors' lives were intertwined with the communities where they lived. How could these details not be part of the search?

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