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Explore Your Family History

Discovery comes in all shapes and sizes at Canyon Ranch. Now it’s available in the form of a genealogy service for guests who wish to explore their family histories. The service is provided by Genevieve Leavitt, M.A. – better known to thousands of tennis-playing Ranch guests by her nickname, Jerry.

It was on the courts – where she’s been teaching and running the tennis program since 1982 – that Genevieve (the name she uses in the genealogy world) began casually sharing her profound expertise in genealogy: She has a master’s degree in historical archeology from William and Mary and a certificate in genealogical research from Boston University. Among the guests who became intrigued was Richard Smith of Portland, Oregon, a Ranch regular for the last 10 years.

“It started with me mentioning my curiosity about my father’s family one day when we were chatting on the court,” says Richard. “She asked a couple questions and I told her the few bare facts I knew about him – it wasn’t much because he’d died when I was five, my mother soon remarried, and his side of the family simply disappeared from our lives. She looked some things up, just for fun, and the next day told me more about my father’s family than I had ever known.

“Now, a couple of years down the road, she’s traced one branch of my family back into the 17th century, and uncovered fascinating things along the way – a Medal of Honor winner in the Civil War, and another ancestor who was shot, tomahawked and scalped in the Revolutionary War, then recovered and lived to father 10 children – a really wonderful, strange character. My three siblings are as enthralled as I am by what Jerry has been able to turn up. She’s the best genealogist I’ve ever encountered – she’s like a detective on the loose. Plus she has a great sense of humor, which makes working with her a great deal of fun.”

The increasing interest of guests like Richard led last year to the creation of a formal 50-minute Genealogy service, offered under the aegis of the Life Management department. “What we can do in 50 minutes is limited,” Genevieve explains, “so I like to call each guest beforehand, if possible, to get a few facts so I can start pulling documents. It’s when people see a grandparent’s name on a digital image of a handwritten document that it begins to come alive.”

For the service she works exclusively with online resources: Census records, military registration documents and Social Security applications are among the most useful starting places. Depending on guests’ interests, she focuses on finding specifics, or on teaching them how to use genealogical software and resources.

“Family history can quickly become overwhelming. I tell people to narrow it down to one person or question, and follow that thread where it leads, then come back and choose another thread to pull. And, I tell them, keep coming back: More material is available online not just every day, but every moment. There’s no end to what you can discover.”