John Kenneth Crawford has become a detective of sorts in retirement, piecing together the mystery of the generations that came before him.
A quest to map his family tree recently led Crawford and his wife, Linda, to Allegheny College to find more information about one illustrious relative: William Henry Crawford, Crawford’s great-grandfather and the 10th president of the College.
The Crawfords traveled from their home in Lewes, Delaware, to spend a day in the Merrick Archives scrolling through black-and-white photographs of the former president and searching through records. They also visited Greendale Cemetery in Meadville, where William Henry Crawford is buried.
Crawford’s father, William Henry Crawford’s grandson, became interested in genealogy after retirement. Crawford, then a college student, “couldn’t have cared less” about his lineage and ancestors, he said. That changed after his father’s death in 2001; he started looking through old boxes of old photos and baby books; about a year and a half ago, he got serious about research.
“It’s certainly of interest to me to know who these people were and where I came from,” Crawford said. “It’s kind of like figuring out it’s like a big jigsaw puzzle.”
William Henry Crawford, one of the longest-serving presidents of Allegheny, led the school from 1893 to 1920. He died March 6, 1944. (Read a biography here.)
Among the photographs the Crawfords found in the digital archives is a 1908 picture of a group of Allegheny representatives, including William Henry Crawford, at the original grave of Timothy Alden at Pine Creek Cemetery in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. Another shows the former president with U.S. President William Howard Taft and others during Taft’s visit to Allegheny in May of 1918.
Through earlier research, Crawford confirmed stories he’d been told about being related to passengers on the Mayflower and to “witches” who were hung in Salem, Massachusetts.
“Once you get involved in ancestry, it kind of sucks you in,” Crawford said. “There are so many ways of going around finding clues you didn’t know. It can be a lot of fun.”
It’s a chance to travel and learn about the family members who came before them, Linda Crawford said.
“I like the opportunity to understand how the family has come together and who the former generations were, trying to imagine what their lives were like,” she said.
College Archivist Ruth Andel, who helped the Crawfords with their search, said she enjoys sharing materials with researchers because while the archives exist to document Allegheny’s institutional history, “it’s really all about the people.”
“We have in our collections fascinating bits and pieces of the lives of thousands of folks who passed through our campus in the past 200 years. One of the greatest rewards of my job is connecting the lives of the present with those of the past,” she said. “It is always rewarding to meet descendants of those who led Allegheny and contributed to making it the leading educational institution it is today.”