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Lawrence G. Robbins: Family Researcher to Author, Part I

Ever since my first communications with Lawrence G. Robbins in 2009, I've had the utmost admiration and respect for his work in documenting the descendants of Nicholas Robbins. The exhaustive research and exacting documentation incorporated into The Nicholas Robbins Family: A Genealogical History of the Family Through the Eighth Generation, have guided and inspired many Robbins researchers. Being the benefactor of assistance and kind advice over the years, I thought it would be fitting and insightful to ask Lawrence to share some of the details concerning his early exposure to Robbins family genealogy and what eventually inspired him to write his book. He graciously agreed. The following conversation is the first in a series of blog postings concerning the evolution of Lawrence's knowledge of the Robbins family into a published book.

Julie: Please talk a little bit about the family stories and history that were passed to you and how you learned about them.

Lawrence: "I didn't have much interest in genealogy until my dad, Robert M. Robbins, was in the last year of his life. He was retired and living in Southern California. I was living and working in western Washington. On one of my trips to see him during that last year, I asked him if he would like to tape his recollections about his youth and his family. My dad hadn't written much down over the years but he had a terrific memory and he was most happy to tell his story. Over the next two days we filled up four or five cassettes.

"Dad’s paternal grandfather, Robert W. Robbins, immigrated from Nova Scotia to Michigan around 1870 and then continued on out to Oregon around 1890. He worked in the lumber business in both Michigan and Oregon and he was quite a story teller. My dad grew up hearing his grandfather's stories about how the Robbins were descended from Scottish Highlanders who had escaped the turmoil in Scotland by migrating to Nova Scotia. So there was much reverence for all things Scottish.

"My dad's other grandfather, Matt Thuesen, was from Denmark. He had migrated to the U.S. with two of his brothers and they had made their way across the country via Wyoming, where they spent a few years laying track for the railroad. But they were seaman and farmers at heart and they eventually settled in a small village on Puget Sound in Washington, much like the village they had come from in Jutland, Denmark. Not too long after he arrived, Matt Thuesen set up a farmer's co-op with a lot of his fellow Scandinavian immigrants in the area and once a week he would take all the farm products over to Seattle by boat and sell them off a cart he pushed up and down the hills of the city. In the 1890s and early 1900s he was a well-respected tradesman and someone you could count on and was known in Seattle as "Mr. Wednesday". Before my dad started school, he would sometimes go with his grandfather on his boat trips to Seattle and around Puget Sound. On some of those trips, his grandfather would ferry salesmen on their rounds from one village to another. This was an era before roads and cars. Even though nearly sixty years had passed, my dad could still remember these experiences with remarkable clarity, the smell of the ocean air, the hucksters with all their stories as the boat made its way between villages, the excitement of the docks coming into view, some time ashore, and then off to the next port of call with some new salesmen and new stories. My dad had many other stories to tell about growing up in Silverdale, Washington, but these were the ones that seemed to mean the most to him. It won't surprise you to know that he went into sales himself and made a good living at it.

"After my dad passed away in November, 1975, I took all of his recollections about his grandfather, Matt Thuesen, and wrote a biographic profile for a county history that was then in progress. That was my first venture into genealogy. My dad had some knowledge about the Thuesen family before they came to the U.S., so I was able to take the story back to a time when the Danes and the Germans were still contesting control over southern Jutland. Twenty years later in 1995, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Varde and Billum in Jutland, Denmark, the sites of the Thuesen ancestral home. It was an amazing experience to walk along those streets where my great-grandfather had once walked and to visit the church in Billum, where he had been christened. As I have discovered again and again over the years of studying my family history, there is great joy in visiting the places where our ancestors lived and gaining insight into how their environments shaped their character."

Julie: What lovely reminiscenses of your father and his experiences with his grandfather Thuesen. To know what ancestors felt and saw is so special. I also keenly appreciate your comments about visiting the places where an ancestor once walked. Thank you for sharing these stories with us.

In the next installment, Lawrence will talk more about his Robbins family and discovering the ancestral link between Nova Scotia and Michigan.

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