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'A Beautiful Discovery': NOPL Resources Help California Woman Unravel Family History

Marie Simoneaux

Marie Simoneaux

Marie is a writer and journalist who tells stories about the human impact of the New Orleans Public Library

Lynn Dosty is a California native who has only been to New Orleans once, for a visit almost two decades ago. And yet, in the past few months, she said the New Orleans Public Library has changed her life and set her on a genealogical mission to tell her family’s story.

“My ancestors are from New Orleans; my father was born there and my grandparents too, and I recently inherited the original cabinet cards of my ancestors,” Dosty explained. “They’re all based in photo studios in New Orleans, and I wanted to put a story behind these photos. So, I just started looking up information on genealogy in that area.” 

In late 2019, her search connected her with LA Creole, a New Orleans-based family research and educational organization. From there, she learned of an upcoming Library series about researching Catholic ancestors in New Orleans. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Library programs are being presented virtually, so Dosty was thrilled she could tune in from the other side of the country. 

“My father’s grandparents were free people of color living in New Orleans, and they were Catholic. He knew they were buried in New Orleans, but he never knew exactly where. So when I heard about this seminar, I thought that it might be helpful in finding them,” Dosty said. “And what would you know, after that first session, I looked them up in the Catholic Cemeteries database and, within minutes, I found them.” 

After finding her lost great-grandparents, Dosty said she was hooked. 

“That was such a beautiful discovery for me, so I decided at that point to apply for an out-of-state Library card so that I could do more research and be more connected to my Louisiana roots,” she said. 

A few months later, Dosty heard about another webinar hosted by the Library that immediately sparked her interest: “Finding Isabelle London Jefferson: A NOLA Family Matriarch.” The program was presented by local genealogist and educator Gaynell Brady to provide a blueprint to African American genealogy. 

“Researching our genealogy –– particularly mapping our enslaved ancestors –– is a difficult and murky task,” Brady said. “But it is so important for us to understand where we came from, and to uncover the true stories of our people, which is why I do what I do.” 

Dosty said watching Brady detail her research into her enslaved ancestors was a pivotal moment in Dosty’s own genealogical project. Prior to hearing Brady’s presentation, Dosty said she was focusing primarily on her New Orleans family, who were not enslaved and, therefore, easier to locate. 

Her other line, however, traces back to the St. Francisville area, where her ancestors were enslaved. While she’s always been eager to dive into that research, Dosty said she never knew exactly how to start. 

“The New Orleans line was just easier to trace, so I figured I would just start there. But when I saw Gaynell, she really inspired me,” Dosty said. “So now, I’ve kind of taken a detour, and everything I’m doing now is focused on looking into that enslaved side. That’s where my heart is.” 

In addition to giving her the tools and the push she needed, this Library program gave Dosty something even more valuable: an addition to her own family tree. 

“While Gaynell was doing her presentation, my wheels were turning. She was talking about places I recognized from when I first tried to look into my genealogy on that side. By the end of her presentation, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that we were connected in some way, and I thought there was a possibility we might share some ancestors,” Dosty said. 

Using some of the techniques Brady described in the program, Dosty did some digging that confirmed her suspicions. 

“It was amazing, I could not believe it,” Dosty said. 

While this connection came as a shock to Dosty –– who quickly contacted Brady to share her findings –– Brady said it happens to her all the time. While not uncommon, Brady said these interactions and realizations are a primary reason she believes genealogical research is so valuable.

“We all live in this shared space and it’s so important for us to understand that we’re all more alike than not alike, and we’re more connected than we are disconnected,” she said. 

It’s been a few years since Dosty first came into possession of her family’s photographs and records, and she said she is now deep in the process of creating a complete genealogical story of her family. In addition to the photographs, Dosty inherited a plethora of documents recording her New Orleans family’s history, including the original midwife receipt from her grandmother’s birth, more than 100 years ago.

“I don’t want to just make the tree, I really want to tell their story. It’s a big project, but I’m retired now, and this is my passion. I won’t stop until I get there,” Dosty said. “I was really interested in doing this before, but since I’ve been connected with the New Orleans Library and with Gaynell, there’s nothing stopping me.”

Dosty said she is eagerly awaiting the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic so she can book a trip to New Orleans and visit the Library in person. 

“I have big plans. I want to rent a condo and stay there for a few weeks at least. I can just see myself, sitting in the Library for hours, digging through your archives, and reconnecting with my ancestral roots. I can’t wait, I get excited just thinking about it,” she said. “I just know that the New Orleans [Public] Library is going to be instrumental in helping me achieve my goal. It already has been, and I haven’t even been there yet.” 

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