Aug 4, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterDean Szczepanski didn't expect to dip himself into the large pool of research he would need to do to dig deep into his family roots. Once he went further into his genealogy project, more family members and other Fremont County residents were included, and each told a different story.
Szczepanski started his project in the mid-1980s, but he developed his curiosity years before.
The project included the family ties of his father, Henry Frank Szczepanski, and his mother Dorothy (Hudson) Szczepanski of Lander. Szczepanski used all possible sources of information to obtain birth dates, place of birth, marriages, places and dates of death, and other information on his parents and relatives.
Books, hand-written records, old newspapers, online sites, and interviews with family members divulged obituaries, birth, engagement, wedding and divorce announcements, and stories of accomplishments of thousands, of people.
After putting his research on hold and retiring from a job in Yakima, Wash., Szczepanski jumped back into his genealogy project and made the completion of the project his priority.
"Although it competes with all the other things I have been looking forward to doing during this phase of my life, hopefully I can do so in the next few years," he said.
Szczepanski organized his information into file drawers that now contains about 12,000 3 x 5 cards hold the names of Fremont County residents prior to 1919.
Those findings came after Szczepanski found his "genealogical bug."
"People either seem to have it or they don't," he said. "Part of my motivation has been wondering where I come from, in a more fundamental way than the birds and the bees."
He encouraged others to seek information if they were eager to know more than the basic name and date of birth. A lot of his curiosity came from wanting to know why he was the way he was, and why his parents were the way they were, he said.
As an analytical person, he said he also saw the lack of family photos explaining who was pictured, so he always wondered who that was in the photo.
While researching people in the county, Szczepanski said he was impressed with the "early residents" and described them as "very versatile" people.
"Few stayed in one occupation over the years," he said.
His genealogy project begins with the gold rush in the late 1860s at South Pass City.
"After the gold played out, most miners simply left," Szczepanski said. "Those who chose to stay in the area had to find another way to make a living."
With the growing number of people he included in his project he opted for basic family structure as opposed to getting too specific and extensive with their information.
He said he hopes his final published information also can serve as a reference material for other families and researchers..
"I have to leave it up to each family researcher to 'flesh out' their relatives," Szczepanski said.
Many relatives took valuable information with them when they died, while others left behind a great deal of information.
"Some are excited about it, some mildly interested, and others get that 'deer in headlights' look in their eyes, hoping I will go away soon," he said.
His interest in family history helped him discover interesting information. For instance, the Town of Hudson was named after his second great uncle, Daniel Frost Hudson.
Also, his great-grandfather, William Jones, was a butcher in the mining district during the gold rush days.
And he discovered he was related to Abraham Lincoln after reading two books and the old hand-written records kept by clerks in Massachusetts.
His mother's Puritan ancestors arrived down the coast from Boston at Hingham, Mass., in 1635. One of these travelers was Samuel Lincoln. Szczepanski said Samuel Lincoln was the original immigrant ancestor of Abraham Lincoln.
"I am descended from Samuel at least five different ways that I am aware of," he said, adding that the apparent intermarrying was a result of a limited gene pool at the time.
He also mentioned Degory Priest, who was a Mayflower passenger but died on the ship before it arrived to American and while it was still anchored on the coast.
His wife and two daughters survived, he said. It is through him that Szczepanski is related to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt's mother, Sara Ann Delano, is descended from Priest.
Szczepanski had little to tell about his maternal grandfather Frank Leon Hudson, who he said died when his mother was 18 years old.
"My mother didn't talk much about it," he said. "I'm sure it was very traumatic for her."
His grandfather suffered from a heart attack while he chopped wood at a family farm on Snavely Lane between Lander and Hudson. He holds one photo of Frank.
"He, like me, apparently didn't like to have his picture taken," Szczepanski said.
Editor's note: In the next installment of this Start to Finish, readers will learn about the future of this genealogy project and what Szczepanski is leaving behind for his grandchildren.
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