South Charlotte

Genealogist enjoys digging up the past

Adam Martin, 41, is the quintessential jack of all trades.

His education and degrees (a bachelor's degree in English from Northwestern University, a juris doctor from Loyola of Chicago Law School and a Certificate in British Law and Politics from Oxford University) are as eclectic as his work experience.

He has worked as an attorney at a private law firm in Chicago, as in-house counsel for Exxon in Houston, as a substitute teacher in Chicago public schools, and as a yoga teacher in Charlotte, where he has resided since 2006.

Martin's current job, however, is one that he feels is the ideal melding of his many interests and skills. It is one he began pursuing as a hobby but has since parlayed into a full-time endeavor, and one that now allows him to do for others what he initially pursued for himself.

"I made a commitment to myself that I would spend my days doing what I like to do, and I had faith that the money would follow," Martin said.

What he likes to do, both for himself and his clients, is genealogical research. He spends about 30 hours a week on research, filling in the rest of his time with lawyer work, writing assignments and yoga instruction.

"I love a good story," Martin said, and his research has unearthed plenty. He began digging up information on his family tree to complete the work his great aunt initiated before she died. He thought it would be a hobby of a few months. Ten years later he is still digging.

He has unearthed more than13,000 names in his family's lineage tracing back to the British monarchy. One of his ancestors, Robert Gregory, is the subject of W.B. Yeats's poem - "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death." Martin does almost all of his research online, accessing newspaper articles, Department of Defense records from the Civil War, town histories, New England Historical Society records and books from the late 1800s that "are surprisingly detailed."

He has also traveled to Marblehead, Mass., to visit the libraries, cemeteries and museums there to "look at the artwork and artifacts first-hand."

His clients, most of whom find him through word of mouth, range from women who want him to provide proof of their lineage that is required for involvement with the Daughters of the American Revolution to folks who are simply curious about their family tree or want to tell their grandchildren about their ancestry.

Martin finds every search interesting.

"I love a good story," he said. "That's my main motivation."

He has been able to glean several lessons and overarching themes from his research.

"What really comes out is that all the failures, challenges and problems that we're experiencing now, and we think are the worst and most unique crises ever, it's all been going on in some shape or form forever," Martin said.

Martin has often unearthed less than desirable ancestors in his searches, such as a client whom he traced back to Lizzie Borden.

"I take no credit or blame for what my predecessors did," he said, both to himself and his clients, "but I am a product of them."

His searches can prove frustrating when they do not yield the expected results or generate more questions than they answer.

"Our instinct is to wrap everything up," Martin explains. "But life and family trees are never that neat."

Martin has learned that individuals and families are complex.

"The more you dig, the more complex they become," he said.

That is not a problem for Martin, who finds the digging - and the complexities - endlessly fascinating.