Inheriting genealogical documents presents a challenge and an opportunity. Not everyone is able and inclined to carry on where other family members have left off. Surprises are in store for those who do.
Richard Swegan inherited his maternal grandmother’s documents during the early 1980s. They led to unexpected revelations, and he chose to continue and expand upon her work.
At 9:15 a.m. August 25 at the Chautauqua Women’s Club House, Swegan will talk about “The Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement in America: Abolition, Temperance and Women’s Rights.”
“I’m a lapsed fourth-generation Chautauquan,” said Swegan, who grew up in Berea, Ohio, and currently lives in the Greater Pittsburgh area. “My maternal grandparents were here in 1912. They each came with their widowed mothers. They came through the 1930s and stopped. My wife and I came here about 15 years ago.”
According to Swegan, his maternal grandfather was also an early genealogist before it became the popular thing to do. His grandparents had traced the family back to Mary Ann and Thomas M’Clintock and done some research on them.
In 1998, for the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Sentiments, Swegan said, the National Park Service brought together as many descendants of the signers as they could. This document was produced in 1848 at the first Women’s Right Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. It marked the beginning of the Suffrage Movement. (Swegan said that he recommends reading the Declaration, which is available via the National Park Service’s website.)
During the anniversary celebration, First Lady Hillary Clinton took a national “Treasures Tour.” She concluded the tour at M’Clintock House in Waterloo, New York, where the Declaration of Sentiments was drafted and finalized three days before the convention.
“My curiosity started with the question, why would my great-great-grandfather, at a time when men controlled everything, be interested in women’s rights?” Swegan said.
During the past 15 years, he has been researching, exploring and speaking about the rise and causes of the women’s rights movement in the United States.
“I was challenged by how little I knew, because I’m not a historian by trade. It’s a progressive thing,” Swegan said. “The major facts are understood — where the convention was, who spoke and what was said. But I didn’t have a clue about what their world was like. I needed to spend more time on their mores.”
Seneca Falls, Swegen said, is in “the middle of nowhere, but they had connections to the Transcendentalists in Boston and the intellectual community in Philadelphia.” His research led him to the Quakers.
“The Quakers are central to this and I knew nothing about the religious Society of Friends other than that they are pro-peace,” Swegen said. “I was expanding my learning by going to meetings. The fundamental challenge was how little I knew.”
Heretofore, Swegan had been following an entirely different path. He graduated from the College of Wooster in Ohio, earned a master’s degree in counseling at Ohio University, pursued doctoral-level studies in higher education administration at Ohio State University and did additional graduate work at Harvard University. Between degrees, he worked as an administrator and taught at Wooster and Muskingum University. He has also taught at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
After his children were born, Swegan said he left education to work for Rax, a fast-food restaurant chain, where he eventually became vice president for human resources. During most of his HR career, however, he worked as a consultant.
“The firms I worked with evaluated people for hiring at all levels in the organization,” he said. “I sold and delivered packages. We trained people for leadership positions.”
Toward the end of his career, Swegan said he applied many leadership-related skills to selling software packages to enhance safety.
Swegan is the author of The Memories of Thomas M’Clintock: A Quiet Warrior for Women’s Rights and the Abolition of Slavery published in 2010. He also collaborated with his wife, Debra Dinnocenzo, on Dot Calm: The Search for Sanity in a Wired Word.
He said that every couple of years he has been teaching a Special Studies course at Chautauqua – “The Road to Seneca Falls.” Last summer he spoke at the Men’s Club.
“It’s great fun,” Swegan said. “This is a great place to teach and talk.”