His name was Abel Robert Thompson and he had passed 17 years before my father was born. He was my great-grandfather and my parents knew little of him and when I asked them for a photograph, they did not have one. So at fifteen I began a search that would continue for decades.

As I began my wondrous adventure, many paths were crossed. I learned much from vitals records and other typical genealogical sources. I was at the Harrisburg State Library so often the staff knew me by name. Along the way I talked to cousins and cousins of cousins. I found cousins so distant it was genetically preposterous to call them cousins at all. It was the beginning of a family history.

Since my initial curiosity, I began my first job, played sports, graduated from high school and college. I got married and had a child; and then another, and another; and then one more. I moved from Pennsylvania to Florida. I was living my life and my experiences were shaping me, giving me insight, intuitiveness, understanding and knowledge. As I was creating my own mini-family tree, I was acquiring abilities that would help me dramatically in my family history research.

In 1989, I found a cousin who had a photograph of my great grandfather, Daniel Row. Daniel was the brother of his grandfather. That photo was a treasure. In 1993, another cousin, after we discovered our similar heritage, mailed me a picture. It was photo taken circa 1860 of William Kelly and Elizabeth Shaffer, my great-great-great-grandparents. It is the oldest ancestral photo I have. I smiled for weeks. A year later I discovered a cousin who grew up next door to my grandmother in Big Run, PA.

Then in 1996 I received a letter. I lucked upon a cousin who knew my great-grandfather, Abel. Through this cousin I located another relative who had a picture of my great-grandpa! Yes, finally, after nearly twenty years, I had found what had begun my quest.

Over the past three decades, I have found that genealogy is a vocation best achieved through the combination of science, intuition, perseverance, knowledge, luck and creativity. There is no single method that works universally, but more a combination of skills required to find that ever elusive fact, photo or person. This path has led me to work as a professional genealogist, working on other families as ardently as mine. Along the way I have noticed the best finds are not from repositories, however, but rather from people passing along a photograph or a story of our fore-fathers. Thanks to our research, I can say that I know my great-grandpa, Abel Thompson. Do you know yours?

Marc D. Thompson, owner of VirtuFit® & VirtuGen, is a prominent fitness trainer, personal coach & professional genealogist with a background in medicine, exercise physiology & family history research. He has pioneered virtual training and teaches via webcam one-on-one and group classes. He also combines traditional genealogical research methods with cutting edge internet surfing while using multiple computers to produce the fastest, most accurate results. Along with over 25 years of experience in both fields, he draws from thousands of exercises, fitness disciplines, sports psychology techniques, nutritional principals & research techniques to teach & empower each individual client. His published works have appeared in Fighting Chance Magazine, Love’s Chance Magazine, Northern Stars Magazine, Offerings, Poetry Motel, Suzerian Enterprises and The Pink Chameleon. He currently pens blogs at ideafit.com. kurriosity.com and blogger.com.