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Historical Research Finds a Few Skeletons [Loudoun magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Loudoun magazine
December 2003, page 15

Mary Fishback has a passion for genealogy. Just ask her about her husband John’s family.

“Oh this is a good one,” says the woman who for most of her career worked as a nurse and phlebotomist. She sits back in an overstuffed chair in the with Leesburg’s Thomas Balch Library, where she has worked on and off more than 30 years, and smiles wryly as she begins to tell the tale.

“John’s family has lived in the Lovettsville area since 1732,” Fishback explains. “His great-grandmother, Catty Fry-well, she was a very interesting woman. She had eight children by five husbands. Legend has it that the men in Stumptown would vie for her affections. Catty drank, but they say she sang like an angel on Sunday morning, at Bethel Church.”

Fishback is full of such stories, for in the last three decades spent researching family history she’s turned up tons of history—and not just on the Fishback clan.

“One of my relatives was a horse thief, and I love knowing that,” says the native of Middleburg whose mother was the cook at the town’s famous Coach Stop Restaurant. The old adage about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes before making a judgment seems to fit with family research, says Fishback.

“You can go through your entire life thinking you are a person from a certain kind of family and then—boom. It makes your life richer to know you come from a long line of interesting people, each with their own wonderful stories.”

In addition to spending time combing through the tomes at Thomas Balch, one of the largest history and genealogy libraries in the region, in the early 1980s Fishback helped found the Loudoun Genealogy Club. For 20 years, she served as its president and writes a regular column for the local newspaper.

More recently she has been the editor of five volumes of vintage photographs of Loudoun and the area. Her latest is titled Leesburg, and provides a photographic journey into the town’s past through the eyes of Leesburg residents.

Two years ago, though, Fishback decided she’d spent enough years juggling her nursing career and her passion for genealogy. She quit her job at Graydon Manor, a psychiatric environmental learning center for children and adolescents, and began working full time as a library assistant at Thomas Balch.

There’s never a shortage of people looking to find their own skeletons, she admits.
“People come here from all around the country, and around the world, to research their family histories,” she offers. “People are naturally curious about their roots. It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle, but one without any borders. You can just keep going and learning about generation after generation. It’s an exciting, fascinating, and continuous journey. I just love it.”


More Loudoun magazine Articles

"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.