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Austin Families Association of America

Janet Austin Curtis

by Michael Edward Austin
Author's Note: I met with Janet Austin Curtis on several occasions, and since April 1980 we exchanged Austin genealogical data and correspondence relating to the history, directions, goals and future of genealogical research and publications relating to Austin families. Much of the following article is based on that correspondence. Other information on Janet's life was furnished by her husband, Wesley E. Curtis, and forwarded to Austins of America by Bonnie Bigolin. The listing of Janet's articles and manuscripts is from her untitled 36-page red 1979 Reunion booklet dealing with Austin coats-of-arms, Austin immigrants, and Austin reference sources.
Janet Austin CurtisGenealogist Janet Austin Curtis died at home on Sunday, 16 June 1991, after a long illness. She had devoted over 50 years to researching Austin lines, and to helping others discover their Austin roots. She considered herself ''a rather unorthodox genealogist, a rebel at heart.'' Accuracy and completeness were always her goals. She believed ''that most people have no imagination, and are almost totally lacking in patience, and will not sift through anything that is not indexed.'' This may seem a rather harsh view to some, but Janet was a serious researcher and she tended to judge others by the same high standards she had set for herself.
An Early Introduction to Genealogy
Janet Virginia Austin was born 18 May 1920 in North Holston, Virginia, a descendant of Richard Austin of Charlestown (for her full Austin line, see page 287 of the book A Genealogy of the Descendants of Richard Austin of Charlestown, Massachusetts 1638, compiled by Edith Austin Moore and William Allen Day, privately published in 1969). Janet was first introduced to genealogy when she was only about age 18, travelling with an aunt who was an avid member of the D.A.R. They visited ''cemeteries and Court Houses and libraries galore.'' That got Janet off to a good start, and genealogy became a lifetime interest.
Education, Family and Ceramics
Janet Austin received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1942 from Alfred University in Alfred, Allegany County, New York. She was one of the pioneers in the application of non-directive industrial psychology for Western Electric, and she also worked as a therapist at the Phipps Clinic of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Janet married to Wesley Edmond Curtis on 29 May 1949. They had two sons born in Havre de Grace, Maryland: Mark A. Curtis in 1950 and Kipp A. Curtis in 1953. While raising the two children, Janet was the Chief of Design and Production for the Colonial Pottery of Williamsburg, Virginia. Many of her pieces are still on display in the restored areas of Jamestown and Williamsburg. In 1968 the family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Meeting Edith Austin Moore
When Janet first started researching her Austin line, she worked with New England Austins trying to find her David Austin, a soldier in the Revolution, which she finally did thorough the process of elimination. It was while searching for her David in New England that Janet first met genealogist Edith Austin Moore, and they collaborated ever after. Edith Austin Moore devoted 67 of her 97 years to researching Austin family lines. Although she did not drive a car and did not enjoy the benefits of a personal computer, Edith compiled and indexed amazing quantities of Austin information, and she left future generations with a rich legacy of Austin genealogical data in her two books and seven manuscripts, which she placed in several major genealogical libraries.
A Lifetime Friendship
Janet once wrote me that she ''loved Edith dearly, and in many respects was closer to her than to my own mother.'' Over the years Janet purposely kept a low profile, leaving the limelight to Edith. She stopped most of her work on New England Austins, and transferred her activities to Southern Austins, due in part to the fact she was living in Maryland and later in Virginia. In 1974 Janet became a Certified Genealogist, but that was merely a formality, for she had long since become an excellent genealogist.
The Mantle Passes
Edith Austin Moore was greatly admired for her monumental efforts, and she remained the revered family matriarch for decades – ''the keeper of the flame'' for many Austin genealogists. Upon her death in 1979, Edith's mantle passed to Janet Austin Curtis. Edith had turned some of her material over to Janet in the ten years prior to her death, but much of Edith's material was lost, and Janet was somewhat frustrated about not receiving it all. The two had exchanged research notes and correspondence for many years, and they jointly produced a manuscript on the Francis Austin Family of New Jersey. Janet held this manuscript closely to herself, and unlike Edith's other manuscripts, this one was never made available to genealogical libraries.
Different Viewpoints and Approaches
Edith Austin Moore had limited her research mainly to New England Austins, while Janet Austin Curtis worked the rest of the country for over 40 years. Edith had gleaned most of her material from secondary sources such as library books, while Janet sought hers from primary sources such as court house records, cemeteries, and from original documents via L.D.S. library microfilms in Salt Lake City. Finally, Edith organized her data into separate Austin lines, while Janet generally organized her data in notebooks by States and Counties. Although Edith's approach led more naturally to publication, Janet felt that her system simplified the answering of queries.
Publishing and Compiling
Edith Austin Moore will certainly be remembered for the vast quantity of her work, but she often reached conclusions based on little evidence, and finding errors in her manuscripts is not uncommon. Janet Austin Curtis was less concerned with publishing than with perfecting her manuscripts, and she will likely be remembered more for the quality than for the quantity of her work. As with any good genealogist, Janet always sought evidence for her facts, and demanded references for anything appearing in print. On those rare occasions when she was forced to speculate, Janet left no doubt that she was doing so. She never published a book or distributed her manuscripts to major libraries as Edith had done, but she wrote an outline for the Descendants of John Austin & Jane Potts of Philadelphia, and she wrote several articles and manuscripts:
  • Southside Virginia Austins
  • Austins of the Outer Banks of North Carolina
  • Austins of Wake and Anson Counties, North Carolina
  • Austins from Maryland to Burke County, North Carolina
  • John and Ann Beeden Austin Family of Maryland
  • Austin Family of Montgomery County, Maryland
  • Albemarle County, Virginia, and Kentucky
  • William Austin Family of New Kent & Bedford, Virginia
  • Revisions on Nathaniel Austin Family of South Carolina
Also, Janet once confided that ''Edith copied my [Matthew Austin Family of York, Maine] manuscript and put her name on it'' – so perhaps one of Janet's manuscripts became available to researchers after all!
Nationwide Activities
Janet Austin Curtis was a member of the D.A.R., and served as their Genealogical Records Chairman for New Mexico. She was also a Past-President of the New Mexico Genealogical Society, and she helped in the production of the Colonial and Territorial Censuses of New Mexico. Janet was a member of and contributed to many national, regional, and state genealogical societies in New England, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and elsewhere. She also belonged to the Austin Families Association, serving as Secretary-Treasurer in the 1950's and later as Genealogist. One of Janet's major projects was to ''transcribe all the white Austins'' from the Soundex index to the 1880 Federal Census.
Austins of America Editor
In 1981 Janet Austin Curtis became one of the first Associate Editors of Austins of America, and in subsequent years she published many valuable articles in the newsletter. She occasionally criticized some of our articles because their authors failed to give complete Austin lines or references. Janet and I would debate the virtues of publishing incomplete lines or poorly documented information. I argued that publishing such articles might lead others to provide additional information on incomplete lines, and that researchers would simply use Austins of America articles as 'starting points' in their research, to point them to likely places for obtaining official records to properly document their lines. Janet was more experienced, and more cynical about human nature. . . she felt that ''people believe anything they see in print,'' and she believed that many researchers are ''too lazy'' to pursue the official records as I envisioned. Her concerns have always caused me to be cautious about what we publish, and to clearly label anything speculative! We began publishing Austins of America just before Edith Austin Moore died in 1979 (her obituary is on page 3). While I regret never meeting the prolific Mrs. Moore, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to know and admire an even more thorough and professional genealogist in Janet Austin Curtis. In the years ahead, Austins of America will continue publishing much of Janet's fine work, to assure its future availability to Austin family researchers.
 Janet Austin Curtis's Notebooks are available in our digital library.