Turning Genealogy into an Art Form: Ahwatukee man traces family histories

BY Coty Dolores Miranda

Helping others trace their family tree through the generations is a hobby David Davenport has turned into an art form.

Although Davenport has already completed 135 genealogy charts, he says he’s ready, willing and able to help others search their family’s sometimes circuitous journey through the decades and often centuries.

He doesn’t charge for his time, though there is a charge for the Utah-based Family Chartmasters service he uses to design the layout and print the genealogy charts.

Davenport’s interest in genealogy and creating these charts began 11 years ago when he decided to track his own family.

“I decided to research my family, and even though I’d done it before, I saw a chart I liked at a company called Family Chartmakers, so I phoned and talked with them,” he recalls. “They have a designer that puts it all together, and they have tons of examples.”

Davenport has made two charts for his family.

The first one traced his family beginning with Thomas Davenport, his eighth great-grandfather on his father’s side who was born in England in 1615 before immigrating to the United States, where he died in Massachusetts in 1685.

His grandmother, Evelyn Legg Davenport, was born in England in 1870 and died in 1952 in Rochester, New York.

Three years ago, he and his wife Cheryl celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and Davenport decided to do one of his own progeny, which made for a large chart, as the couple has six children, 24 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, with numbers 12 and 13 coming soon.

“My wife’s line is also shown on this chart—her father’s side is from Ireland and her mother’s mostly from the U.S.,” he says.

Davenport, 75, firmly believes every family should investigate their genealogy, as it is a history of what has been and may have clues to the present and future.

“I believe genealogy is important to all of us. I think we need to know where we came from. I think it’s more and more important to know about our ancestors,” says Davenport, who has lived with his wife in the same house in Ahwatukee since 1994.

Davenport says through researching our ancestors, there are often surprises to be unearthed.

“Maybe I might not look like your dad, but you get a photo of your great-grandfather and you learn you look just like him,” he says. “And you may learn why we do certain things, certain traits.”

When Davenport starts working with a new client, he does in-depth research.

If there is no photo available of a long-passed relative, through his online research he’ll find where the person was buried and then locate someone in that area to photograph the gravestone.

“I’m a member of the LDS church, and recently I put the address of the cemetery where someone’s relative was reported buried and then found the closest LDS chapel. I contacted them by phone. The bishop had someone in his ward go take a photo of the gravestone. I wish I had come up with that 10 years ago,” he says, laughing.

Retired at age 67 in 2013, the last nine employed as a workers’ compensation specialist for Phoenix-based Swift Transportation, Davenport launched his new hobby.

In the seven years since, he says he’s come across some fascinating history.

“There are so many interesting stories,” he says, citing discoveries of 1800s outlaws and another done for a local man who was 8 months old when his father died in a gun battle with the Roaring ’20s gangster Baby Face Nelson.

“There’s a wide diversity of stories to be found; I’ve run into some that are quite intriguing.”

One of Davenport’s clients is Amy Rulli, a longtime Ahwatukee resident.

Her ancestry chart harks back to Catanzaro and Nusco, Italy, in the 1700s.

“I come from a very large and close family. We all lived close by each other in Pennsylvania. We’re traditionally Italian on both sides,” she says.

“We have so many relatives, we weren’t able to put everyone on the charts. Even my parents’ families were large. There were eight children on my mom’s side and 11 on my dad’s.”

Though her family was close knit, there were surprises when Davenport did his research.

“We just really knew our generation and the one before us, so a lot of things came to light,” she says. “Dave was able to come up with things we didn’t even know.

“My mother’s family, the Orlandos, lost several children in early childhood, as happened during that time. Dave located a grave marker that revealed an additional child no one alive today knew existed.”

Rulli says passing along her family history to her daughter Blaise means a great deal to her. Among them is an uncovered story behind a substantially sized stained glass window in a Connellsville, Pennsylvania, church that was sent from the city of Nusco, Italy, to the Rulli family, who had settled in Vanderbilt, Pennsylvania, where they owned and operated a hotel.

“It depicts St. Amato, the patron saint of Nusco, watching over the people of the city and the Rulli family who’d left for a new home in America,” she explains.

“Dave is dedicated and skillful in researching the charts, and he’s very well known for his talent in Arizona and Utah.”

Davenport is modest about his work, which he refers to as his hobby.

“I’m retired, and I get a lot of joy out of doing it,” he says.

The majority of his charts run approximately 24 inches by 36 inches, though some can be larger or smaller. He says the size makes it easier to find a ready-made frame at local stores.

Family Chartmasters, which does the design, printing and mailing, charges between $250 to $350.

“They make wonderful, one-of-a-kind gifts for Christmas, weddings and birthdays,” he says.

Davenport can be contacted at davedavenport@cox.net or by phone at 480-600-1114. He does not accept texts.