Joyce Sharrock Cole '19 Helps History Come Alive

Joyce Sharrock Cole ’19 always had an interest in history. Yet, it was the preparation for a family reunion in her early thirties that drew her toward a new calling. Her older cousin was looking for someone to write a historical narrative of their family and Cole volunteered to give it a try. “I took the little bit of documents we had and I went down a rabbit hole,” said Cole. “And I’ve been down it ever since then.”

Driven by her newfound passion for genealogy and research, Cole pursued her path by taking Boston University’s certification program to become a genealogical researcher. Today Cole serves as the Village of Ossining’s village historian, a position she was appointed to in 2020. Among her other credits she is a founding member and lead researcher of the Little Bertie County Genealogical Society, which facilitates the Ossining Public Library Genealogy Group. 

Though her day job is as an executive secretary for Westchester County Emergency Services where she has worked for more than 20 years, she is a champion for everyone to learn their family history. “It’s part of the human condition to want to feel connected,” said Cole “To understand yourself better and your family and it’s place in the greater context of the world.”

 Cole explains there is a greater challenge and need for families of color who look to explore their roots. “With enslavement and the absence of our stories being told, there is a great void in many of us.” said Cole. She explains for those who she has helped to do their own family research, such an investigation has a way of being cathartic and even necessary for healing. 

Beginning in January, Cole debuted “Westchester Black History and Culture: Fulfilling the Vision,” an exhibit that runs through March 3 at the Bethany Arts Community in Ossining. This year’s exhibition will expand the historic storytelling beyond Ossining’s borders into the surrounding communities. Utilizing oral history accounts and genealogical research to unearth the histories of Black entrepreneurs, organizations, and lawmakers from all facets of the community’s business and social life it will help unlock a whole new world of history to public visitors.  

Although Cole’s work as a historian and curator takes many hours of research and dedication she is adamant that anyone can play a family historian in their own family’s story. 

Her Best Family History Tips:

•    Find the eldest person in your family – interview them and write down their stories.
•    Start at the cemetery – you can find a lot through physically visiting the burial plots 
of deceased relatives.
•    Don’t throw out family books – one major example is the family Bible or other religious texts can often be places where record-keeping was done. Even family pictures can be hidden in between the pages.