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The Reflection

Gull Lake’s Leo Cooper up and coming genealogist

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It’s fourth block and senior Leo Cooper has a guest speaker. The guest speaker is going around the room asking what students plan to do in the future. It’s Leo’s turn to speak, and he introduces himself, saying: “I’m Leo Cooper and I want to pursue a career in genealogy.”

The guest speaker takes a step back, and says: “[genealogy] is a very rare career choice. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that before.”

Cooper speaks at a Model UN event. Photo courtesy of Leo Cooper.

For Leo Cooper, his interest in genealogy developed very recently.

“My sophomore year in my AP US History class I did a project on my family’s ancestry, and I’ve been interested ever since,” Cooper said

His interest in his family’s ancestry has provided Leo with an obsession in hereditary studies. Cooper said that “[he’s] traced [his] family as far back as you physically can.”

Cooper has found a lot of interesting things about his family on his search. He’s happy to announce not only is he 11th cousins with Gull Lake triplets Nate, Marleigh and Annie Thorn, but he is also proud to say that that he is distantly related to European royalty.

In terms of his methods, Leo has various strategies and databases he uses to approve the authenticity of his findings.

“I like to use a combination of databases and my own findings so I can get as full as a picture as I can,” Cooper said. “My best quality is my focus and my relentlessness in pursuit.”

Leo Cooper with a relative he helped find out more about his family’s past and his own personal background. Photo courtesy of Leo Cooper.

Leo mentioned that there is a misconception that he dislikes the expensive gene databases such as the popular findmypast.com and ancestry.com.

“I actually use [ancestry.com] a lot, so they’re not my rival,” Cooper clarified.

Although Cooper has helped multiple people find out more about their ancestry, Leo’s most important find only happened recently.

Leo’s biggest accomplishment as an up-and-coming genealogist was finding out the biological father of one of Leo’s closest friends. Leo’s friend, conceived by an anonymous sperm donor, never knew who her biological father was. Cooper decided to put his skills to the test to find out who this man was.

“Through a DNA match and cross referencing online sources, I found the father.”

His investigative nature also led to interesting discoveries within his own family. Leo was able to find distant relatives from Europe during the Holocaust.

“I used some of my grandmother’s info and old postcards written in Yiddish. With these and online records, I could find that these people who sent the letters do exist and cease to exist in the Holocaust,” Cooper said.

Cooper said that there were many challenges that went behind this search.

Senior Leo Cooper is a key part of the Gull Lake band. Photo courtesy of Leo Cooper.

“[The] language barrier and the time difference made it hard to reach out to them. I was able to trace one of the survivors but I couldn’t find more,” Cooper stated.

Although fully invested into the career of being a genealogist, Cooper wants people to know that he should be seen as more than the ancestry expert. Leo is center snare for marching season and then percussion for the symphonic band, he has been featured on Reflection podcast Sports by Schmucks, he made nationals for NHD in Washington, D.C., and he was even visited by the Belgian ambassador in the United States for Model UN in Chicago.

“I’m more than a one-trick pony,” Cooper said.


Miles Renwick
About

I am a senior at Gull Lake High School, and this is my first year on staff. I play varsity soccer and enjoy writing about sports. I am looking forward to a good year.

1 Comment

  1. Janine Cotugno

    AS AN AMATEUR GENEALOGIST FOR 35 YEARS, I’M IMPRESSED BY THIS YOUNG MAN’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS. IF YOU CAN WITHOUT SKIPPING SCHOOL, TRY TO GET TO THE NATIONAL GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY’S ANNUAL CONVENTION MAY 2-5 IN GRAND RAPIDS.

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