Larry Whitaker has at least 500 relatives. They're not the kind you invite for Thanksgiving, mind you, or the ones you want to reach out and touch over the long-distance wires.
Yet his relatives, though numerous, are easy to get along with: He initiates all contact with them, they're almost always cooperative, and they never complain.
These folks are the relatives on Mr. Whitaker's family tree.
Mr. Whitaker is an amateur genealogist who spends weekends and evenings trekking through prior decades in search of his family's roots. With the assistance of local librarians who help him locate Census Bureau reports and court and church documents, he has tracked down family members from the Revolutionary period through the 19th century.
The Taneytown resident became interested in genealogy last summer when he visited his grandmother, who was then 99, in Danville, Ill. That was the town Mr. Whitaker and his wife, Pamela, left for Carroll County seven years ago.
During the visit, it struck Mr. Whitaker that "my family was about all gone and I knew nothing about it."
So he began asking his oldest living relative questions about the lineage. And with just a couple of clues -- the names of his grandfather, grandmother, and the creek in Kentucky near which they grew up -- his search into his past was launched.
Starting at the courthouse in Madison, Ky., where a genealogist got him started, he has logged more than 500 family members -- all the children's names, ages and where they lived. His family history has come to life.
The Whitaker family tree begins in Harford County in the 1740s. Family members moved to Carroll and Frederick counties, and eventually to North Carolina, Illinois and Kentucky.
Through his research, Mr. Whitaker and his family have come to appreciate these ancestors for "giving us the cushy life we live."
"The more you learn about this [genealogy], the more you know about the history of this country. It's the stuff that never made it into the history books," he says. "When Americans celebrate July Fourth or other national holidays, they're only aware of a part of the story."
After learning the rest of the story piece by piece, Mr. Whitaker says he will probably write a book about his findings -- a book about family members who were divided in their loyalties during the Revolutionary War, who married into Daniel Boone's family, who created every aspect of their existence, and who had the courage to reinvent their lives every time they moved.
Now that Mr. Whitaker and his family have moved to Carroll, "I've come full circle," he says.
Each day, on his drive from Taneytown to his job in New Wind
sor, he passes a grove of trees on Route 140 near the Brethren Church. In the 1740s, this property was known as Taylor's Delight and three Whitaker brothers were raised there.
"I always look in that direction," says Mr. Whitaker. "Always."
Anyone who has school-age children knows how hard it can be to get youngsters to read, considering all the enticing activities, television shows and other distractions that compete for youngsters' time.
Local Pizza Hut restaurants have taken on the challenge in the past few months by offering Book It, a reading motivation program. Children who read a quota of books each month get a free pizza and soft drink at an area Pizza Hut.
Says Trish Wyatt of the Taneytown Pizza Hut, "The kids come in and they're really excited -- and we just love it."
She sees about 100 students come in each week, show proof that they've read books, and order pizzas.
"The kids really enjoy coming in, and we make them feel proud," she said. "It's a great incentive to have them read."