Meet Kristine Smets and Chainlines

Kristine Smets

By Greta Brueck

In the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, your great-uncle shocks the family when he relates that one of your 19th-century European ancestors was an infamous serial killer. Sure, Uncle Norm is on his third glass of wine—yet when pressed, he swears this lineage was confirmed by a late relative, who heard it from another relative, who heard it from someone else.

For weeks, you’re unable to stop thinking about this mysterious (and hopefully very distant) branch on your family tree. Is this ancestor for real? A few quick, disappointing Google searches leave you wondering where to even begin verifying such a story.

As it turns out, you may not even have to leave the neighborhood. Bolton Hill resident Kristine Smets is the owner of Chainlines, LLC, which specializes in genealogical and historical research. Kristine makes it her job to follow all the twisted, winding traces of your familial past—even into its darkest corners.

As a librarian for 20 years, with two degrees in history, Kristine is well cut out for the job.

“It all began with a box,” she says. “When we moved my mother-in-law from Chicago to Baltimore about six years ago, amongst the possessions was a box labeled ‘family history.’ I told my husband, “Don’t let me open that box, or you’ll never see me again.” 

But being human, Kristine couldn’t resist the temptation. She opened that box about a year later. When she did, she found that her father-in-law had begun documenting his family history. This discovery inspired her to start a little genealogical research of her own. “Before I knew it,” she says, “I had a [family] tree with 4,000 people in it!” She decided to take a class through Boston University so that she could take her new hobby to a professional level.

The name of her company comes out of her work as a professional librarian at the Hopkins Eisenhower Library and a freelance bibliographer, where she spent several years working with special collections materials and rare books.

“One of the clues that we use when we research rare books or books from the hand-printed era are the chain lines in the paper,” she says. “Chain lines are the lines that you can see when you hold up hand-made paper to the light. They were made by the frames in which the paper was made. I think the name is still apt for what I do as a genealogist: it’s a clue. And in genealogy and family history, we are looking for clues.”

A piece of handmade paper illuminated from behind to make chainlines visible. Photograph by Ambassador Neelix, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The detective work can be both insightful and humbling. A big part of Kristine’s mission is to highlight the diversity found in family histories, and in doing so “promote acceptance and fight prejudice within our society.” Her work also helps give lonely or isolated people a sense of community and belonging.

Kristine plans to become a certified genealogist and expand her services to include DNA analysis. Read examples of her past and current research projects here, and—if you would like to dive a little deeper into your own “roots”—you can contact her directly at kristine@chainlines.com.

See an example of Kristine’s research work in her article about a neighborhood church in this issue.

Each month, “Meet Our Sponsors” highlights one or two of the businesses and organizations that provide financial support for the Bulletin. We hope this will help readers learn more about the neighborhood, as well as encourage them to support the people who make this newsletter possible. See the list of our sponsors here, including our two new sponsors, Jon Alder Kaplan and Unique Resources.

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