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Volume 8, Number 12 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 July 6, 2016
Publisher's Notes In this article we discuss visiting with our older relatives and finding out more information about our ancestors. I love to ask lots of questions and usually learn some new stories each time. It is so important to learn as much as you can while they are still able to tell you about the past. As always, I enjoy hearing from you.
James L. Douthat
GOOD OLE SUMMER TIME We are now in summer with those long, hot, lazy, hazy days at hand. What do we do with our genealogical research at this time of the year? As we all have figured out, there are seasons in research just as in everything else. In the spring and fall, it is time to go into cemeteries and locate graves. This is the time that insects and snakes are least trouble. In the winter we go to libraries, archives, and court houses to avoid the cold, snowy weather. But now in summer, where do we go?
This is the time of the year to do our best with those around us. We all want to take a few days here and there to get away, so why not go see Aunt Matilda. We have not seen her in about ten years, and she still knows a lot of the family history that we have not learned before. Let her know that you will be visiting for a day or so and then plan your questions.
We never start a conversation with, “Tell me all about the family.” This is much too broad a question, so break this down into some small amounts of answers. Do something like, “What do you remember about your grandfathers early school days?” It is best to ask questions that can be answered in only a few sentences. They will not be able to respond to more than that about the question, and you will be unable to write down long descriptive sentences at one time either. If they will let you, try to record or videotape the answers to reference later.
Be prepared for some surprises. I was visiting with one of my wife’s uncles not long ago and he came up with information I’ve been after for years. After being married for over 50 years into this huge family, there were still many points I did not know. This uncle had been with the other side of the family and had corresponded with them over the years and had collected many pages of information on a side line that helped to identify his grandfather’s brother. I had known these two men were together in one county prior to both of them moving to Arkansas from Tennessee. I could not connect these two in Tennessee, but in Arkansas they lived in the same town and named children for each other. I have not found the father/mother of these two men as yet, but I have more clues to go on from the information received.
Aunt Matilda might just have some records that she has not given you before. Run as fast as you can to a copy machine and make copies before she changes her mind. I’ve had pages taken back by the next sentence of the conversation. I had a lady bring me papers to explain what they meant on a family and as I read them and began to explain them, she grabbed them back because they were signed by two different United States Presidents. She did not want me to make copies of those signatures. I only had to walk about ten feet in my office to the copy machines, but did not get the land grants copied. This left a hole in the family research. Especially since I figured the signatures were machine signed since Thomas Jefferson invented the machine to do this for the Presidents.
Take the papers that Aunt Matilda just remembered that she had, make copies, and give them back ASAP. Now the fun begins as you read over them later with all of your information at hand. Make notes on the variations of names, dates, and locations. This now begins a long search to verify which of the facts are correct or more correctly possible. You know for fact that your ancestor born in 1781 was not an American Revolutionary soldier. Their father might have been, but not this individual even if it says they are listed on the 1840 census as being such. Remember that the 1840 census states “American Revolutionary or War of 1812 Veteran”. Born in 1781 he might have fought in the War of 1812 as that was the starting date for the war.
Be very careful about statements that link your ancestor to someone famous at the time they were written. This was a favorite habit of our ancestors. It was always said that my Earhart line of the family were related to Emelia Earhart. Our family was in the mountain of southwestern Virginia and her family was in Kansas for several generations. There might be a connection back a few centuries, but probably not close.
Don’t forget those older cousins, as well as the older aunts and uncles. Everyone knows some things about their family tree you are not aware of, so learn from them. One of the quickest ways to gather information on all of the family is to do a family newsletter. I did one back in the 1980s about one side of my family. The stories, photographs, and research came from all sides of the family, especially from relatives I had no idea had this kind of information. Since most of them were teachers, college professors, doctors, lawyers, etc., the stories were quite interesting.
Use these “good ole summer days” to your advantage in research and good luck getting Aunt Matilda to turn loose of her information.
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