I have been doing this for a little while, about 45 years and like a lot of others was inspired by the Mini series Roots when I was a young mother. My father had already passed and my mother was from a large family and we went to Grandma's house almost every Saturday and Sunday. I spent most Saturday nights sleeping over at a cousin's house, so when I started I knew a lot of stories and people on my mother's side.
Armed with just her parent's names, I was off to the local courthouse to find her parent's births and marriage license. It would take me a couple more years to track down that license but I found Grandma's birth, plain as day. Sarah Genella Kerr daughter of Ott Kerr and Olive Shearer. Plain as day written on an old ledger almost as big as I was. I was hooked, I loved the old ledgers and the difficult scripts. I left out a little 'oh!”...then apologized to the gentlemen who was standing close by. It was like a library shrine where you just knew you were not to make noise.
I just found my grandmother's birth, I whispered.
Are you sure?
Yes, I am sure.
Those old records can be wrong.
No, it is not wrong, my Mother already told me this. I had confidence.
Well, I am just saying it can still be wrong.
No. It says, Sarah Genella Kerr daughter of Ott Kerr and Olive Shearer I know these people!
Well, I am a professional genealogist and I can tell you I find a lot of mistakes. Are you absolutely sure?
Yes, I am about to cross from indignant to pissed. How many Genella's to an Ott and Olive do you think there are in the world. It was not like these were the most common names in the world.
Well, I have been looking for descendents of theirs for years and never found any, so you are sure?????
My mind, clicks and my mouth explodes...man, you must not be very good cause I got at least 50 first cousins in this county alone.
I had just met the most meticulous and best mentor a young person could ever have. I did become a pain when it comes to looking for “proof” and “detail” but he taught me the best lesson in the world, it is about family. He is still with us and his mentor was a first cousin of William Wade Hinshaw author of the Quaker Encyclopedia.
Do what did he teach me?.......
Fan is what it is now called. Family, Associates and Neighbors. Write down everybody. You will need it in three years and chances are once you are hooked, you will be doing this for the rest of your life. I now have what I call a “Trash Tree”. A good software program, it can be free or not too expensive is a must. Then put in everybody. Do not worry if you do not know the connection. Put in the Doctor who signed the death certificate, the preacher that married your grandparents (you may find the church), witnesses to wills and deeds and any documents. Associates, you are building the community within which your relatives lived. You may or may not be related to these people but they will help you group your people into families when you have no other resources.
And neighbors...Census records are not just for Grandma and Grandpa. You may not know it but her sister or “brother” could be livng next door and you have no clue to her maiden name. Father's did not let their daughters marry strangers. They found them next door, in church or were a cousin of a cousin. Ok, some were cousins...And the women are important. Without a woman, a man has not family. It is an exclusive identifier. There is sister June and then there is Uncle John's June. Nicknames that tell us who a person is related to. Namesakes. Where in the world did grandma get Montzantyon? Did someone have a lisp? In later census it becomes Zanville and when he dies, it is just Zan. Write all those names down, you will never remember what they are, just that they were not consistent thoughout his life. This happens a lot when children were young and named “after” someone and then they get called by their middle name. My family loves to play with James Michael, Jim and Mickey, to Mick but never Mike. LOL
Once you verify things, move them into a real tree, one you will be proud to share with others. There will be mistakes and you may even prove yourself wrong. It has happened to me more than once. The most signifcant when my sister went to her lock box a few years ago and retrieved Dad's old papers, stored sine 1967 with his mother's parents on it. Dad did not even have it right on his own mother's death certificate.
We will use this page to add resouce links, tools and tips. Time for us “old folks” to start passing down the wand to the newbies. After all, we already know we are likely the only genealogy nut in the family. They tolerate us but will not follow us.