What makes us the people we are? Nature, nurture, genetics, environment? I’m not sure anyone really knows a definite answer, but I believe a combination of ‘all of the above’ is at play. One specific aspect I have come to know rather well is the genealogy paper trail that is left behinds builds a fascinating story when you really immerse yourself. There’s a newer side I was hesitant to take on, and that’s genetic genealogy: using DNA, along with the paper trail, or at times in its absence alone, to learn how we’re related to one another, even when someone flat out disregards the findings. It’s an obsession.
While on a trip with my grandmother to Yalobusha Co, MS back in the 90s, her sister took us to a nearby county cemetery on our way home. The entire cemetery was filled with people I was related to, and it affected me very deeply. It was that incredible connection, seeing the names of generations, 150 years, of people in one location that I recognized as if it was my own name, for in a way it was. Not only was I related to those in the ground, but the town’s living residents too. I drove my g-aunt and grandmother back to her house and said “I’ll be back. I’m going back to Houlka.” I walked the cemeteries, went to the library (of which had already heard kin was in town), and found books upon books with my family in them. I felt like a sudden celebrity with a famous family I never knew about. The next day I again drove back and this time went into the courthouse, and went through books upon books, huge record books, some had my family member’s signatures. To think over a hundred years later, I was holding and touching the very same book they once held, signed, as normally as we today go somewhere and sign our names to a credit card slip.
I was hooked.
But it was truly my grandfather who instilled that ‘love of family’ in me as a child. See, I knew some of these locations, or was close to those who lived there, because he used to pay me $5 a letter, with unlimited stamps included, to write letters to my great grandmothers, and even great-great aunts as a child. I inherited his gift and love of writing, so for me it was a no brainer. Luckily, I had the forethought at 10, to save the letters I received back. I still have them to this day and they are some of the most valuable things I own. It also taught me something else. I can identify handwriting on the back of pictures, or pages without signatures, that no one else can. I was literally being groomed to be a genealogist, but never knew it nor was that my grandfather’s intention. His motto: “Blood is thicker than water” and “family is the most important thing”.
Have you ever noticed in families, even your own, there’s some people who are interested, or like me obsessively so, in genealogy, and others could barely care less, if even that much? I have a theory. I believe our ancestors select one person per generation (or era) that will be the golden one who picks up where others have left off in research, or where others never began. They are the one selected to be the storyteller of their lives, their loves, their misfortunes, their successes. Apparently my mother and grandmother before me were the ones to retain the knowledge, but not really research. I picked up the breadcrumbs my mom left me, and luckily got the ‘Family Tree book she started when I was 10″ that to be honest, is barely filled out. But what IS there is GOLD. I then spent the last 20 years with my grandmother, closer after my grandfather died, and we did a bit of traveling together, which meant long car rides and a lot of time to fill silent air with conversation. Or as we went to places she’d lived or travelled before, we took a detour and I saw it through her eyes. Sadly, she was the last family I had and she past in the last few years. I inherited her belongings, which of course are pictures and movies. And it was through the lifetime with her as my second mother, and the skills my grandfather instilled in me, I can put so much together of these things that no one else could. Add the gifts my mom wrote but also told me, and then the gift of memory from my dad, and how he taught me to remember events including how to put them in time (he had an incredible gift for that). All these things combined created the genealogist I have become. I have now added the fascination with DNA, and my gift of organization has propelled my ability to group family lines together with precision in some cases.
From childhood to now, I was literally truly being walked through steps of how to find details, what documents and things are important, what little TEENY TINY clues you can glean from the most obscure piece of paper. Some of these little skills have literally lead me to the most amazing finds, even ones that others missed. The way the skills have been groomed as if I was being walked through school, from elementary to college. If any of the steps came before the other they would not have made sense. Details are my forte, as is researching outside the box when things aren’t straightforward. DNA is becoming another obsession (WHY didn’t I know about y-dna years ago!?!! Wait! I just got my mitochondrial results back. Oh boy. This is new fun!)
I grew up with a fairly large family, more extended than the traditional definition of a nuclear family, but to me they were all my family. Sadly, my nuclear family, right after this trip to MS, suddenly started shrinking, every year, some more than one in a year. Then they were gone, many much much much too young. The memories I have of them are cherished. And the quest to find all of their ancestors has truly become an obsession.
My ancestors, as strange as this sounds, have become my guides through this process, and yes there are times when I can almost tell you which one is kicking clues off the clouds above to land in my lap. Some ancestors have ‘conditions’ on when they will help me, most recently it’s been I must help others selflessly, something I normally do anyway but within minutes something I’ve been hunting for for YEARS literally drops in my lap OUT OF THE BLUE.
I can also drive you crazy with details (this is an example). I can’t bullet-point anything if my life depended on it. But when I say I’ve come to a conclusion I would take to court and it would stand up, take that to the bank. I have theories, I have strong hunches, I have leaning this direction and the “I’m pretty sure” but I don’t come to conclusions lightly nor without proof to back up my decision. And I will go out of my way to ‘show my work’ to you, if this pertains to your family. Ask my cousins I work with. They’ve seen me in action, and some have benefited from a ‘wild hair’ thought I had. I’ve stumbled into adoption scenarios, one even pertaining to my close family. I will help anyone, allied or direct ancestor lines.
I will say outloud, it does drive me nuts when people have my lines wrong in their trees, especially if they are only ‘barely related’ or even those that have the connection downright wrong. It’s further perpetuated by the big “A” company’s algorithms set to search patterns based on other people’s trees, so their incorrect information affects me in Thrulines AND my search results. Where has the ethics of doing your own work, not pointing/clicking these days? And when did people stop working together? But that’s another topic for another day.
This blog will include my lines, mutual lines with my cousins, but also allied lines. There will be stories about people, locations and also research work that pertains to others outside our group. There’s times when people have theories, or trying to prove parentage. Everyone has an opinion. If I’ve taken an extended amount of time, I will share my work on the topic for others. I do tend to covet privacy of more recent generations and fiercely protect family. So, join me and my cousins on this adventure of genealogy, research, details but most of all creating a new nuclear family out of those who I never knew as a child but have become the dearest to my heart today. And it all started with these 3 lines: Buchanan, Long and Carroll and the 1890 fires that destroyed not only the 1890 Federal censuses, but the one in Franklin County, Alabama that torched all the records at the courthouse pre-1890. To say these 3 lines have been a challenge to research would be the understatement of 3 centuries. But it was from this that relationships were born, my skills are being tested and sharpened, and I learned so much about DNA. Welcome to Club BLC.