Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Genealogy Obsession


I can still remember the day when I was in my teens when I first saw the Gage genealogy that my great grandparents had.  I really didn’t know how to look at it properly or really even find the ancestral line easily.  All I knew was that my great grandparents names were in it as was my grandmothers.  I think Mom borrowed a copy of the book and I can remember looking at it and wondering about those names in that book.  I’ve since compiled my own genealogy books…as well as books with my mother.  They are self-published and full of the research that has been an accumulation of years of research and countless hours of work.  I’m not sure many of those starting their research in today’s technological age can truly appreciate the differences.

The actual record of the marriage of Moses Johnson and Nancy Mayfield!
Mom bought a genealogy program called “Family Tree Maker” in about 1997 and we loaded it on our computers and began putting in information.  We thought we knew quite a bit, but it turned out that we really didn't.   After putting everything we knew about our direct lines – there were missing gaps of dates, birth locations, death locations, maiden names or maternal parents.  (I wish I could say that all those gaps have been filled after 15 years – but I would be lying)  That is when we started learning about the work of genealogy research.  Back then, newslists and genealogy forums were just getting started – there was little real genealogy information online.  So, Mom and I went down to the local LDS Family History library and started looking through their books and microfilm and microfiche.  We went down to our local library and started looking through their books.  There were lots of indexes – but not a lot of detail that could tell us if we were looking in the right places.  We both started posting information requests on genealogy forums and newslists and one day we got a break.  One of those gaps in our family tree was someone we called “Unknown” Johnson.  He was married to Nancy Mayfield…but his first name remained a mystery.  Mom had posted a query on the Mayfield forum and one day we got a lead.  We were told that a “Moses Johnson married a Nancy Mayfield on 6 May 1816 in Granville Co., NC”.  With a little more research – we had filled in one of our missing gaps.  I have no idea how many hours that my mother and I spent searching on the internet, looking through countless books and learning how to use the equipment at the family history center to get that first genealogy victory…but I can tell you that it was sweet.

I can’t say that the genealogy research is all drudgery because that would be dishonest.  The pursuit is great fun and can be a great adventure.  My mother’s grandparents homesteaded on Grouse Flats, Wallowa Co., OR.  We found out that my great grandfather’s uncle Albert was buried up there.  So, one early summer afternoon, Mom, Dad and I took a drive up to Grouse Flats.  This involved going up a winding grade from Asotin to Anatone, WA and then down another winding grade aptly named “Rattlesnake grade” until we turned up a road heading towards Troy, OR.  From there we headed up another winding grade to go to Bartlett cemetery.  We didn’t exactly know the location, but we kept our eyes peeled and soon enough we came to a turnoff that led past the Bartlett cemetery.   We got out and walked around the small cemetery (this is how I know it was early summer – my mother never would have gotten out and walked around that cemetery because of her fear of snakes!)  We found cemetery stones that showed children who had died young, families buried together, and eventually Uncle Albert’s grave.  There are a lot of people who wonder at the sanity of walking around a cemetery and seeing it as an enjoyable activity.  When I walk around a cemetery I see family histories, untold stories of the loss of a child or the long life well lived, mother’s buried next to children whose death dates are the same or symbols on gravestones that tell of a military background.  You never know what you will find – sometimes a smile and sometimes a sense of sadness.

In the years that I have done research I've spent money on death records, land records, pension records.  I've spent hours in a courthouse pouring over land records or marriage records and then have taken the time to photo copy those precious records.  I've driven long distances and flown in an airplane clear across the country to fuel my appetite for answers.  I've spent hours on the telephone with distant cousins and countless emails to other researchers.  As records have become available online, I've spent untold hours looking through census records to find familial patterns.  I can remember the thrill of finding the grandparents that I personally knew in those census records. 

I've been engulfed in my genealogy obsession for many years now and have been fortunate to gain many friends with whom I've been able to share theories and information with.  I’ve learned family anecdotes and have been able to share them with other family members.  It all started with curiosity and a genealogy program so many years ago.  My mother and I sat back in the den with both of our computers humming and our fingers moving along a keyboard.  Mom died seven years ago and now I continue on my own.  I’m sure Mom is up there finding all of the answers that we hadn't found – I just wish she could send me an email and let me know what she found out!