Thursday, August 10, 2017

My Pennington Past - My PRA Membership

I began seriously researching my Pennington family 20 years ago and began that search by joining the Pennington Research Association.  It has been a very valuable contact for me and resource.  Today we would call it networking, but anyone who has done genealogy research has been doing networking for a long time.

Genealogy was a different hobby back then.  Email was available but  most correspondence was done by postal mail or snail mail as most would call it.  Joining a genealogy society or surname association was an important way to share information and gather data and resources.  Those early societies not only provided data via journals or newsletters, but they also provided contacts with other researchers who had similar interests.  It is invigorating to "meet" someone with similar research interests.

My grandmother's embroidered family tree.
As I said, email was available, just not that common.  I think my first email account was in the early 1990's which I still have, although it is not my main account...in fact, I don't even use it that often any more.  The first thing I tell anyone who is starting to do genealogy research is that whomever is beginning that journey needs to get what they know spelled out.  Whether they are using a genealogy program or a piece of paper, you need to spend time getting what you know recorded.  It is only then you can begin to add the various bits and pieces that help you learn more about those you search for.  I had what I knew written down.  It was really that much...I had a simple family tree that had been embroidered on material in a frame on the wall.  On that family tree, my great grandmother's grandmother was listed as Elizabeth Pennington.

Anyone who has spent much time doing genealogy research especially doing surname studies will find that there are certain names that are repeated quite often.  Not only will you find these common names, but you will also find a multitudes of names because they popular during that time period.  If you don't think this happens, ask any teacher what the popular names of the day are.  There are a multitude of Elizabeth's among the Penningtons.  The most important part of my initial contact with the PRA (Pennington Research Association) was the identification of who my 3rd great grandmother was and how she fit into the larger group of the Penningtons.  That information was provided to me by John French who was the Research Director at the time.  He had spent a lot of time building a data file about all the Penningtons that he had come across.  There were a lot mistakes as would be the case on any data file that includes information and theories mixed together.  A great deal of this information was traded back and forth through email which certainly introduced me to one of the best methods of contact for my own research.  John French passed away not too long after we had this contact.

Not everything that John French told me is correct according to my own research.  I have so much more available to me now in terms of data than I did 20 years ago.  I can access census records or death records at my fingerprints through the internet.  I can have instantaneous contact with a fellow research across the country.  Not only can I access the data but I can access digital copies and photos of what other researchers have done.

So, what is the point of being a member of a genealogical society or surname association...I believe an important aspect of that membership is networking.  Just like social networking today - it isn't a valuable tool unless you participate.  There is always new information to learn and perhaps new eyes can see or perceive information than those who have gone before.  It is an opportunity to add to what has been learned, but also help those just beginning their "journey" on their first steps.  There are so many who have done that for me...some that I still correspond and talk to quite frequently to this day.  I would suggest that if you are going to take up genealogy as a serious hobby, you consider joining or participating in some sort of group that can help you along the way.

I am and have been a member of news-lists communicating via email, surname association groups, county and state genealogy associations.  In addition, I run and am a member of Facebook groups, a participant in FindAGrave.com as well as communicating my research through my websites and my genealogy blog.  It is impossible to even  guess at how much assistance that has been given to me by others and the value of what I have been able to provide for others.  So you might consider joining a surname association like the PRA, and spend time to add to their library of research so you can build better information, make valuable genealogy contacts and perhaps help others as well.  You might find that in the end, you are the one who benefits the most.