Family Research + Found Cousins = Fun!

Research and Cousins

I love “new” cousins!  I especially love new cousins pursuing their family’s genealogy/history.  They’re like gold to me – and should be to you as well.

Gary with Bill Wright

Gary with Bill Wright

Last week my friend Bill Wright and I were in middle Tennessee attending a non-genealogical conference.  This small detail didn’t keep me from sneaking into Williamson County after the conference and spending last Saturday doing family research.  I planned half a day in the archives and half a day with cousins.  Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Plan Your Work

  • What do you need to further your research? Are any of these records available?
  • What records are housed in the county and where? Are they available on the day(s) you will be there?
  • What time will the records be available to view?
  • Does the repository have an online index? Search capabilities?
  • Are you allowed to take photos? Make copies?  What’s the cost?
  • Once you’ve decided to go, ask yourself IF you want to spend time with “new” cousins. If yes, contact them to check their availability and arrange times and places.
  • Pack your “research bag” with all your tools and don’t forget to take it!

The Williamson County, Tennessee Archives are a tremendous resource for families researching middle Tennessee ancestors.  It’s located in Franklin.  This was my second visit.  When my wife and I visited in 2013 I was only aware of my Roberts and Giles lines in the county.  I’ve since discovered my Neelly (Neely), Nichols, Sammons, Smithsons, Tatum, and possibly Rivers lines in the county.  Using the Archives online search capabilities, I was able to locate around ninety documents available on microfilm of interest to me.  There’s no way I would be able to view or collect them all in half a day.  I prioritized them, printed out a list and put it in my bag.

I contacted two of my cousins from two different family lines and asked about their availability to meet Saturday afternoon and evening.  These are two very busy women and of course they both had plans for the day.   But due to circumstances and their sheer determination, they graciously made a way for us to meet for the first time and share some family research.  The bonus?  I also met some of their wonderful family members and visited three family history sites!

Work Your Plan

Bill and I were at the Archives in Franklin when it opened at 8 am Saturday morning.  He began to enjoy the museum housed in the building and I headed for the microfilm files.   Bill would later slip away to visit the many Civil War sites in the city while I would stay focused on my list and pulling the microfilmed documents I wanted.

I was able to collect just over one-third of the documents on my list.  This would include over 150 printed pages and three pages of hand written notes primarily from tax documents.  I specifically targeted wills and specific deeds first.  Then moved on to tax records.  I didn’t spend time viewing and trying to analyze them.  I only viewed them long enough to know I had the right one – hit print – and kept moving.  Like long-lost friends, we’d spend time together in the days to come.

Family  

Gary with Pam and Gary Fisher

Gary with Pam and Gary Fisher

I packed up my bag as the noon hour approached and made a restroom stop.  As I came back into the main hall of the building I was approached by a soft-spoken southern lady and asked if I was Gary.  My cousin Pam Fisher and I were meeting in person for the first time in person.  She’s lived in Williamson County all her life.  I joke that she’s related to most of the families in the county.  If you have family from Williamson County, you may be kin to Pam.  We share 3rd great-grandparents William Cleaton and Lucy Standley Giles and met online through a DNA match in November of 2015.  She’s also related to my 2nd great-grandfather Roberts by his first wife who died as a young mother.  Pam introduced me to her husband Gary and over lunch we discovered that he and I also share a family surname.  Small world.

I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have family in the county of my ancestors.  I look forward to collaborating with them for the rest of our lives!  Imagine how fun it was to share a meal with Gary and Pam and a waitress they’ve known for over twenty years!  Now that’s what I call service – and great food.  Thanks guys for including me in your lives.

Gary and Pam lead tours to Israel.  If you’re interested in booking a tour, let me know and I’ll connect you with them.

John Ian Neely Home

John Ian Neely Home

The Fishers dropped me back at the Archives just in time to meet – again for the first time – my cousin Janice Mills.  She and some of her family had just wrapped up a yard/garage sale to clear out space for a classic car.  We met the rest of them at a wonderful New York style Italian eatery.  I really enjoyed meeting husband Denny, daughter Kelly and Kelly’s friend David.   Janice soon had me back in the car and headed south to see the house of our 5th great-grandfather John Ian Neely and his wife Suzanne Griffith Evans.  They built the Federal style home in 1813 on the Columbia Pike between Franklin and Columbia, TN.  I’ve blogged about it in the past.  It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Janice took a picture back then and sent it to me before I wrote about it, but this would be our first time to walk the property.  We were particularly interested in the rumor of a cemetery surrounded by a rock wall that no longer stood.  The owners were welcoming and informative.  They’d lived on property for forty-four years!  They were not aware of any cemetery surrounded by a rock wall but told us about a cemetery on the original property less than a mile from the house.  We found the cemetery (A funny story for another day).  We found grave stones with the family surnames of others who had lived in the Neely house but no stones with the name Neely clearly etched on them.  Janice plans to do further research to confirm if this is the original Neely cemetery.

I always enjoy walking the land of an ancestor.  Our footsteps meet for a moment in time with the hope we’ll spend eternity together someday.  Thank you Janice for taking time to carry me to this special place in Williamson County.

Gary between the headstones of Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Blackwell in Franklin, TN

Gary between the headstones of Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Blackwell in Franklin, TN

Like a flash Janice whisked me away to a subdivision near where she lives.  I had heard about this place and seen pictures of it online but this was my first visit.  Here among ranch-style houses on nice sized lots we parked in a driveway.  We weren’t here to visit the owner or his neighbors.  We were here to visit the cemetery in their back yards!  Tucked up under a tree in the back right corner was the final resting place of our 4th great-grandparents Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Blackwell. The Blackwell’s son William, said to be one of the first physicians in Williamson County, is also buried here along with a few other family members and according to the property owner/caretaker about five beloved pets.  This land also once felt the fall of ancestors’ footsteps.  What a privilege for me to walk it as well.

Gary with the Mills

Gary with the Mills

Dennis Mills classic car and trophy from previous weekend.

Dennis Mills classic car and trophy from the previous weekend.

Janice and I actually met online this past March through Find a Grave.  She wasn’t raised in the county and isn’t kin to as many people as Pam, but I think she knows most of the people.  She met many of them serving for years as a school board member.  We share a rich heritage in the county through our Neely, Blackwell and Gibson families.  Now that Janice is retired, she has more time for genealogy.  She’s full of life and lives it to the fullest.  She and her family were fun and funny.  I enjoyed their hospitality.  I can’t wait to go back.

Genealogy Trip Tip   

When my wife Dee and I visited the Williamson County Archives in 2013, I found a deed abstract for some land on McCrory Creek between my 3rd great-grandfather John Roberts and Jesse Weathers in the year 1811.  Names were mentioned but like many genealogical abstracts, specific points and measurements were not given.  When I searched for a copy of the original I was disappointed to find it missing from the records.  I learned through others that this land was part of a land grant given to James Moore.  He was a Major General in the Revolutionary War and granted for his service 12,000 acres of land in today’s Williamson County.  That’s a lot of land in which to find my ancestors small parcel.  Why was it so important to me?  I believe this is the most likely burial site for my 3 x great-grandparents John and Rebecca Sammons Roberts.

While in the Archives last week I located and obtained a copy of an original deed which until then I had only had an abstract.  This was one of my top “targets” for this most recent trip to the Archives.  It was a deed gift from John Roberts Sr. to his son John Roberts Jr. in 1823.  It was made not long before Senior died.  He also gave a deed gift to his daughter Frances “Fanny” Roberts who would marry Alfred G. Tatum in 1824 within three months following her father’s death.  Based on later records, I believe these two children would assume the principle care of their mother and the original property.  These two deeds together described the property owned by John and Rebecca Roberts on the “headwaters of McCrory Creek”.  I found more records of James Moore, while living in Washington County, TN, assigning land to many people in Williamson County.  One of those men was Samuel Jackson, a distant cousin of General Andrew Jackson.  The cousins would later have a dispute over land and Andrew would run Samuel through with a cane sword.  (Another story for another time) I was then able to find a copy of an original deed between Samuel Jackson and Jesse Weathers from 1806.  Does that name sound familiar?  Based on the physical description of the land from the two gift deeds to the Roberts children and the description of the 1806 deed between Jackson and Weathers, I believe these two properties are the same property.  I do love it when a plan comes together.

I’m prepared now to work my way forward through the deed records with the hopes of finding the exact location of this parcel of land in today’s records.

A Small Sample                 

These few deeds represent a small sampling of the documents I collected from my half day in the Archives.  I left feeling thoroughly blessed.  Plan your work.  Work your plan.

This post represents a very small expression of my appreciation for “new” cousins and the fun I had with the Fishers and Mills.  I’ve told you only a small part of it.  Some because of time and space and some because my cousin Janice said, “Remember Gary, what happens in Franklin stays in Franklin!”  I can’t wait to get back.

Janice Mills and Denny's other ride.

Janice Mills with Denny’s other classic.

Unwrapping Family

When it comes to present day family, we’re generally pulled in one of two directions.

  1. The family I grew up in was near perfect and that’s the way family should be.
  2. The family I grew up in was a mess and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

These are not correct but they’re the directions in which most of us are pulled.

Our twenty-four year old neighbor ran up to Dee and me while we were standing in our front yard last week.  We’ve known him since he was in the 3rd grade.  He blurted out something like, Mr. Gary, Miss Dee I’ve just got to know, do you ever argue?  Do you ever have disagreements?  I’ve known you most of my life and I’ve never seen you fight or disagree with one another.  LOL!  We assured him we have had many “lively discussions” through our married life.  We intentionally left our children and others out of these by having them in private.  We may have made a mistake.  For example, our friend was relieved to know we “fought”.  The idea of an ideal family is a myth.

Family dynamics can be a strange animal.  What is right to some can feel wrong to others.  What is normal to us is very abnormal to others.  Does that make us right?  I don’t think so.

These thoughts began to churn in my mind after visiting with a distant cousin and fellow family history enthusiast.  I “met” her after putting an ad in the Murray County, KY newspaper two years ago.  I was looking for Roberts’ family connections and knew next to nothing about them.  My cousin’s friend’s husband saw the ad and brought it to his wife’s attention.  His wife passed the information on to my cousin in another city.  She contacted me and the rest is as they say, family history!

She and I visited on the phone again last week and she shared an insightful nugget.  She said the Roberts family she knew could be cliquish.  They tended to stay to themselves and rarely had high regard for their mates’ families.  I thought about the family in which I grew up.  We knew so little about either side of our family and rarely saw or interacted with them, especially my mom’s.  I’m not sure of all the reasons for this.  I know Dad and his father, who had been raised as an orphan, rarely agreed.  He left home at 16, lied about his age and joined the military.  I’m not sure if it was always this way, but it seems that if you disagreed with dad or made him mad (not very difficult) he could just do without you.  He didn’t invite you to visit and he didn’t make an effort to visit you.  We rarely saw family.  My brother once correctly pointed out to me that if dad had not left his Veteran’s check coming to his parents address in Fort Worth we would have seen them even less.  I can’t remember ever meeting my mom’s father.  I thought I had a faint memory of meeting him once but after a conversation with her, I now realize it was actually my Grandfather Burns.  My memories are rare and cherished.

Is this the way our family is today?  No.  Not really.  I have some similar traits but we’re different in many ways.  I have tendencies but Dee helps me fight them.

Here is one way I’m very much like my dad.  If you can’t come see me or don’t want to come see me, I’m entirely okay with it.  I want you to do what you need to do.  I want you to do what you want to do.

Our ministry obligations early in marriage kept us from seeing our family as often as we would have liked.  I was no doubt primed and ready for this by my upbringing.  My parents understood this and were really great with it.  I never felt any pressure to visit them or perform in any way to meet their expectations.  They had a wonderful “come when you can” and “you’re always welcome” attitude, but don’t put yourself out.  I absolutely love this about mom and dad and believe it gave me the freedom to spend more time with my children.  Did I mention I love my mom and dad?

I’ve “given daughters away” and encouraged my sons to “leave their father and mother and cleave unto their wives”.  I often feel misunderstood and rarely ever (maybe never) asked to clarify my thinking.  I’ve told my grown children I’ll stay out of their lives unless they choose to invite me in.  (I know this doesn’t sound much like community.)  I want them to know they’re always welcome but never obligated.

Dee and I saw the conflict in families when you have hard fast traditions your children are expected to follow.  We chose not to have any.  We did holidays different, never doing them the same two years in a row.  Our grown and married children feel no obligation to be with us on the actual holidays and rarely ever are.  They’re usually off with their in-laws.  Good.  We took our kids on “nuclear family” vacations so we could have time away just to ourselves.  Was this good?  I don’t know.  We had regular meals and family discussions.  Was this good?  I think so.

We did things the way we did them.  Were they all right?  No.  Would we do some things different?  Yes.  Should you do things the way we did them?  No?  Should you consider doing some things differently?  Yes.

What part is nature and what part is nurture?  The good genealogist is always willing to consider both.