Become the Expert – Then, Collaborate

Burton Lee Roberts

Burton Lee Roberts

If anyone knows more about Burton Lee Roberts than me, it would be my mother – and I’ve told her things over the past five years she didn’t know about him.  He was my father for thirty-three years before his death in 1988.  While free with his opinions, he held his secrets close.  I peppered him with questions all my life about his family, growing up, military service and the medical profession.  He and I cleared land together, did electrical trim work over one summer and fished on a few occasions.  I got to know him better (understand) through my psychology and pastoral counseling studies.  He and I spoke of spiritual things on only a couple of occasions.  We later had our goodbye conversation when it became clear he would not live much longer.  I believed we were ready.  I was wrong.

My 2012 budding interest in genealogy, and Dad’s family in particular, brought multiple new facts and affirmations about his life to light.  And with those discoveries many more new questions I wish I could ask.  I peppered Mom and one surviving aunt with some of those questions.  I so wish I had become interested in genealogy earlier.  My dad’s sister would have been a gold mine of information.  She died in 2010.  Missed opportunity.

Now what?  I still know a great deal about him and continue to pursue missing information and historical tidbits.  I will tell his story – and stories.  As I’ve explained, I’m in the best position of perhaps anyone to do so.

What about you?  Whose life or family line do you know better than just about anyone else?  This makes you the closest thing to an “expert” on that line.  (Tread lightly here.  One definition of an expert is “a has been under pressure”.)  You have something significant you should consider giving it to the greater genealogical community.  How do you share it?

Collaborate

I use online trees and DNA to find new cousins.  My online tree is bigger, more expansive and less documented than the one I’m building offline.  It’s only a tool to find those new cousins.  These cousins know more about a particular part of a family line than I do.  They have access to documents and therefore documentation I do not have.  They often have photos and family lore.  This is when I let them “straighten me out”.  I’m ready to consider their facts and hear their arguments.  Trust, but verify.  When I find a researcher (cousin) who will not turn and run the first time we disagree, I find a jewel.  I treasure these people in my genealogical research and my life.  I could not know what I know today without them.  May their tribe increase.

My appeal to you

  • Do diligent research.  Follow genealogical proof standards.
  • Write and post stories to your online trees.
  • Find other researchers interested in your family line through online trees and DNA results.
  • Be ready to collaborate.  Be generous with your research.  Be open to having your work questioned.  If you’re right, best genealogical research practices will confirm it.  If you’re wrong, you’ve found what you’ve wanted all along – a more accurate representative tree of your family lines.

TIP:  When you’re contacted by another researcher and told you may be wrong (or often just told you’re flat-out wrong!), receive it and let them know you welcome their input.  Consider them a research partner in this branch of your research.  Check out their documentation.  If they’re right, admit it.  Tell them how right they are and how much you appreciate their work.  Right or wrong, let them know you appreciate their effort to assist you.

A cousin once contacted me and told me I might need to check a part of my tree.  They believed I was wrong about who and how I had a branch configured.  They shared with me their understanding of that branch.  Here’s the first thing I thought.  It’s unlikely I would know more or be more accurate than this cousin about this part of our shared tree.  I listened.  I considered.  Of course, she was right –  and of course I wish I always thought this way!

A “new cousin” recently contacted me and said I might want to reconsider some children I had attributed to a couple in my tree.  He sent me transcriptions of two legal documents with source citations.  He was right.  I did want to reconsider it.  His information introduced me to a new person in my tree previously unknown and resolved some conflict in my research.  Collaboration.

Become the expert in your branches of the family tree and then freely, willing, joyfully collaborate with others.

 

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

big-prizeNeed some help with your genealogy?  Need direction? Need encouragement? Keep your eyes on the prize.

Alice Wine of Johns Island, South Carolina is credited with these words from the early days of the civil rights movement.  Various versions were sung in the battle for equal rights. Inspired by an earlier spiritual song entitled Gospel Plow, the words remind us that no matter how difficult things become, we must keep our eyes on the prize. Remember where you’re going, what you’re trying to accomplish. Refuse to allow problems to keep you from obtaining the prize.

I’m hesitant to use this phrase in the discussion of genealogy because of its origin. I don’t wish to lessen the struggle for civil rights in any way but I view the principle as almost universal in accomplishing anything with or without significance. If you want to get something done, obtain a goal, you must keep your eyes on the prize.

The family historian knows this struggle.

The Prize  

What’s the prize in your genealogy research? You tell me.  Why did you first get into genealogy? What are you trying to accomplish now?  Are your eyes fixed resolutely on your prize?

I was late to hunt. But I wanted to know about my father’s family because I knew so little. I needed to, as TV’s NCIS New Orleans character Dwayne Pride says, “learn things”. I now have a partial timeline for my Roberts family covering over 200 years. I have hundreds of pages of documents related to my direct line and have written several blogs about this family. I also have an equal amount of information, if not more, on my mother’s Byrd family. So, why has my research slowed to a crawl?

  • Life.  Like you, I’m busy, perhaps as busy as I’ve ever been. I’m near the end of my life’s journey and there are things I want to do, including but not limited to family research. There are, believe it or not, some things more important than genealogy.
  • Loss of focus. The reality is my family history research suffers more from a loss of focus than my busyness. I may not do as much when I’m busy with other things, but I can do some.  If I don’t, it’s probably a loss of focus.  I’ll explain more.
  • Laziness. I’m not typically a lazy person. Most of my life, however, I’ve worked more with my mind than with my hands. Watching others work so well and diligently with their hands often makes me feel lazy. In my research, I can see laziness creep in when I lose focus or things become difficult.  Laziness may also show itself in the constant clicking of internet links, chasing the “shiny objects” of genealogy, or building our family trees on the research of others without gaining the genealogical proof.

When I began

When I began, I wanted to know about my dad’s family. That was my prize. Having learned so many wonderful and at times fascinating things, I wanted to share these facts with my family and preserve their legacy for my children and grandchildren. This became my prize. It fueled the energy to begin this blog. It inspired me to take my grandchildren on family history trips. It’s the reason I may pause but can’t quit this “hobby” of family research.

Backtracking my family and leaving their stories for my children and grandchildren is still the prize on which I must keep my eyes in my genealogical research.

In my research, I discovered many stories to tell. It’s important to document these stories. What are the sources for the facts behind the story? Can others read my research and come to the same conclusions? What good is a legacy without proof? A tale? A myth?

Little Prizes

This brings me to the little prizes I must pursue to obtain my big prize. Think of it this way. If my big prize is well documented and written stories about my family left for my children and grandchildren, I need to pursue a series of smaller prizes along the way to obtain my big prize. Big prizes cannot be gained without taking many smaller steps. As I write these words, I’m reminded how many times I’ve read and heard versions of this same advice. Experienced genealogists and longtime family historians have written and shared these thoughts long before I began my sporadic research in 2012. I should apply their experience and pursue the little prizes which help me reach my big prize and document it all as I go.  Think about your own research.

  1. Have a goal. Have a goal before you boot up your computer or get in your car to go to a library or research facility. Discover and document ____________. What do you want to do? What are you trying to learn that will help you accomplish the “big prize”? the Familysearch Wiki page has an excellent article entitled “Principle of Family History Research”.  Click the title and give it a careful read. Learn more here and here.
  2. Develop a research plan to reach the goal you desire.  Amy Johnson Crow recently blogged on this subject. Other resources may be found here, here and here.
  3. Follow the Genealogical Proof Standards. If you don’t know what this is, please take time to click and read. This is the best way to create certainty about the stories we wish to pass to future generations.
  4. Write it all down.  Every fact I find will not make it into this blog but I need it recorded, documented, saved and backed up in at least two places for future generations to use

I may not always have something to say to the genealogical community at large but I’ll always have something to say to my grandchildren. I need to keep my eyes on this prize. One goal after another (small prizes) to reach one big prize. Perhaps as I do and write some of it down here, you’ll find something useful or entertaining in your own research.

Keep your eyes on your prize.

Free Help for Your Irish Research

jake-fletcherJake Fletcher is at it again.  This generous professional genealogist, educator and blogger from Massachusetts recently shared three dynamite FREE online Irish resources for researching our ancestors. He dispels the myth this is an impossible task for regular folks who can’t travel to Ireland. Check them out on his blog.

I also encourage your to follow his blog, especially if you have family lines traced through New England.

Thanks Jake!

Dealing with Discouragement in Your Genealogy

Discouragement is the companion of the family historian.  You either learn to face it or you get out of genealogy.

Genealogists and family historians come in all flavors.  They’re as different as snowflakes.  The one constant?  They all must learn to deal with discouragement.  If you’re going to stay in “the hunt” and continue your “backtracking”, you’ll need to overcome discouragement.  Believe me.  It will be worth it!

Let me frame it for us.  What are some common discouragements in genealogy?

  • The learning curve – We can’t learn fast enough to prevent mistakes costing us time and money.
  • The Cost of the hobby – Everywhere you turn, someone appears to be trying to “make a buck” off your interest in your ancestry.
  • Disinterested family members – Our families may show little or no interest and may even be antagonistic toward our research.
  • Missing courthouse documents – You put in the time and effort to go to the courthouse only to discover someone has either removed or displaced the record.
  • Burnt courthouses – Not only is one document missing but all the documents burned up in a fire over 100 years ago!
  • Online trees that propagate misinformation.
  • Online tree owners who will not reconsider their tree’s information.
  • DNA test results without trees attached to them.
  • DNA test owners who will not respond to your messages or emails.
  • Lost or corrupted files which are not backed up.
  • Allowing the undocumented work of others to waste our time going up the wrong tree – an unforced error.

Okay, that’s enough negativity.  Most of us have experienced plenty of discouragement.  It’s part of the hobby.  How do we deal with our discouragements in genealogy?

  • You might allow them to overwhelm you and force you out of the hobby. But because you’re still reading this post, I assume you want to overcome them and continue your research.
  • Cut through the clutter by choosing to focus on one family line and one goal at a time. Such as, “When did great-grandfather Ingram first arrive in the county?”  Learn, if you don’t know, how you could discover and prove this one thing and set about doing and documenting it.  You’ll soon be piling up encouragements.
  • Spend wisely.  Ask others.  Listen.  Don’t be afraid to drop a subscription for a time.  You can pick it up later.  I once bought a year’s subscription to a newspaper service.  I should have tried the free month and then stopped it when I realized it wouldn’t help me with my current family line.  It costs me but I also learned from it.  I let my Ancestry.com subscription expire at times and use those times to catch up on what I’ve gathered from their databases.
  • Don’t trust undocumented family history information. It’s a choice.  Use it as a clue but don’t trust it as a fact – until it has been proven.
  • Take some time to be grateful for the documents you’ve discovered, the history you’ve uncovered, the family you’ve met, the cousins you’ve found and the mistakes not yet made.  Gratefulness may be the greatest antidote to discouragement.

Here are some things I’m grateful for today in my genealogy research.

  • A wonderful glut of online free information to make me a better family researcher and save me time and money.
  • Incredible library and research facilities within my reach.
  • The ability to choose where, how and when I spend my resources on genealogy.
  • Family members who listen, discuss, collaborate and cheer me on in my research.
  • Hundreds of documents I’ve uncovered and retained in my research that add color and flavor to my family’s story.
  • Online tree owners who have allowed me to view their private trees and been open to answer my questions.
  • DNA tests and the wonderful cousins I’ve met (some literally) because of them.
  • The ability to back up all the files that really matter to me on an external hard drive and/or in a cloud.

So many reasons to be grateful.  So little time.  Encouragement is a choice.  Choose wisely.

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Happy backtracking!

Too Busy to Read Blogs and Newsletters? Please Think Again…

time-saverI’m too busy NOT to read blogs and newsletters.  It’s counter-intuitive.  Taking time to read the writings of others saves me both time and money in my genealogy/family history research.  You too will benefit from this fun discipline.  Here’s how.

“Time is money”, the saying goes.  Most genealogists and family researchers have significant limits of both.  How we spend our limited time and money will often determine the measure of our success.  Our success in family research is measured by uncovering our family’s story and documenting it for future generations.  If we’re going to spend the time and money discovering our family’s past, we need to spend the time to do it right.

Books, genealogy site subscriptions, seminars, conferences, research guides, genealogy software, supplies, etc. all cost us money and time.  How does reading free blogs and newsletters save us on both?

question-marks

What Can Blogs and Newsletters Do for You?

  • Provide you with time and money saving tips and tricks – for free!
  • Instruct you in a specific area of your genealogical research.
  • Inform you of other great places to find time and money saving help.
  • Connect you with others researching your family lines.
  • Show you the best use of technology in your research.
  • Alert you to upcoming events in your areas of interests.
  • Bring to your attention money saving discounts.
  • Introduce you to someone with whom you can converse about genealogy.
  • Provide genealogical case studies and models in writing family history.
  • Entertain you. That’s right, relax and enjoy the stories and foibles of others.  Laugh a little.

How to Find the Right Blogs and Newsletters

With hundreds of genealogical blogs and newsletters, how do you decide which ones to follow for their updates?

  • Think free! My paid ancestry research sites and software often come with a blog included.  I use them, but I don’t consider them free.  There are many good free sites.  They often offer products or services but you need not purchase them.
  • Use the Google search terms “genealogy blog” in your search engine. You’ll find all you need to get started.  Don’t overdo it.  Take your time, over time.  Be willing to “upgrade” and “kick one to curb” if you find others who do a better job providing you with your research needs or interests.
  • Listen for a blog in your voice. All blogs are not equal for many different reasons.  One characteristic seldom mentioned is “voice”.  Certain writers “speak” to me.  They write in a way I can “see, hear and understand”.  These aren’t the only blogs ending up in my inbox but they’re the primary ones.
  • Select blog writers who encourage you to use “best use” genealogical practices.
  • Once you find a blog that meets your criteria, see if they recommend other blogs and check those out.
  • Your favorite blogs list will always be in flux. Never be afraid to discard one blog for another that better meets your needs.

Blogs and newsletters arrive in my inbox throughout the week.  I’ve selected these for all of the reasons previously listed.  I always “peek” at these before I discard them for the day.  I want to see what they contain but I don’t always read them or all their content.  Part of my research time is set aside to determine if these particular blogs or newsletters will help make me successful.  Will they save me time or money?  The ones that make it into my inbox, by my invitation, will more often than not do both.

Be choosy.  Yes.  Save yourself some time and money.  Select the right blogs and newsletters for you.

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What Is Backtracking?

animal-tracksWhat does it mean to backtrack our kin?

Have you ever trailed an animal?  Have you tried to find and follow an animal without the ground being covered with snow?  When I was much younger, my older friend Larry Drewery put on a clinic.  We and his brother Terry “struck” the trail of a wounded animal around 9:30 pm.  In the darkness, with only a flashlight, Larry trailed him for over two hours through the briars and brambles of a dark creek bottom.  His success that night is still the finest display of trailing I’ve ever personally observed.

Is Larry’s success an example of backtracking?  No.  Think of backtracking as striking the trail of the same wounded animal and working backward to find where he was wounded and then all the way back to where he woke up that morning!  That’s backtracking and it, like your family history, can be very challenging.

footprints

I call my blog “Backtracking the Common”.   I’m discovering most of the family in my past were common, salt-of-the-earth kind of people.  They’re not just my kind of people — they’re my people.

Backtracking the common is much more difficult than backtracking the famous. 

I grew up with absolutely no knowledge of my great-grandfather Roberts.  I “cut his trail” (came across evidence of where he had been) in 2012 and backtracked him from Lamar County, Texas to Calloway County, Kentucky.  I learned the name of his father.  Like his, it was John.  From there I backtracked them to Williamson County, Tennessee and learned my great-great-grandfather shared the same name with his father—yep, John again.  I had to learn how to distinguish the “track” of my great-great-grandfather John R. Roberts from his cousin John D. Roberts who also lived in Williamson in the early 1800s.  From Williamson County I backtracked my 3 x great-grandfather John Roberts (That’s right, same first and last name with an unknown middle name or initial) to Lunenburg County, Virginia.  I’m presently comparing the “tracks, broken twigs, and overturned rocks” of THREE John Roberts in the area, near the same age, in the middle-to-late 1700s!  Difficult and tedious are two words that come to mind.  This may take some time.

Backtracking John Roberts sometimes feels like backtracking a John Smith.

Here are a few suggestions for backtracking your common kin folks.

  1. Stay focused. Avoid of the “shiny objects”.  Stay focused on the next “track”.
  2. Set attainable and reachable goals. Make your plans to accomplish your goals and stick to the plan.
  3. Understand you may need to learn about the lives of your kin’s family, associates and neighbors to follow the trail of your ancestor. I now know most of the family names in southern Williamson County, TN and northeastern Lunenburg County, VA.
  4. Let others help you. Taking the time to read this post is an example of seeking help in your research process.  There’s an abundance of excellent free help on today’s internet when it comes to researching family history.  When you need it, take advantage of it.
  5. Refuse to allow difficulty to overcome your desire to learn and tell your family’s story.
  6. Take a break when you need it. Switch family lines or stop all together.  Recharge your emotional and mental batteries and then pick up the trail!

Happy backtracking!

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What is your all-time favorite tip for “backtracking” your family’s history?

Where was Newton Roberts in the 1860s and 1870s? Or, When Census Records Wont’ Tell Us What We Want to Know

Are you trying to find an ancestor in the census but can’t find their record?  There is more than one way to resolve this issue and find your ancestor.  Interested? Continue reading

Genealogy Tip #8: Power Researching!

Here’s the situation.  You’re researching multiple family lines.  You have an opportunity to visit an excellent genealogical library or research facility miles or even days away from where you live.  You’ll have limited time, a day or two, to be in the facility.  How do you maximize your time and carry home the most amount of information?  Try what I call power researching.

Here’s what you need:

  • A small camera or phone camera with plenty of photo file storage capability and/or scanning capability. It must be able to capture excellent images without a flash and have a removable battery that can be easily changed.  I use a Cannon Power Shot A4000 IS.  You’ll waste valuable time if you have to stop to charge your phone or tablet.
  • Photo software with editing capability on your computer, laptop or tablet.
  • An extra battery for your photo/scanning device
  • A charger to recharge your spent battery while you continue to work with your fresh battery.
  • You may want to use a tripod or other device for you photo work. They just slow me down.
  • Pen and paper
  • A flash drive.
  • The research guide you’ve prepared. (Explained below)

Here’s what you do before you go:

  • Prepare a simple research guide. What surnames are you researching, in which locations and for what date ranges.  Know the counties’ histories and boundary changes and remember, your ancestors often registered documents in adjacent counties because it was more convenient.  For example, my Horn or Horne relatives arrived in what I believe is current day Wilson County, Tennessee sometime after 1791 (Wilson county did not exist in 1791) and had, to my knowledge, moved on by about 1836.  I would need to research no fewer than seven counties:  Sumner, Davidson, Wilson, Smith, Rutherford, Warren and Cannon for those early date ranges!  So I would write down the main target surnames, their known allied surnames, the county names in which I may find a record of their presence and the date range I may expect to find them there.  Don’t forget alternate spellings.
  • Go online and search the target library or research center’s catalog. Prioritize the order of your search by the roadblock you are trying to remove or most coveted surnames.  Put in the search query.  For example, I would put in Wilson County, Tennessee and look for deed books, will books, histories, tax lists, etc. all in the appropriate date range.  I would copy and paste the catalog information, especially the call numbers, into a document in my word processor.  I would then repeat the process for each potential county.  Remember to prioritize.  You’re preparing the guide you will use when you visit the facility.  You need your list to be progressing from most important in your research to least.  Only you can determine this order.  If I’m visiting a good facility for the first time, it’s not unusual for me to have eight to ten pages in my guide.
  • Print out the guide you’ve built. Then write the appropriate surnames beside each document title on your list.  This will be critical in getting the most out of your time.
  • Charge your camera battery and your spare battery. Have an extra data storage disk.  Pack your charger!  When you change a battery out, put the used one in the charger.
  • Make certain you know the location and times the facility will be open. Don’t trust the times you find on a website!  Call the week before you go and confirm with a person their times and policies concerning non-flash photography (By the way, if your camera has a “silent” mode, please use it.)
  • Take a flash drive with you. (sometimes called a thumb drive or memory stick).  If you find data on a facility computer/microfilm reader, you may be able to simple plug in your flash drive and download the information to take home with you.  This saves you the time and expense of copying.
  • Plan your meals. I usually pack a lunch (or dinner depending on the hours the facility is open).  I want to control and limit my time away from gathering “gold”.

Here’s what you do when you arrive:

  • Be at the facility when it opens.Gary power researching in San Antonio 2015
  • Proceed through any check-in process necessary for the facility, get oriented, select a research table nearest your work and head to the stacks with the research guide you prepared.
  • Find and collect the first five or six books and/or documents from the top of your list and return to your table.
  • On a sheet of paper, you brought with you, write down the title and author of the first book. Under this write the surnames appropriate to this book down the left side of your paper allowing room between each surname and alternate spelling.  I try to do this in alphabetical order to hasten the later process.
  • Search the index of the first book. (If your document does not have an index, you’ll need to determine if you should take the time to research it the “old fashioned way”, photo or copy the entire document now or take time to search it or copy it later in the day.)  Now, use the names you wrote on your paper.  These will be your family surnames and allied families from the appropriate county and times.  Beside each name found in the index, write the page numbers where these names appear in the book.  You are preparing your “photo guide”.  Do this for each name on your paper for this specific book.
  • Begin photographing. I do it in this sequence.  Photograph the outside cover of the book, then the title and copyright pages.  If you like, photograph the forward or introduction.  Photograph any explanations of abbreviations, etc.  which may later assist you.  Photograph the hand written page you have just prepared.  Now, begin photographing each page number beside the names you have written down.  Save time and trouble by photographing both pages facing you.  Don’t peak at the information.  It’ll slow you down.  (OK, I confess.  If it’s a brick wall subject, I always peak.)  Continue this process through each of the names and pages on your list.  Photograph maps or diagrams you stumble across in the volume.  Then repeat the process for each book on the table preparing and photographing a page for each one.
  • When you’re finished with the first five or six books, place them on the return carts (do not re-shelve them) and find the next five or six books on your list. Repeat the process as before until you finish your entire list or have to go home.

When you arrive home:

  • Download all of your images. Hopefully your photo editing software collects your download/upload dump into one file.  (I believe the most I’ve collected from one facility is 996 over two full days.)
  • I name this one file with the name of the city, facility and date of the visit.
  • I create sub-folders within this one main folder. The sub-folders are named according to the titles of the books from which I gathered the images.  These images should be numbered in sequential order by your camera and/or photo software.  Keep those image designations.  Do Not Change Them.  Do not rename them.  Now, simply collect the proper images for each titled folder (the title of a book or document) and deposit them in the folder.  I now possess the images pertinent to my research in the proper folders for each book I photographed.
  • NOW the work begins! I must, at my own pace, go through each page and mine out the “gold” for my research while carefully documenting my sources.  Then I can analyze the data and better tell my family’s story.
  • Backup! Backup! Backup!  Backup all data using multiple resources.
  • Finally, I prepare a hard copy file folder for the trip and place the research guide and name pages I prepared for each book or document in this file.

I’m fortunate to live “down the street” from some excellent genealogical research resources.  But, they don’t have everything I need and I can’t get everything I need online – not even barely.  If I’m going to go through the time and expense to travel to a research facility, I want to gather as much “gold” as I can.  I’m sure you feel the same way.  This is just one idea how you might do it.

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Happy backtracking!

Backtracking John Rivers Roberts

Some of us are drawn to cemeteries.  I can’t explain it.  Finding the final resting place of our ancestors becomes a quest.  It completes a picture for me.  I want to know where they were born, walk the land they walked and visit the place they were buried.  Strange.  I can’t explain it.  But somehow it connects me.

I’ve “met”, corresponded and visited by phone with a number of Roberts cousins over the past few weeks.  One of the newest ones is Charles Roberts of Calloway County, Kentucky.  He is the 2 x great grandson of Newton T. Roberts, the brother of my 2 x great grandfather John Rivers Roberts.  Charles asked me if I could “shed some light” on where my great great grandfather John Rivers Roberts and his wife Rebecca Ann Giles are buried.  I believe I can (or at least I have an opinion).  Here’s the story.

I grew up knowing little or nothing about the Roberts family except the names of my grandparents Gus and Emma Lee Roberts.  I peppered my dad Burton Lee Roberts with questions as a teenager.  He either couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me what he knew.  I believe he knew little or nothing.  About 30 years ago in the middle of my own growing family and ministry work a couple of college professors, amateur genealogist, shared with me the name and burial place of my great grandfather John A. Roberts.  I did nothing significant with this information until 2012.  Perhaps it was age or opportunity but I’ve always been curious and had to know some answers.

I backtracked the John A. Roberts family to Calloway, Kentucky.  I placed a small ad in the personals section of the Murray Ledger and Times and ran it from Wednesday through Sunday hoping to reach the people who buy the paper for the Thursday ads or Sunday morning paper.  My email address was included in the ad.  On Thursday I received an email from Deborah Outland of Lexington, KY the 3 x great granddaughter of John Rivers Roberts and his first wife Sarah B. Smithson.  Her longtime friend Shirley Parrish had called her and told her about the ad.  Shirley and her husband L.B. Parrish live in Murray.  L.B. had recently had eye surgery and was looking for some small print to test out his “new” eyes.  He read my ad to Shirley and she called Deborah.  We arranged a phone visit (one of several over the past 3 years and she has been so generous with her family knowledge).  Deborah put me in contact with Rudy Holland back in Calloway County.  He’s also the 3 x great grandchild of John Rivers Roberts and Sarah B. Smithson.  Rudy owns his grandfather’s old farm place which I believe sits next to the John Rivers Roberts’ original farm in Calloway.  I believe it was Rudy who shared over the phone with me the name John Rivers Roberts and “sent” me to Williamson County, Tennessee.  In other words, you can’t do good genealogy without a lot of wonderful people’s help!  (Note added 7/30/2015, My “newly discovered” cousin Charles Roberts points out that Rudy Holland was also the 2 x great grandson of Newton Roberts on the Holland side.)

I’ve learned much about the Roberts family since “striking” the trail in 2012.  By 2013 I thought we (my faithful wife and research assistant Dee Ann) had enough information to make a trip to Tennessee and Kentucky.  We picked up the trail in Tennessee a few days after Thanksgiving and enjoyed the end of a weekend of celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin.  The Carnton Plantation is well worth the visit.

On Monday morning we were in the Williamson County Archives as soon as the considerate and helpful staff opened the doors.  If you’re doing genealogy research for Williamson County ancestors, this is a must visit.  It’s a library, research center and courthouse all rolled into one.  We took pages and pages of document copies away from the center at very reasonable prices.  They have a computer database from which you can search, access and print records.  They have an excellent collection of genealogical volumes for research only purposes.  They have books and collections for purchase.  They have old maps.  And did I mentioned they have informed and helpful staff and volunteers?

I continue to mine the gold and assay the value of the nuggets we unearthed in our visit.  The story of my Roberts family continues to unfold in bits and pieces.  As we assemble the pieces of the puzzle, the picture becomes brighter and more certain.  I’m very interested in any piece you may have to add to the puzzle.

John Rivers Roberts was born October 14, 1800 in probably Lunenburg County, Virginia.  (We hope to pick up the trail there someday soon.)  Family lore says he was named after his father (John) and his mother’s maiden name “Rivers”.  I can’t confirm this.  In fact, I find evidence to the contrary.  However, I never discount family lore until I can completely discredit it.  Even if it’s not true, it often has an element of fact in it.  There is a possibility that our family lore is off by one generation and that it was his grandfather who was married to a Rivers and not his father.  We have yet to confirm the first name of John Rivers’ grandfather but believe we know where to pick up his trail.

Here’s a quick side note for those researching this family.  Pay close attention to allied families and neighbors in both Williamson, TN and Lunenburg, VA.  You will see many of the same names and find where the Roberts children obtain their mates.  Keep in mind that Lunenburg County changes configuration at least 3 times and maybe more during this Roberts family tenure there.  Look at the Roberts and their neighbors on Juniper Creek off of the north branch of the Meherrin River in Lunenburg.  This appears to be the beginning area of our specific Roberts family branch’s multiplication in America.  My candidates for John Rivers’ grandfather include William, Thomas and James.  My leading contender is James, the same name as John Rivers’ older brother who was born in 1798.  Keep in mind as you research that there appears to be two James Roberts on Juniper, Senior and Junior.  It’s possible that one of these is John Rivers father’s dad and the other his brother.  It’s possible that one is his father and the other is his grandfather.  It’s possible this is not the name of John Rivers’ grandfather at all!

We pick up John Rivers Roberts’ trail back in Williamson.  He and his family can be documented by tax records in the county as early as 1805.  Land and legal documents continue to build the picture through the late 1850s.  It appears they had land on the Harpeth River first and then settled for good on the headwaters of McCrory Creek which feeds into the Harpeth south of Franklin.  Besides James (1798), I have been able to identify two more brothers and one sister.  Frances “Fannie” Roberts was born in 1802.  Anderson G. Roberts was born in 1808.  I suspect he is the origin of my great grandfather John Anderson Roberts’ middle name.  Newton T. Roberts was born in 1811.  Some say there was also a Joseph but I haven’t been unable to document this person.  John Roberts Sr. (John Rivers’ father, I call him “My John Roberts”) may have had other brothers migrate to Williamson.  This makes unraveling the Roberts crew in Williamson that much more challenging.  (Hidden away in the woods off Roberts Rd. in Arrington, TN there is a “lost” cemetery known by old timers to be the Benjamin Roberts cemetery.  You find his son John D. in Williamson County documents.  Finding and visiting this cemetery is another story for another time.)

John R. (the name I usually use to identify John Rivers Roberts) married Sarah B. “Sally” Smithson in 1821.  Family lore says she was an exceptionally beautiful young lady.  She came from a large family with a large presence in Lunenburg, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties of Virginia.  They also had a big presence in Williamson County through the 1800s.  They settled on Rutherford and Flat Creeks in the southern part of the county.  Brothers John R. and Newton would eventually buy land on these same creeks and begin their own families.

John R. and Sally Smithson Roberts welcomed their first child Clement Smithson Roberts in 1822.  He appears to be named after his maternal grandfather Clement S. Smithson.  Their second child was a son as well, they named James in 1825.  Was this in honor of my John Roberts Senior’s father?  I don’t know but it could be a clue.  Sadly, I have reason to believe the arrival of this son coincided with Sally’s death.  John R. now had two young sons to raise on his own.

John R. married his second wife, Rebecca Ann Giles, in January of 1827.  She too came from a large and significant family who lived south of today’s Bethesda, TN.  They obtained their marriage license from Maury County just to the south and east of this location and after marriage settled on Rutherford Creek.  Their children included William Claiborne, 1827, in honor of Rebecca’s father William C. Giles, Sarah “Sally” (1828) in honor of John R’s first wife (*See note below.), John Anderson (1830), Thomas Paschal (1832), and Lucy Jane (1833).  John R’s brother Newton would marry Rebecca Ann’s sister Sarah Jane Giles in 1838.  The brothers buy at least one piece of land together in 1838 on the waters of Rutherford and Flat Creeks.  Newton will eventually sell back his part to this land to John R. in 1849.  I have suspected this was in order to migrate to Calloway County, Kentucky.  But one or more of the cousins points out that Newton “drops off the radar” for 20 years and reappears in Calloway in 1870.  Wow!  Does anyone know where he went?  The year sounds like gold fields in California.  These dates also include the Civil War.  Can we document something?  Is there any family lore on the Newton family side? (*See note below.)

John R and Annie’s boys will all eventually migrate to Calloway.  Most will stay.  My great grandfather John Anderson will be the exception.   He migrates to Texas with his son-in-law J.B. Lassiter and family in about 1875.  John R. is the last of the Roberts from Williamson to arrive in Kentucky.  I suspect because his mother did not die until about 1857 in Williamson.  I failed to mention earlier that his father, John Roberts, died all the way back in November of 1823.  His wife, John R.’s mother, never remarried and lived on the McCrory Creek property until her death.  (Her name was Rebecca Sammons which may come as a surprise to most family tree owners with John Rivers Roberts in their trees.  But this is another story for another day.)  In the 1850 census she’s living on this property with her daughter Fannie (That’s Francis “Fannie” Roberts) and Fannie’s husband Alfred Tatum and their children.  The Tatum family also migrated from Lunenburg, VA and vicinity.  At one point we find Fannie and her family living next door to Anderson G. Roberts in Hickman County, TN in 1840.  He was her younger brother.  He married Alfred Tatum’s sister Celia in 1831.  So brother and sister married brother and sister. The Anderson G. family is back in Williamson County in the 1880 census perhaps living on the original Roberts place after a time in Marshall County, KY.  (Note:  This is where William Penn Roberts once commented he had lost track of them.  I’ll talk more about Penn when I write about Rebecca Sammons)

Now, what was that question?  Oh yeah, can you shed any light on where John Rivers and Rebecca Ann Roberts are buried?  Back on the trail…

Dee and I left Williamson County headed for Calloway in early December.  We had pre-scheduled visits to the courthouse in Murray and the Pogue Special Collections Library on the campus of Murray State University.  We had also arranged to meet with Rudy Roberts Holland and tour the Liberty/Shiloh area.  Only our visit with Nancy Roberts Thurman did not go as planned because of an illness in her family.

Rudy Holland is everything you would expect to find in a Kentucky gentleman.  He was warm and gracious, informed and helpful.  He shared family group sheets and a copy of his GEDCOM file he had on disc.  He allowed me to copy (I photographed) his Roberts family binder.  A few years ago Rudy had an old log cabin he was told John R. had built over 150 years ago moved up behind his farmhouse.  Rudy built a cedar exterior around it to protect it from the elements.  What a wonderful experience!  What a wonderful Roberts’ family treasure!  Then we were off to the cemeteries where we visited my great-grand-aunts and uncles’ final resting places.  There were plenty of cousins as well.  But what about John Rivers and Rebecca Ann Roberts place of rest?

I first read about this mythical cemetery on internet inquiry sites.  I saw mention of it in the Pogue Library.  It was called Roberts Cemetery #2.  Some of my cousins had heard of it and thought they might know where it was but had only visited as small children or had it pointed out to them at a distance.  Based on some of this information, I had previously found a map on the website Podunk and then used Google Earth software to locate what I thought was a contender.  I was wrong.  It turned out that I was looking at the Clement Smithson Roberts Cemetery.  Now, that was a fascinating visit in itself!  But…

Where was John R. and Rebecca Roberts?

John R. and Rebecca bought a farm in the Shiloh community Calloway prior to 1860.  They’re working the farm with a young John Childers whose family they knew in the area.  The farms adjacent to theirs are owned by the Hollands, Roberts (W.C. and T.P.) and Ivies.  By the 1880 census Rebecca is deceased and John R. has married his neighbor Malinda Holland.  Her maiden name was Miller.  She married Josiah Holland in January of 1843 and he died in 1862.  By 1880 she and their youngest son Henry B. Holland are living in the John R. Roberts household.  Without an 1870 census for this same Roberts household I can’t be any more accurate on death dates (at least not yet).  Rebecca died sometime after 1860 and John R. died sometime after 1880.  I’m hoping someone has more information than this.  Who knows, I may have it buried in a document I possess and have overlooked it.

The burial place.JRR 3

I asked Rudy if he knew where they were buried.  I understood him to say that he had never seen the graves but his father or grandfather had pointed out a place to him.  I asked him if we could go and take a look at this place.  On old Hwy 94 just south of Crabtree Rd. there is a small modern home.  It is believed to be the original home site of the John R. Roberts farm.  Rudy believed the graves might be located under a single tree to the left of this home as you face it from the road.  We made our way to the tree and saw nothing.  It sits in a spot that has been tilled in the past but on a cold day in December we saw only matted grass, flat matted grass.  Pulling back the grass we uncovered stones, several stones.  They were lying flat and in soil under the matted grass.  Some of the stones had writing.  Some were large, flat field stones with scrapes from what appeared to be tractor implements.  One recognizable name on an engraved monument stone was Mary J. Martin.  The birth date appears to be 1839 and the death date appears to be 1862.  The birth date may be 1849.  Sarah Ann “Sally” Roberts, John R. and Rebecca’s daughter, was born in 1828 and married Ivason Brooks Martin in 1847 in Williamson County, TN.  The dates don’t match her.  If the birth date was supposed to be 1849 she could be their child.  So, who is Sally J. Martin and why was she buried on the Roberts farm?

JRR1JRR 11JRR6JRR9

There were other flat field stones here.  Stones like you would use to mark graves.  Stones like we saw in Arrington, TN.  Kneeling beside these stones I felt connected.  I believe this to be the final resting place of John Rivers and Rebecca Ann Roberts.  For this reason alone, it will be a special place for me.

JRR12

Work needs to be done on this site and I encourage my Calloway cousins to consider if there are options to research, recover and mark this location.  (See map coordinates below.)

I want to express my appreciation to all who have assisted and added to my research.  Little gets done without people like you.  My online tree has a small part of my research and can be found on Ancestry.  My DNA results are on Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.  Follow my Roberts/Ingram/Byrd/Burns stories at:  https://backtrackingthecommon.com/

2015 GPS coordinates for John R and Rebecca Ann Roberts’ burial site

9446-9804 Kentucky 94

Murray, KY 42071

36.688823, -88.182096

Google Maps 2015

This property sits approximately 300 yards south of the intersection of Crabtree Rd. (1551) and Kentucky Hwy 94 in Calloway County.  Once you park in the drive way, look slightly to your left and there is a lone tree (2013) in the field that comes near the house place.  The gravestones are underneath that tree.  When I was there in December of 2013 they were covered over in matted grass.  This should mean this is the site of John Rivers Roberts’ old home place.

*Since publishing this post I have been able to document there are no missing years for this Newton Roberts family.

*I now believe John R. and Rebacca Ann Roberts first child Sarah “Sally” was named after John R’s grandmother who lived in Williamson County until her death.  Her name was Sarah Sammons but she went by Sally.

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.