What do you see in my only photo of John Anderson Roberts?

What is the value of a photograph?  Can you value something you don’t possess? The value of a photo can only be assessed once we possess it. Only then can we know its real worth to us and us alone. Continue reading “What do you see in my only photo of John Anderson Roberts?”

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My Cousin Richard Calhoun Byrd 1805-1854, the Governor of Arkansas

Did you know one of my cousins was once the governor of Arkansas?

Arkansas State SealOk, Ok, he’s not much of a cousin and he was only a temporary governor, so maybe not much of a governor either.   But hey, it’s too late to change it.  It’s a fact.  No take-backs.  We have a new fun family fact!  The genie’s out of the bottle.  Celebrate!

Continue reading “My Cousin Richard Calhoun Byrd 1805-1854, the Governor of Arkansas”

The Tragic End to the life of John Anderson Roberts, Part 2

Regrets are often written in the words, if I had only known.  It’s doubtful my great-grandfather John Anderson Roberts ever saw the end coming.

Cornelia Lassiter, Lavina Jane and John Anderson Roberts in front of their Lamar County Home in the Maxey Community ca 1890 - 1895
Cornelia Lassiter, Lavina Jane and John Anderson Roberts in front of their Lamar County, Texas home in the Maxey Community ca 1890 – 1895 (Photo courtesy of Glen Gambill)

Continue reading “The Tragic End to the life of John Anderson Roberts, Part 2”

When does the common become uncommon?

When does the common become uncommon?

It’s unlikely you’ve ever hear of John Baker Dickson or his brother-in-law Lemuel W. Lassiter.  I doubt very many ever have or ever will.  Is it because they were too common?  Is it because we’re inattentive, uninformed or disinterested?  I fear it is the latter rather than the former.

I came across Dickson and Lassiter while working on my John Anderson Roberts research.  I’m going to write a short blog here on these men in case this lead proves helpful to another researcher one day.

John Anderson and Lavina Jane Roberts’ daughter Cornelia Ann married J.B. Lassiter in Calloway County, KY in 1870.  John Baker Dickson and his wife Emily Jane Lassiter Dickson were J.B. Lassiter’s aunt and uncle.  They were in Red River County, Texas well ahead of the Roberts.  Were they the Roberts family connection and encouragement to come to Texas?  (This and of course land) Lemuel Lassiter would arrive later across the Red River.

Clues to follow Lemuel Washington Lassiter    

Mary Bigelow added a photo to Find a Grave in 2012.  The picture is of a headstone in the Bogota Cemetery in Red River County, Texas.  Thanks Mary.

Photo credit: Mary Bigelow on Find a Grave
Photo credit: Mary Bigelow on Find a Grave

Lemuel Lassiter appears in the 1920 Federal Census in Justice Precinct 3, Red River, Texas.  He is a 73-year-old merchant/druggist born in about 1847 in Kentucky.  He’s married to Willie Lassiter and they appear to have six children living in their household.  His father’s birthplace is recorded as Virginian and his mother’s as England.

Lew Lassiter appears in the 1910 Federal Census in Justice Precinct 3, Red River, Texas.  He is a 63-year-old male retail merchant owning a grocery store in Bogota, Texas.  He was born in about 1847 in Kentucky.  His father and mother were born in Kentucky.  He is married to Willie Lassiter and they appear to have six children living at home.

Lemuel Lassiter appears in the 1900 Federal Census in Justice Precinct 3, Red River, Texas.  He is a 54-year-old male born in Kentucky about 1847.  His father and mother were born in North Carolina.  He is married to Willie M. Lassiter and they appear to have three children living at home.

L.W. Lassiter appears in the 1880 Federal Census in Precinct 2, Red River.  He is a single age male of about 34 years of age teaching school.  His father and mother were born in North Carolina.

I do not find a clue for Lemuel Lassiter in the 1870 census nor can I locate the John Anderson Roberts family in the 1870 census.  Curious?

L.W. Lassiter, age about 14, appears in the 1860 Federal Census for Murray, Calloway County, KY in 1860.  He is living in the household of Parmelia Elliott, age 39.  There are Elliotts age 19 and 14 and another Lassiter age 18.  There is also a Jno. B. Crabtree.

L.W. Lassiter, age about 4, appears in the 1850 Federal Census living in District 2 of Calloway County, KY.  He is living in the home of a farmer named Little B. Lassiter, age about 25, whose father was born in North Carolina.  There are three other Lassiters living in this household including Emily Lassiter, age 15.  She and the other Lassiters in the household other than Little B. say their father was born in Kentucky.  There appears to be no father or mother in this home.

It appears, from what little time I’ve looked, L.W. Lassiter became an orphan with the death of his father in 1849.  Before his 16th birthday he’ll enlist in Company C of the Tennessee 33rd Infantry Regiment in Haywood County, TN.  He rose to the rank of 1st Sergeant.  His wife Willie Lassiter would file for and receive a pension for his service.

I share one more clue to uncover the life of L.W. Lassiter.  His daughter (I believe her name is Ida Lassiter Hooker.) may have published her life memories in a book form.  This could be a rich source of information though I’m not sure even she would have been able to uncover the fullness of this life.

Clues to follow John Baker Dickson

John Dickson was born in about 1827 in Tennessee.  I wonder if he was related to any of the Dicksons in Williamson County, TN?  He marries Emily Jane Lassiter in Stewart County, Tennessee in 1851.  Stewart County is just across the Tennessee River from Calloway County where Emily was living in 1850 with Little B. Lassiter (see above).  John and Emily Dickson will appear in the Red River County, Texas Federal Censuses for 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1900.  He believes his father was born in North Carolina.  There is a rich and full story needing to be told but I’ll leave you with one more clue.

One of several records for John Dickson available on Fold 3 in May 2016
One of several records for John Dickson available on Fold 3 in May 2016

In March of 1862 John rode out of Clarksville, Texas into history. He was a member of the 27th Texas Calvary for the Confederate States of America.  He left his family behind.  He enlisted for twelve months and they would be memorable.  His service began with battles and skirmishes across Mississippi including Corinth and Jackson.  Nearing the end of his enlistment he was thrown into the battle of Thompson Station in Williamson County, TN on March 5, 1863 within miles of John Anderson Roberts’ birthplace and within 5 days of the end of his enlistment.  He would witness over 3,000 combined casualties that one day.  I’m not sure how close he came to dying that day, dismounted and fighting from the heights overlooking the Pike, but I know he saw much death and destruction.  By now John had received two promotions to the rank of 3rd Sergeant.  Sgt. Dickson’s unit fought into the summer including the battle and siege at Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.  When the battle ended with the surrender of the Confederate forces on July 4, 1863, John was now four months overdue to go home.

The document on the left reports he was absent without leave in July and August.  A note added later says he deserted on July 22, 1863.

There were other Dicksons (George, Joseph, William) who rode and marched out of Clarksville, Texas in 1861 and 1862.  There may have been more than one John Dickson fighting out of Texas.  Were they related?  How?  What became of them?

So little known.  So little told.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.  Okay, I have one more clue.

Photo Credit: Lyn Dobson from Find a Grave
Photo Credit: Lyn Dobson from Find a Grave

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Dickson&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=46&GScnty=2713&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=71728178&df=all&

Hilltop Manor – John Neely house built ca. 1810

My 5 x great-grandfather John Neelly (that’s how he signed his name) built a wonderful home in Williamson County, Tennessee over 200 years ago.

(The quote below was taken from a National Park Service document confirming the addition to the National Register of Historic Places dated March 3, 1988)

“The John Neely House is a two-story brick, hall-parlor plan residence constructed ca.1810. On the main (south) facade is the main entrance with a ca.1900 frame and glass door. Over the door is a wood linteL The windows are ca.1960 six-over-six sash with added brick sills and original wood lintels. The main facade of the house is of Flemish bond construction with the other facades of five and six-course common bond. The house has a gable roof, stone foundation, and exterior end brick chimneys…

The John Neely House, or Hilltop Manor, in Williamson County, TN Photo taken by Ronald Neeley in 2003
The John Neely House, or Hilltop Manor, in Williamson County, TN Photo taken by Ronald Neeley in 2003

…The John Neely House is a notable example of a hall-parlor brick residence from the early 19th century. Hall-parlor floor plans are rare in the county and only three intact examples are included in the nomination. Despite the removal of 19th century porches and door and window alterations, the original floor plan and appearance of the house are evident.

John Neely moved to Williamson County from Virginia in 1806 and purchased lots in Franklin during those years. In 1808 he purchased land south of Franklin and began construction of a two-story brick residence. Neely lived at his residence until he died in 1818. The house was then purchased by John
Fitzgerald, and his family occupied the residence for many years. Fitzgerald was listed as owning 15 slaves in 1820 and owned property valued at $30,000 in 1850. John Fitzgerald Sr. died in 1858, and his home was then occupied by his son, John Jr., until his death in 1884. The house remained in the Fitzgerald family until 1926 when it was purchased by William Sedberry.  Alterations to the house occurred primarily around 1900 when new glass and frame doors were added. Added 19th century porches have been removed and new windows added in recent years. Despite these changes the house displays its original form and notable hall-parlor pflan.”

Below I quote a paper edited by my “not yet met” cousin, Ronald L Neeley.  He writes, “A special ‘Thanks’ to Juanita Naron & Mary Ann Thorton who provided much of the historical facts on the Neeley lineage.”  Here’s some of what he reports about the John Neely House and family in Williamson County.

“…although much altered from its original appearance; this fine old brick house has been a landmark in the Thompson Station area for over a century and a half. Williamson County was still in its infancy when John Neely, along with his family and his three brothers and their families, cut a trail from Virginia over the mountains to Tennessee. John Neely was the son of James Neely, originally from Philadelphia and later of Botetourt County, Virginia, and Jane Grymes Neely of Northampton, Burlington County, New Jersey. He married Susanna Evans, the daughter of Daniel and Rhoda Griffith Evans, sometime after 1770. By 1791 he owned almost 2000 acres “on the north side of the Roanoke (River)” in Virginia where apparently all of his children were born.

They arrived in Williamson County early in 1806 since John Neely bought town lots 85 and 95 in February of that year. In 1808, he made a permanent settlement on land bought from James Robertson in the West Harpeth where he built this brick house on a rise overlooking the rich meadows and forests spread out below. His children were James, Rhoda, Jane, John H, William, Sophia, and Charles Lynch who married into the Sanders, Drake, Neely, Woldridge, Priest, and Welles families and are the progenitors of numerous descendants in Williamson County today.” (bold added by me)

So, if you or your ancestors are from Williamson County, TN, check your family tree, we may be related.  Oh, and by the way, I’m also related to the Roberts, Sammons, Haley, Tatum, Wallace Nichols, Blackwell, Giles and Smithson families of Williamson County from other lines on my tree.

John Neely house known as "Hilltop Manor" in Williamson County, Tennessee. Photo taken by Janice in 2016
John Neely house known as “Hilltop Manor” in Williamson County, Tennessee. Photo taken by Janice in 2016

I recently “met” a wonderful cousin, Janice ____ (last name withheld intentionally because I didn’t ask her permission to publish it?!).  She still lives in the county (lucky girl).  I asked Janice if she had ever seen the house and she ran out and snapped a picture of it!  Aren’t cousins wonderful!  Thanks Janice!  I’ll be by to see the house in the fall.

 

Burton Lee Roberts – Runaway

My father ran away from home in 1935.

A young Burton Lee RobertsMany of us consider running away from home.  We struggle against the milieu of adolescence while facing the hard headwinds of coming adulthood.  Some of us just want to run away.  Some of us think about it.  Some of us plan to do it.  Not Dad.  He did it!  Burton Lee Roberts “ran away from home”!  Aided and abetted by his mother he bolted at the age of sixteen.

Here’s the story I “pestered” out of him back when I was just a teenager myself.

Barber strap 2
Barber strap

My dad thought his father, Gus Roberts, was a hard, stern, difficult man.  He told me he never got along with his father.  He used to discipline Dad with an old leather strap like the ones used by barbers to hone their razors.  His sister Elizabeth shared the same sentiments in my presence on a couple of occasions.  She once told my mother their father beat them with sticks.  Now, I considered both my dad and aunt to be strong-willed, stubborn people.  I understood why they might clash with their father but I could never excuse Grandad’s harshness.

It happened one Sunday.  The family returned from church and were small Mulesitting at the lunch table-No, I shouldn’t write that-What happened had been building for a long time.  On this day it erupted like a volcano.  Grandad Gus told Daddy to finish his lunch and go hitch-up the mule to the plow.  He was to plow their field in preparation for planting a fall crop.  This was apparently a departure from what my grandparents would normally allow to be done on a Sunday.  Perhaps Dad was being disciplined.  But my dad and some older teenage boys had made plans at church to enjoy the cool waters of the swimming hole after lunch.

Now few places in America are hotter than North Texas in August.  This change in plans brought a strong response from Dad.  He told his father he had already made plans and did not want to take a Sunday afternoon, a day of rest, to go plow.  They disagreed.  It got heated and included the “if a boy is going to put his feet under my table then he’s going to do as I say” speech.  The threat of a “whipping like he’d never seen” got my dad out the door and into the field.  But he was furious.  He took it out on the mule.  He pushed that old black mule under the blazing sun at breakneck speed.  He was going to show his dad.  He would finish the plowing AND go swimming, if it killed him.

Finishing the field with a couple of good hours of daylight remaining, Dad unhitched the mule, put him in the pen, stored the harness gear and rushed by the house on his way to the creek.  He was no doubt pleased with himself.  But his dad wasn’t.  He had watched him and was not happy with his behavior.  His voice stopped Dad in this tracks.  “Did you water that mule?” Grandad asked.  The volcano began to rise once again as Dad made his way to the water well.  Back then he would not be able to turn a valve and run water in a trough.  He would have to drop a wooden bucket into their deep, cold water well, draw it up, carry it to the lot, and hand fill the trough.  It would take several trips to do it right.  But of course Dad was in no frame of mind to “do it right”.  As he reached the trough the old hard-working mule was waiting in anticipation.  In that moment Dad took out his anger toward his father on the poor old mule once again.  He told me he took the bucket of water and poured it over the mule’s head.  The mule fell dead!  Heat exhaustion and a bucket of cold water finished him off.  Well, what can I say, that’s the way my dad told the story.

Dad took off and hid from a sure beating.  Grandmother negotiated a “peace treaty”.  But it was done.  Dad said he pulled his feet out from under Gus Roberts’ table and never put them back again.  (He exaggerated that last part but that’s another story for another day.)  He “ran away” from home at sixteen, aided and abetted by his mother.

Uncle Sam Army Recruiting posterMy dad continues the story in this fashion.  His mother took him to the army recruiter in Fort Worth where he planned to lie about his age and sign up.  She would be complicit.  The recruiter, anxious to fill his quota, asked Daddy how much he weighed.  When he told him his guess (because Daddy had no idea), the recruiter looked concerned.  He told Daddy to do exactly what he told him.  These were his instructions.  Go find a half gallon of buttermilk and a handful of bananas.  Eat those bananas and drink that buttermilk in rapid succession.  Finish them off as you enter back through the door of this recruiting office.  Dad did exactly as he was told.  As he cleared the office door threshold the recruiter directed him to the scales.  Climbing on the scales, Dad held his breath.  He was so full he couldn’t catch his breath any way.  He made it, with an ounce or two to spare!  He was in!

I probably should add more context to Dad’s story.  The U.S. Armed Forces were not in very good shape as the year began in 1935.  The decision had been made not to provide military training to the thousands of young men working in the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).  They would remain civilian.  So, their presence and availability would not add to the country’s military readiness.  Meanwhile, many of the enlisted men and officers had begun to cycle out of the military before 1935.  Numbers were down when they needed to be going up.   By August of 1935 the U.S. Congress accepted the recommendation of General Douglas MacArthur and appropriated much larger amounts of resources to build up the military, especially the air and naval defensive strength.  Mom and I talked about this story over the holidays and she added additional context.  She said the older dairy boys, older than Dad, also went and signed up for the Army at the same time.  Apparently all the boys had been discussing a way off of the farm and “into some money” and independence.  The Army’s stepped up recruitment provided them their opportunity.  A dead mule lit the fuse!  Mom said the dairy boys’ parents were not happy and were eventually able to buy their military obligation off and bring their sons home.  Dad was in for the duration.

My dad’s story reminds me of a joke I first heard over twenty-five years ago.  There was an eighteen-year-old young man exasperated by his parents.  He told them he was leaving.  When asked why, he told them he was tired of being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  He wanted his freedom.  He felt he was old enough to make his own decisions.  He was leaving.  They asked him what he was planning to do.  He responded, “I’m thinking about joining the Marines”!

Burton Lee Roberts Army
An “extra” young “18” year old Burton Lee

Burton Lee Roberts “ran away” from home when his was sixteen.  It was 1935.  He was in the Army now!

 

 

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Burton Lee Roberts: Murder, mystery, mayhem and Burton Lee

Burton Lee Roberts in North Africa in 1943 (Standing back row right)
Burton Lee Roberts in North Africa in 1943 (Standing back row right)

Our lives are shaped by what happens before us, to us and through us – and, by our responses to these events.  Burton Lee Roberts’ life would be no different.  He would not escape.  Opinionated and politically incorrect, chased by his own personal demons, keeper of secrets, he was a mystery.  It’s left to me to backtrack the truth, unravel the tale and record the most complete explanation of his life.  He was my father.

I loved him.  I hated him.  I learned him.  I understood him (somewhat).  I love him.  And now I share him.  I share his story with my children and grandchildren.  I share his story with many other children who want to understand their own fathers, who long to make sense of their lives or at least, not to hate.  Some of you want to understand.  Like me, you struggle.  Most of you never met my dad.  Those of you who knew him knew little about his inner turmoil.  In sharing his life, I share me, because our lives are inseparable.  My responses to him shaped me.  I doubt you can fully understand me without knowing him.

Our DNA trickles to us from thousands of sources.   These millions of droplets collect and gush into our lives through only two — our mother and father.  Eyes, hair, facial features, size, muscle structure, feet, fingers, etc. passed down to us by our parents, a mix of what was passed down to them.  I sometimes debate with myself what is DNA and what is learned behavior.  After all, I not only look like my dad but I have some of the same facial expressions, stand and walk like him.  Like the father in the story of the prodigal who easily recognized his son’s gait from a considerable distance, if you knew my father, you can see him reflected in me.

My dad missed the reported murder of his grandfather but his father didn’t.  Only three years old at the time, dad’s father, my grandfather, was said to have been in the room when the deed was done.  My dad missed his grandfather’s murder (Was it really a murder?) but not the fallout.  Dad’s father was raised without a father or mother.  He never knew his grandfather.  His adolescence was lived through The Great Depression.  He experienced and participated in the mayhem of a world at war.  He would be shaped by it all and so would we.

I got into genealogy because I love history and a good mystery.  My family has both.  Once I discovered so many tales to be told, so many lives to be restored, so many dots to be connected, I knew it was my responsibility to be the “teller of tales”, to backtrack the truth.  But, where to begin?  I’ve been very “hit and miss” so far in my blog, Backtracking the Common.  My posts have been things that interested or challenged me.  I work better with structure.  I need a plan.  I want something more sequential.  My intent was to save dad’s story for last, less complicated, less painful that way, but I can’t.  His story is only explained by his father’s story.  His father’s story is explained by his father’s story, etc.  So we’ll begin to unravel their collective stories, unlock some mysteries, and tell their tales.  We begin with the life of Burton Lee Roberts and the murder, mystery and mayhem that shaped it – and me.

 

Genealogy Tip #9: Writing Family Stories and the Genealogical Proof Standards

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”?[i]

Writing Our Family StoriesMany family storytellers aren’t interested in genealogical proof standards.  They’re simply telling stories to entertain.  That’s their goal.  I applaud the storyteller.  I love a good story.  But, the family historian can’t afford to adopt this attitude.  Their goal must first be accuracy and then entertainment.  Otherwise, it’s not history and they’re not a family historian.  So, let’s be clear, this post is not about family stories vs. genealogical proof standards.  It’s about family stories and genealogical proof standards.  It’s about how we take well researched family facts and use them to tell accurately entertaining stories – and if we can’t, we should make it clear we’re only repeating a family tale.

I visited a “family history” website this past week that illustrates the clash.  The writer warned me in the first few lines not to trust all of the things written about their family on the internet (Sites and trees other than theirs is what they had in mind.).  One page later they inform us their ancestors welcomed Davy Crockett into their home in Tennessee as he made his way to the Alamo.  They further claim their ancestors were neighbors to another Republic of Texas history legend, Edward Burleson.[ii]  This is done without any reference to one scintilla of evidence supporting such claims.  Is this a problem? Yes? No? Maybe?  Tell the story.  It’s not a “crime”.  It’s not the problem.  To repeat it as historical fact or as if it were historically accurate IS a problem.

Family stories are told in many forms all over the world.  This isn’t a problem.  If you’re telling family stories, you’re not in trouble – even if they’re speculative and knowingly or unknowingly inaccurate.  However, if you tell these unsubstantiated stories as if they’re historical facts and you expect other family trees to reflect your “notion of the truth”, this is a problem.  And if you’re reading and repeating these stories as “gospel truth”, you’re participating in and propagating a problem.

Family stories and genealogical proof standards are not incongruous.  You need not decide one or the other.  You can choose both.  Here are some suggestions.

First, Understand the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Genealogical Standards book cover“Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy. In order to merit confidence, each conclusion about an ancestor must have sufficient credibility to be accepted as “proved.” Acceptable conclusions, therefore, meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The GPS consists of five elements:

  • reasonably exhaustive research;
  • complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item;
  • tests—through processes of analysis and correlation—of all sources, information items, and evidence;
  • resolution of conflicts among evidence items; and
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

Each element contributes to a conclusion’s credibility in a different way, described in the table below, but all the elements are necessary to establish proof.

Element of the GPS Contribution to Credibility
Reasonably exhaustive research
  • Assumes examination of a wide range of high quality sources
  • Minimizes the probability that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion
Complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item
  • Demonstrates the extent of the search and the quality of the sources
  • Allows others to replicate the steps taken to reach the conclusion. (Inability to replicate the research casts doubt on the conclusion.)
Tests—through processes of analysis and correlation—of all sources, information items, and evidence
  • Facilitates sound interpretation of the data contributed by each source
  • Ensures that the conclusion reflects all the evidence
Resolution of conflicts among evidence items
  • Substantiates the conclusion’s credibility. (If conflicting evidence is not resolved, a credible conclusion is not possible.)
Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
  • Eliminates the possibility that the conclusion is based on bias, preconception, or inadequate appreciation of the evidence
  • Explains how the evidence led to the conclusion “

(The previous quote is taken from the Board for Certification of Genealogist blog[iii])

This should be the standard for our family history research.

Need more information?  Consider these excellent resources:

Next, Understand the Purpose(s) of Our Stories

Why do we tell our family stories?

  1. Inform and Encourage. Knowing our family’s history helps us find “our place”.  We gain a sense of belonging and find value in our family members’ accomplishments and place in history.
  2. Inspire. We tell our family stories to inspire family members and others to greatness.  “Common people” accomplishing uncommon things inspires us to rise to a greater finish.
  3. Warn. We share our family’s stories as a warning to ourselves and others.  We all have “black sheep” in our families.  (They’re some of my favorites.)  Telling their stories in our “tales” warns us about our present path or our possible future.  Someone will tell our story one day.  Will it inspire or warn off a future generation?
  4. Entertain. Our stories may inform, encourage, inspire or even warn.  They should also entertain.  Think about it.  If our goal is to inform and inspire, aren’t we more likely to accomplish this if we’re also entertaining?

What makes our stories entertaining? 

I would be the last person to tell you how to write.  I’m woefully inadequate.  I do, however, have a fair ability to recognize a good story and a good storyteller.  They can articulate or at least know intuitively their story needs three parts.  (Don’t think beginning, middle and end.)  Think instead of your favorite stories/movies.  What do they have in common?  Every good story has three ingredients:

  • Origination. The listener/reader needs to be drawn in and at the same time oriented to the main character and crisis in the story.  It grabs, excites, introduces, informs and compels the reader/listener forward into the story.  The first part of a good origination could be a sentence, paragraphs or chapters in length.  For example, “James Williams was short in stature but he was guaranteed another inch or two from the hangman’s noose.”  Conflict (inner or outer) in one form or another is always introduced in this first part.  To have a story, something has to go wrong.
  • The conflict escalates. Things may get better, but they eventually get worse.  There may be a series of improvements but if there is, things continue to get worse after each one.  It’s a roller-coaster of emotions as you learn more and care more about the main character and feel stronger angst toward his combatants.  Impending doom is approaching.  “…James’ attorney had located his third potential witness to alibi his client and save him from the gallows, but like the previous two, he too disappeared.”  The tension builds.
  • Resolution.  The story is brought to a conclusion when the initial conflict is brought to a resolution.  In the fictional stories I used to tell my children, the hero always won.  But, that’s not always possible when telling historically accurate stories.  Sometimes James Williams is hung.

There is a wealth of information on “what makes a good story”.  Google it.  Read a book about it.  Take a course.  Practice. Practice.  Practice.  But never stop learning or trying to make your stories entertaining.  Our improving ability to tell our stories will increase the likelihood our family histories will be known, cherished and repeated.

Use the comment section to share any “what makes a good story” material you know of to help family history writers.

Now, Combine the two disciplines.

Here’s how we transform our family research into entertaining, historical, uncompromised family stories.

  1. Use the Genealogical Proof Standards as a guideline in your family research. Have a story to tell based on historical facts demonstrated by historical, genealogical evidence.  Catalog and save your documentation.  Use endnotes to share your sources.
  2. Write or tell your story based on the facts you’ve uncovered and documented. Write your story using the guidelines on what makes a good story.  It will take time and practice but you can do it.  Make it a good story.  Make it a true story.  Use accurate, documented facts.
  3. If you feel you must tell your relative’s tall tale (or short tale) about your ancestor, or you just want to tell it, clearly identify it as a historically unsubstantiated tale.

Writing our family’s history is fun and entertaining.  To be history, it needs to be accurate.  We’re not creating fictional families.  We’re family historians.  We’re uncovering history.  We tell the rich story of our ancestors.  Knowing their true stories adds richness to our lives.  Telling their stories well adds richness to the lives of others.

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Thanks for sharing these posts with others.

Now, let’s go write those entertaining stories!

[i] According to Barry Popik this phrase or a form of it is often credited to Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie but it appeared in print as early as 1882 or six years before Dobie was born.

[ii] The website mentioned in this example is real but being withheld in order to…well, protect my possible cousin!

[iii] Board for Certification of Genealogist.

[iv] Available at Amazon.

[v] Available at Amazon.

[vi] Available at Amazon.

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!

Is DNA a genealogical miracle?

DNA imageIs DNA a genealogical miracle?  Is DNA the answer to all your genealogical problems?  No. And no.  So, why send your DNA sample off and pay someone to work-up your profile?  Because DNA is solid science and fast becoming an invaluable option in the genealogist/family historian’s toolbox.

I sent my DNA samples off last January.  I did some research first.  I decided on an autosomal test and chose two companies.  One sample went to Ancestry.com.  The other went to Family Tree DNA.  The results reached my inbox about eight weeks later within a few days of one another.  Here are some benefits I experienced in the first week of having the results:

  • Confirmed the family identity of the male DNA contributor to my grandfather and therefore confirmed my suspicion of who did not contribute DNA to him.
  • Confirmed we have yet to identify a family surname in another line of our pedigree chart. (Some researchers think they know but the DNA says it isn’t so.)
  • Confronted (and for me settled) the family lore of having Cherokee descendants in our specific family lines.
  • Confirmed my connections to cousins I met in “the old fashion way” of doing genealogy AND connected me to new cousins across America.

Sound like a miracle?  Maybe, but it’s not.

Here are some things DNA cannot do for you.

  • Build a family tree. (At least not yet!)  If you’re hoping to use DNA to breakdown your genealogical brick walls, you had better get to work on your tree!  Your DNA results may tell you you’re related by DNA to another contributor but good luck on knowing who, how, when and where without doing the hard work of genealogy.  I’m amazed at the number of people I match and they have no tree uploaded.  I can see some applications of DNA which would not need a tree but not if you’re doing genealogical/family history work.
  • Go to the library, research center or courthouse for you. Your DNA results can’t travel on your behalf and make the connections that help tell your story.  Where did the people with my DNA live?  Who were their neighbors?  When and where did these DNAs “marry”?  How did somebody with my DNA get where I am geographically?
  • Fill in the gaps and make your family history rich. Your DNA results cannot interview family members.  They cannot take you to a home place and fire your imagination.  They cannot show you a picture to put a face on that contributor.  They can’t tell you the stories of a 95-year-old great-aunt.
  • They can’t do the footwork of emailing, messaging or calling the other matches to compare notes. And if the two of you don’t have well-built trees, you may not accomplish much when you do visit.
  • They can’t interpret themselves. You or somebody else must interpret your results if you’re going to get the most out of them.  For me, this has been a steep learning curve.  I’m in my 8th month and some days feel as if I haven’t learned a thing!  DNA results 100.  Gary 0.  I like learning new things.  I like a challenge. But, honestly, I’ve got my hands full with this one.

And so you ask, would I do it all over again?  Would I spend about $100 per sample to have my DNA tested?  Absolutely!  As I write this post, I can’t wait for my sister’s mtDNA test results to come back!  It’ll be a wonderful addition to our research.  I just have to do the hard work of understanding and using the depth of knowledge and insight it provides to better tell our family’s full and fascinating story.

Here are some steps you can take if you are serious about using DNA.

  • Go online and do a search using the terms “Genealogy” AND “DNA”. Do it just like I typed it with the quotation marks.
  • Go to the YouTube site and plug in the same terms. Watch a couple of videos on the basics.  (BTW, if you’re not using YouTube in your genealogy “how to” learning, you’re missing a great tool.)
  • Now, spend some time. Do some research.  Don’t be discouraged by the complexity.  Visit with someone who loves the science and technology of it.
  • Find and read blogs specific to the subject of DNA testing. Most of the people on my Blogroll (to your right probably) have written on this subject.  Go to their blog and plug the letters “DNA” into their site search box.

Once you get your tree built, gedcom file ready to upload and DNA results available, use these two other wonderful free online tools:  Gedmatch and Genome Mate Pro.  The future is here.

Here’s how I could use your help.

  • If you have family with the surname “Roberts” who’s ancestors have lived in Lunenburg, Charlotte or Mecklenburg Counties, Virginia since the 1760s please put us in contact with one another. I’m laughing as I write this.  It sounds so crazy and presumptuous!
  • If you know a family with the surnames “Wray”, “Ray”, “Rhea”, “Whitson” or “Eagan” and they had relatives in or around Wilson County, Tennessee ca 1799 – 1840, please put us in contact with one another. (Use the comment section.)
  • And, if you have old family photos, please do not destroy them before some family member can identify them and get them up on the internet to bring joy and context to some future researcher. You may possess the only “bread crumbs” leading to your family’s past.  Treat them as treasure.

Happy Hunting!

Now, where is that Genome Mate Pro instructional video…?