I have come to the realization that my practice in this sociological science we call genealogy, would most likely be frowned upon by the professional purists: those that view adding names to the family tree as the end result of genealogical research. But that is not how I am driven. As I have spent hours, days, weeks, searching through archived documents, I have been struck by something much deeper than names on vital records. It's my ancestor's souls. And since I introduced my great great grandmother Rebecca to you last week, I feel compelled to share my journey with her further. The telling of how I have discovered a tiny bit of Rebecca Crawford's soul.
With the placement of Rebecca's maiden name on my Ancestry.com family tree, further information began to spill out. I was overwhelmed with the new records popping up. Names were being added and I felt quite pleased with my genealogical accomplishment. And as I searched further, I discovered only one other researcher with Rebecca's name attached to their tree. Just one. I clicked on this other individual's tree and I was suddenly presented with an attachment. Not of a vital record but of something that sent a chill running through my bones: a photograph of Rebecca's grave.
As I stared at the photo of my great great grandmother's headstone, I immediately felt connected to her. I was filled with a swelling of emotion that all of us get from time to time during our discoveries, but this one was special. It was if she was calling to me, directing me to look at her. Rebecca's descendants are few, most likely only seven or eight of us, and subsequently her life has been long forgotten. So looking at the only 'photo' left of Rebecca, her headstone, was one of the most thrilling discoveries of my research.
For me, wandering through cemeteries and browsing grave markers of family members and ancestors, provides a feeling of comfort. Perhaps tagging along with my family as a young child to the cemetery, created 'grave viewing' as a normalcy for me. Death is a part of life and visiting our ancestor's graves keeps us connected to them. A bond that is perpetuated as we stare at their grave and lay flowers on their marker.
And as a family historian, I am struck by all of the volunteers in genealogy who stroll tirelessly from cemetery to cemetery, photographing grave markers and providing access to these wonderful discoveries. Contributors to websites such as Find A Grave, US GenWeb and even Ancestry.com. Gravestones not only present some of the most critical genealogical proofs such as birth, death, maiden name and names of family members. A gravestone ironically, brings life to our ancestors. A connection to their souls not found with any other genealogical document.
As I viewed the photo of Rebecca's headstone, a selfless gift from an anonymous fellow genealogist, I passionately forwarded an email. With a simple but emotional response, I wrote: 'Dear researcher....thank you, thank you, thank you!'
Keep searching for answers,
I often wonder if I will ever tire of this adventure I have stumbled upon; the search for grandfathers and grandmothers of years past. Over time, the peaks of interest for me in genealogy have ebbed and flowed but I have never had a feeling of completeness. There are moments that pull me away from my search; the responsibilities of work and family. But I soon find myself with my laptop, 'googling' until it's time for bed.
As family historians, we have become immersed with the world of the Internet. We are quickly becoming spoiled with the convenience of finding real genealogical documents on our computers, and with one click the records are at our fingertips. With expectations, we continue to look at every available website, every link that can bring us closer to our ancestors. But as we all know, there are limits to the big Internet universe and as hard as we try, we sometimes reach a dead end.
With great anticipation of putting my research into print, I wrapped up my family history book and mailed the manuscript off to the publisher. But even with a feeling of relief over my accomplishment, I had a small but ever noticeable feeling that something or someone was missing. It was that sense that there was something else, 'just look harder', I kept hearing in the back of my mind. And I kept going back to my research, looking at names and staring at one that was missing; my maternal great great grandmother.
Now all of us involved in this hobby-or obsession-accept that there will always be ancestors left unknown on our family tree, but this one was different. I was raised in a family home that was passed on through the generations with various extended family members living in it from time to time. My maternal great grandmother, Jennie, was the matriarch of my family and much of my heritage and family traditions are passed from her. So what was it that I was missing in my ancestral search? It was Jennie's mother, my great great grandmother. A woman that died at a young age, leaving Jennie age nine, without a mother.
I remember the day I felt compelled to pick up the phone. Much e-mail had been passed back and forth with the publisher over the final details of my book, but I just couldn't shake this feeling of incompleteness. Then it came to me: There must be a marriage certificate of my great great grandparents somewhere. And that's when I picked up the phone and called the court clerk's office of Oakland County Michigan. I requested a marriage certificate, sometime between 1861 and 1862, for Henry Clark, Jennie's father. I made a guess on the date based on my great grandmother's birth date. As Jennie was the oldest child, I speculated they must of married at least nine to ten months before her birth. The clerk on the other end of the phone was helpful, seemed accommodating as she responded with "I'll call you back in a few minutes."
Ten minutes had passed and the phone rang. "We have a marriage certificate of a Henry Clark and Rebecca Crawford for the 25th of April 1861." I instantly knew that was it! I had found a census record with the name Rebecca listed as the mother but of course, no maiden name available. I requested a copy and one was received within a few days. I immediately replaced the empty space on my tree on Ancestry.Com with Rebecca Crawford and information began to flow.
What evolved afterwards is saved for another blog, but the lesson learned is this: When stuck over an ancestor's maiden name, do not hesitate to contact the court clerk's office. Many archived marriage certificates are still stuffed in dusty, cataloged books on the shelves of little county court clerk offices, waiting to be found. Not with a click on the computer, but with the touch of the phone, providing proof of that missing ancestor so vital to your family tree.
Keep searching for answers,
A question was recently posed to me by a family member that left me with even further questions to ponder, as I review my ancestral documents piled in unorganized kitchen drawers. The question was this: 'What was the most surprising information discovered in my years of family research?'
My quick answer to such an unexpected question made me reflect on what I presented. I remembered the moment of surprise, excitement and shock when I finally found evidence of my maternal grandfather, Glenn Beatty. Obviously I had known of Glenn all of my life but he had been only a mystery to me, as he had died early in life when my mother was only six years old. Over the years, little was left of Glenn's life other than two or three pictures and a few memories passed on from the perspective of a young child, my mother. So seeing his handwriting on his World War 1 draft card threw me into a fit of excitement. But that was not the answer to the question posed and it certainly is not the end of the story.
When I first discovered my grandfather's World War 1 draft card, I quickly printed it off during my fit of elation and pulled out the magnifying glass to view his handwriting closer. And as I moved the glass across the document, I found a written answer squeezed onto the small line after the question: 'Do you feel you have an exemption to the draft (explain grounds)?' My grandfather's scribbled response was : 'Yes. Not in particular sympathy with the allied armies.' I stopped and stared long at his statement. I sat the paper down and then looked again and with puzzled amazement, I began reviewing other World War 1 draft cards found on the Internet. Many men made claims of exemption due to the responsibility of their wife and children; however, none were so bold to make such an inflammatory political statement.
The discovery of my grandfather's remark has lead me to research America's attitude toward World War 1. When the European war broke out in 1914, Americans responded with ambivalence and isolationism. The predominant thinking was that our country was not a part of the European conflict and should remain neutral to the war. This was even more evident in Oklahoma, my families' home and the state my grandfather and his parents migrated to during the Oklahoma Oil Boom. I find the subject even more enthralling when I discover that the primary adversaries of the war, members of the Socialist Party, was an extremely active political party in Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century.
Oklahoma was an agrarian state and in economic despair as a result of the European war. The Oklahoma farmers and organized labor, fiercely opposed to the war, helped elevate the Socialist Party in Oklahoma to the third largest political party. But in 1917, when America joined the war effort, a shift in thinking evolved and Americans including Oklahomans began to support the war. Organizations were formed to promote patriotism and there was a formalized effort to identify citizens against the war, some facing ostracism and mob violence. Interest in the Socialist Party faded and the organization was dissolved.
So left with this revelation about my grandfather, what can I surmise? Was he a member of the then popular Socialist Party? Or was he just one individual faced with answering a simple question that could have grave consequences, however it was interpreted. And do we judge his answer with today's value system, a culture that has great respect for men with military eagerness and patriotism. We can and should only look at our ancestors through the magnifying glass of the times they lived. They were products of their own culture, not ours, and seeing them in any other way is unfair to them and also to our heritage.
Keep searching for answers,
(Source: Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.)
Assuming the role of family historian often takes us down roads not expected, at least it has for me as I have become more intensely involved with the details of our history. I have a driving obsession to find proof and with this comes the discovery that much of what we do as genealogists is very closely related to the field of detective work. I find myself imagining that once I have completed my journey in genealogy, I will be well suited for employment as a private detective or at least Sherlock Holmes' sidekick.
During my years of family research, I have run across genealogical records that have brought new thought to old family legends. Sometimes searching for details bring light to stories told and passed between the family ancestors and suddenly, I am faced with retelling the legend in it's truest form. But now I am looking at a family story not of my own but of my husband's: The proud family history of my husband's great grandfather Henry H. Barto, North Dakota ranch hand and homesteader, who shared moments of everyday 'pleasantries' with President Theodore Roosevelt.
We have heard the story many times but as we furthered the discussion with family during the holidays, a picture was presented to provide proof of Henry Barto's relationship with President Roosevelt. The faces in the picture are faint, due to the age and deterioration of the photo but also from the panoramic scope of the picture. I use a magnifying glass to look closer at what is said to be Teddy Roosevelt and glance back at pictures found of him on the internet, however, with my untrained eyes I am stumped. So we have taken a step further in this investigative venture, submitting the picture to two entities, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site and the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.
As I get that drive once again to find proof, I look at what facts we have. Henry H. Barto was born on the 4th of November 1872 in Wisconsin. He is found with his family at the age of 7 in Castle Rock, Wisconsin on the 1880 Census. Without access to the 1990 Census, the next proof of Mr Barto is on the 1900 Census, working most likely as a ranch hand in Emmons, North Dakota. We have no records of when Henry Barto moved to North Dakota but I am hypothesizing sometime in the mid 1880's or later due to his age.
The story of Theodore Roosevelt's early history includes his time as a rancher and adventurer of the American wilderness in the 'Badlands' of North Dakota. Mr Roosevelt, born on the 27th of October 1858, escaped to North Dakota in the mid 1880's to cope with the grief of the sudden deaths of both his mother and wife who died on the same day in 1884. It was a brief period in his life as Teddy Roosevelt lost his cattle in the brutal North Dakota winter in 1886, returning afterwards to live in New York.
So this is the facts we have before us. Both men were involved in ranching in the North Dakota 'Badlands'; however, can we be certain that they shared stories across the fence posts? Is the gentleman in the 'famous family picture' Theodore Roosevelt, a former president of the United States? The family legend becomes a mystery and one that my husband's family could have easily proven if just one small but very important task would have been taken 125 years ago: a written transcription of names and date posted on the back of the picture. If a family member had provided this documentation, the legend could be proven and my detective work would not be required. We are awaiting feedback from both organizations but fellow genealogists, do your own detective work. Compare pictures and see what you think. Does the man standing on the left side of the photo look similar to the young Theodore Roosevelt pictured in the 'Badlands' in the 1880's? I can't wait to hear what you think!
Compare our picture to those provided at
(source: The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site.)
Teddy Roosevelt on the left?
Picture cropped and enlarged of the alleged 'Teddy'.
Family photographs. Those treasures that are put away in family albums, stuffed in drawers and cabinets that are once again found as we clean, organize and feel that touch of nostalgia brought on by the New Year. And as we pull out our ancestor's pictures, we are drawn into a desire to preserve what is perhaps our most valuable link to our family's heritage: the photographs. Birth and death certificates, documents of proof of lineage are the foundation of genealogy, but what really pulls on our emotional bonds to our ancestors are the pictures. Looking into the eyes of our grandparents is like seeing their souls once again and we reflect on the moment. Family photographs are the possessions that everyone seeks out to protect during a house fire, flood or other tragic event. So if we feel that our old photos are invaluable, then let's use the New Year to establish better methods of storing and preserving our heirlooms.
I confess that over time, I have been an offender of improperly storing old photographs. Poor habits established years ago, most likely as a result of lack of knowledge and inherent disorganization. But as I get that little 'lift' that the New Year brings, I resolve to improve my habits and make-up for years of malpractice. Here is my New Year's list for improving my practice for storing my most valuable inheritance, my family photographs:
Do not expose photos to sunlight.
Use archival, acid free storage boxes or folders
Place photos in acid free plastic
(Mylar or polypropylene) sleeves to store in photo albums.
Pull all photos, slides, films out of the attic
and garage or basement to prevent exposure to extreme temperatures, humidity, insects and rodents.
Place all negatives inside polypropylene sleeves.
Toss out all magnetic photo albums, which
are very harmful to your pictures.
Here is an idea that I suggest to all who value your family heritage. Scan all of your original photographs onto CD's. Print out pictures on acid free paper that you wish to place in albums or picture frames (metal, no wood frames) and your photos will be preserved for several generations. And if this peaks your interest, consider donating your most historical photos to your local historical society or museum. Historical societies are always looking for vintage photographs that are significant to the heritage of their community. Perhaps your great grandfather owned the dry goods store on Main street and you have a photo of him in front of the store. What better way to preserve your family's history by donating the original picture to the local historical society. I am proudly donating the original picture of my grandfather working on an oil well during the Oklahoma Oil Boom to our local historical society. Isn't that what all of this is really about? Preserving our family's heritage so that our ancestors are not forgotten.
I wish you a wonderful New Year,
(source:The American Museum of Photography.)
William Larkin Capps (right) and brother working on an Oklahoma oil rig in 1927.