My blogs are always a "day late and a dollar short."  Other writers snag the timeliness of the occasion, addressing a subject on quick cue. I, instead, drag from behind, providing my two cents when other bloggers have moved on. So, since the Thanksgiving holiday has slipped past us and edged us closer toward Christmas, I will bring up the rear with my giving of thanks.

I am thankful that my ancestors were braver than me, not only having a dream for a better life but the guts to reach for it; uprooting their lives to venture into a frightening unknown. They took unimaginable risks, leaving their families to pioneer into a strange and undeveloped country.

I am thankful that I do not have to live in a world in which life is fleeting and the loss of loved ones is common. If you study the stories of your ancestors around the time of the American Revolution, you will discover that death from disease wiped out entire communities. Family members died as quick as flies.

I am thankful that as a woman, I have the right to own property, vote, write a will, be the legal guardian of my own child--all simple rights once denied to our great-great grandmothers. It is hard to find ghosts without paper trails.

I am so very thankful that my great-great grandfathers fought to maintain the solidarity of our country, understanding that we are greater as a whole and in turn, ending the unimaginable--the ownership of humans. I remember the chill I felt when I read a slaveholder's will and the disturbing discovery that my ancestor was the slaveholder.

I am thankful that we do not live in our ancestor's times in which the elderly and disabled were shuffled into poor farms without financial support, ending their lives without dignity and respect from society.

And I am thankful our fathers fought the good fight, securing our futures and saving us from the grasp of wickedness.

So that is all I am thankful for. And though I have dug until my hands are raw, I will keep on searching my history because the understanding of our history provides a path to our future.

Have a happy Thanksgiving holiday and keep searching for answers,

The exploration into our history is a growing phenomenon, a result of our need to keep ourselves grounded to a deeper sense of self while the world changes around us. It is a result of our fast-paced, ever evolving society so unlike the world our ancestors lived within. Right?

Well...not exactly.

It appears our ancestors living in the late 1880's faced significant cultural and economic changes--maybe even more than today. The young United States rapidly expanded into the West and new industries evolved and adapted as our gangly youthful country approached the 20th century. And our ancestors reacted as many of us do today: they attempted to hold-on to their roots. They romanticized the past, the "good old days," and they longed for a sense of community.

The Goodspeed Publishing Company of Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis keenly recognized people's sentimentality for their community and a need to feel pride in their roots, so the publishing company turned what they saw into an opportunity. They dispersed door-to-door salesmen across the Midwest, Southwest and South, compiling information for published county histories.

If you have researched ancestors within Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Texas, Nebraska and Kansas, then you have no doubt run across a Goodspeed County History.

The Goodspeed publications are written in the same format for each region--historical elements tailored to the specific region with information on geology, climate, settlement, government, politics, institutions, etc. and they end in biographical and genealogical sketches of local citizens specific for each county. But if you do not find your ancestor within a Goodspeed book it was most likely because he could not afford to pay for the rights to be in the publication.

That's right. The citizens featured within the publications bought the right to see their name and family history in print. They paid the Goodspeed salesmen for a copy of the publication and in turn, they wrote their own personal sketch or a family member's sketch to be highlighted within the book. It was an opportunity to paint themselves and family in a good light.

But even though the Goodspeed county histories can be rightly criticized as "vanity books," they are a valuable tool for today's family historian . They provide historical information for your ancestor's county along with biographical information that can lead to deeper discoveries.

Our ancestors relished their family histories just as much as we do today, so much so they were willing to pay for it.

And thank goodness for that.

Check out these sites for a few Goodspeed county histories: Grainger County, Tennessee; Southeast Missouri; Genealinks; Tennessee State Library;  The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.)

A Sweet Substitute


I returned in one piece from my "across the pond" hike from Oklahoma to Arkansas and though genealogical discoveries were subtle, I do feel tickled with my results. Not laugh-out-loud tickled.

Just tickled.

My frustration with researching my illusory ancestor from Arkansas is not from my ancestor himself. Rather, I discovered I am dealing with a state whose county lines waxed, waned and evolved for a good part of the 19th century. An ancestor can live in one county one year and a different one the next without moving an inch.

Family research within states such as Arkansas make traditional on-line genealogy frustrating. Tracking ancestors by US Census records is no longer quick and easy, so in order to move forward, a family historian has to think outside the box. And I am pleased to say, my Arkansas box is holding an item not previously found:

A poll tax.

Poll taxes have been instituted within countries for centuries but with each country, the purpose of the tax has varied. In general, the poll tax is an across the board capitation tax of a fixed amount applied to the head of a household. And in the United States, the 19th century poll tax was a requirement for voting.

The US poll tax provided an unfair advantage to those who could afford the tax, ultimately reducing minorities the right to vote, which is why the tax was declared unconstitutional by the mid 20th century*. But to the delight of researchers such as you and I, the little known tax can provide a wealth of genealogical dividends.

Wading my way through the archived court records in Arkansas, I spied my ancestor's name on a poll tax for 1861. My heart flip-flopped when I made the discovery, placing my ancestor within a county when his 1860 Census record could not be found. The poll tax is a sweet little substitute when every other record is void.

And what was the significance of my ancestor's 1861 poll tax? It enabled him to vote in the election for or against Arkansas's vote for secession: A passionate die-hard Union loyalist eager to pay his tax in order to exercise his right to vote.

Poll taxes will most likely not be found on or other on-line genealogical sites. I suggest researching within the holdings of your local genealogy library.

A subtle but sweet discovery for my illusory Arkansas ancestor that provides one more clue to his life and story.

Keep searching for answers,

(*Source: The Free Dictionary)
I am a lazy family historian. I sit at my computer, rummaging through websites, searching for ancestral records and cursing the wind when none are found. I beam with pride at my plump family tree, limbs sprouting with ancestral names, leaves waving with lush, rich stories.

But sadly, I yield when the information ends.

I fantasize the dream of boating across the pond to amble the cobbled streets of my ancestor's homelands in Ireland, Scotland and France. Stumbling upon distant cousins living within picturesque European town lands. And then I pause to consider how much is left--blank names, blank town lands, blank files.

But this week everything will change. I have challenged myself to relinquish my office chair and release myself from the chains of my computer to jump the pond for a head-on, get down-and-dirty dive into a little foreign country:


Yes, my on-the-road genealogical trip is only a few hours from my home and though I cheat, using it as a little break through the beautiful rolling Ozarks, it is a research trip nonetheless. Sadly, I faced the reality of my lazy expectations of armchair genealogy and accepted what many steadfast family historians realized long ago: the deepest holes have to be dug on-site, not on-line.

It is romantic to dream of researching ancestors within their European homelands
but the deep wells at home have to be dry before journeying a thousand miles away. And I am embarrassed to say I have failed to study the well that is only 200 miles within my grasp. Though Arkansas is a tad bit different than France, I expect to find early 1800 records laced with French surnames such as Lemoux and Jacques; my French American ancestor living within an Arkansas Territory village flooded with French, Cajun and Canadian immigrants.

And so, though my first ancestral road trip lacks the glitter and glory of a romantic European expedition, I load my SUV of ancestral files longing to be complete and head into another vast land: Oklahoma's sister state to the east, Arkansas.

I guess I'll have to tote my French wine and croissants across state line!


Do you have French ancestry? Our journey can be a struggle but if your French American ancestor fought in the Civil War, his records could be rich with resources. French Americans were an important Catholic group during the Civil War--most of them serving within the Union forces. Look for their Civil War pensions and you could stumble upon a vast realm of information.

Keep searching for answers,