After initially entering the information I knew about my parents and grandparents into Ancestry.com I was stuck. I knew the name of one great-grandparent, but that was as far as I could get on my own, so I picked up the phone and called my parents. I asked basic questions: What were my grandparents’ birthdates? When did they get married? What are the names and birthdates and spouses for my aunts and uncles? Who were my great-grandparents? What about their parents? We didn’t get very far. But my mom said that her cousin Barbara is interested in genealogy, and my dad said my cousin Michelle (his sister’s daughter) is, too. And they gave me their email addresses.
Barbara and Michelle have both been very generous with their time and research, and helping me to refine my search. When you’ve got names like Jones and Perry in Georgia it can be very confusing to narrow down your search. It helped to have additional names of family members. Barbara actually shared family history narratives put together by her aunt and put me in contact with another cousin, the aunt’s son Dan. Dan shared some pictures, and the promise of more to come. Barbara also had a rather large old-style family tree diagram for many more distant relations put together by some great-aunts (we’re not sure if it’s one or two greats for her, which would be two or three greats for me!). In exchange I’ve been able to use the internet to supply documentation she didn’t have in the form of images of census records and marriage licenses.
Michelle was able to supply me with a great deal of information about the Jones side of our family. She spent a great number of hours in conversation with our grandmother at one point. I’ve used access to some message boards to contact people with shared lineages, or who had materials that could point me to more people. Thanks to Dee I was able to obtain a copy of a family history book on the Nevilles of Bulloch County and was able to contact the editor, Hugh, who it turns out is a distant cousin. Similarly, a chance mention on a Rootsweb archive posting led me to a conversation with Nancy, who had discovered notes in a family Bible at the Georgia Archives years ago while researching her Jones roots. The record she found didn’t help her, but thanks to her foresight in transcribing it, I was able to move back one more generation with my Jones branch. That led me to the records posted by Bill on Daniel Jones and the discovery that we may indeed be related to the north Georgia Joneses since he spent about 20 years in the Dahlonega area (Lumpkin County), lured there by the Georgia Gold Rush.
On the maternal side, I was introduced to one Maxwell cousin by Barbara, and found another on a Rootsweb mailing list or Ancestry discussion board (can’t remember now), who it turned out also knew Barbara, and one of them introduced me to a third. I know I’ll get the order wrong about who came first or who introduced me to whom, but that’s how I got to correspond with Dell, MaryEllie and Roberta. Loren and Kathleen, two other Ancestry/Rootsweb contacts with Perry information, turned out to also be already acquainted with Barbara. We’re talking about relationships like Third Cousin Twice Removed here! But all have contributed something to the store of information. Several have shared family trees or family history narratives. Some have stories about people I know, or at least whose names I recognize from other research. I have truly been blessed and privileged to make their acquaintance, and their help has been invaluable.
Yes, I still need to verify the information, and cite sources, and pursue new leads, but without the help of these people and others I would have a much harder time, and would be missing big chunks of my family history. There is much more that I need to do, and more people I need to talk to. I’ve submitted my own Jones DNA for testing, and Barbara’s brother Don has done the same with his Perry DNA, but I need to find a Maxwell cousin, and a Stringer cousin, and Farthing and Barnes and Williams and so on. Genealogical DNA testing won’t give you names, but it will help to confirm suspicions about relatedness if enough people get theirs tested, or alternatively will preclude some presumed relationship and point you in another direction entirely. Hopefully it will help us over some brick walls where the possible relationships aren’t documented but the likely suspects have been identified. I need to obtain additional court and other records on the ancestors and other relations that I’ve identified, and push the boundaries on identifying more.
And I need to keep talking to strangers in the online and offline groups and try to meet more of my family. Researching your family history online may seem like a solitary endeavor, but I can’t really do it all on my own … I get by with a little help from my friends!Here’s your summary:
- The first thing everybody tells you when you want to do genealogical research is “Start with what you know.” So write down what you know about yourself and your family, then pick up the phone (or walk in the other room) and ask your parents, and grandparents if you’re lucky enough to still be able to). Talk to your aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and cousins. Don’t pry, just ask them what they remember about Uncle Bill or Aunt Lilly. If you’re really luck there may already be one or more relatives who have been working on the family tree for some time, “You know, you should really talk to June’s daughter; she’s been collecting family pictures for years!”
- Search the mailing lists and blogs and forums for people researching your family names (surnames) in the area of the country (or world) that you are from. Add in your grandparents or great-grandparents first names, or a city to narrow the results. Or look for their brothers and sisters. These collateral line searches often turn up more distant cousins who might have more information than you. Maybe your grandfather’s sister had all the family albums and the family bible, and now her granddaughter is also online and you can make a connection.
- Always be polite and gracious in your conversations, whether in person, on the phone, or online. Don’t challenge people’s stories, just document them. But don’t take anything at face value, either. You can use this as pointers in your research, but unless they offer documentation along with their stories (a family bible, pictures that have written captions (is that really great-aunt Bessie, or is it her sister-in-law?) Memories are fallible. Remember to say “please” and “thank you” a lot.
- This particular blog post is a great big “thank you” to everyone I’ve mentioned above and anyone else I’ve forgotten.