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Research Road Trip or Hire a Genealogist?


Two weeks ago, I rented a car, packed up two fiddles and a banjo along with a week’s worth of food, clothing, and camping gear, and headed off to the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, West Virginia. I was immersed in old-time music for seven days straight and it was awesome!

So, what does that have to do with Genlighten? I’ll answer that in the last paragraph, but in the meantime, here’s the story:

Dean’s great-grandmother had a half-sister who lived in Huntington, West Virginia in the early 1900s, Bertha Margaret Shelly Frick, and when I realized that I would be driving through Cabell County on my way home, I decided to make an unplanned side trip to see what I could learn about her family. I’d been wanting to visit Huntington for research for many years, never thinking that I would actually be able to do it.

I Googled the courthouse, checked the hours, located it on a map, and made arrangements to camp at a KOA about 30 minutes away. Then I reviewed the tree on Ancestry, looked at related documents on Dropbox, and came up with a research plan. I decided to go after probate records for Bertha and her husband, Omar T. Frick, and a death record for Bertha that I hadn’t been able to find online. I also planned to stop by the library to check yearbooks for their daughter, if I had time.

I spent a morning at the Cabell County Courthouse (making hourly trips outside to feed the meter) and I was able to find wills for both Bertha (who actually went by Margaret) and her husband. Unfortunately, the county had no record of Margaret’s death even though her obituary said that she died at home and I couldn’t find the Frick’s daughter in any of the yearbooks I checked.

I enjoyed my Huntington research adventure—

  • It was exciting to pull up to the courthouse ready to go digging.
  • It was fascinating to get to know more about Margaret and her husband as I read through their wills and learned how they had chosen to pass along their wealth and possessions.
  • It was satisfying to be able to carefully double-check a local death register myself looking for a record of Margaret’s death.
  • It was convenient to be able to ask local people questions like “Where do you think wealthy people who died in Huntington in the 1940s might have chosen to be buried?”
  • It was fun to page through c. 1920 yearbooks even though I didn’t find anything relevant to my search.

—but I realized something important along the way. I wasn’t really there to find records; I was there for the experience. If locating the wills had been my primary goal, it would have been quicker (days or weeks instead of years) and probably less expensive (considering travel costs and lodging) to have hired a local genealogist to do the research for me long ago.

When the value is in the experience, it’s worth whatever it takes to make it happen. When the value is in the record, it makes sense to get it in the most efficient and cost effective way possible. Sometimes that means hiring someone to help and that’s what Genlighten is all about.

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