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How did you get started doing genealogy research?
About 25 years ago I went to a funeral for one of my husband’s relatives. At the funeral home I notice a lady moving from person to person with a spiral notebook asking questions. When she got around to my husband, I found out that she was a genealogist. She explained to me that funerals are a great place for gathering information from relatives you don’t see often. She had so much information in her spiral notebook. I got hooked right then and there. She let me take the notebook home and copy it and that is how it started.
How have you developed your research skills?
I developed my research skills over the years by simply doing the research. I visit every library, archive, courthouse, or other repository that I can. I also attend seminars and listen to podcasts online. I was a member of the very first ProGen Study Group and I think they are up to their nineteenth group this year. I am constantly reading genealogy blogs, genealogy books, magazines and just anything about genealogy but my best advice on how to develop your research skills is to put in the time to do actual research.
Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?
I have never thought about whether or not I had a “genealogy superpower” but I guess if I thought about it, I would say that it would be knowing the unique secondary sources that are available that most people don’t think about. Most of us know about the primary sources that are available such as birth records, marriage records, death records, census, etc. But most people don’t think about searching in funeral home records, coroner reports, vertical files at repositories, manuscript collections, etc. There is a wealth of information in these secondary sources.
Describe a challenging research problem you’re proud of having solved.
I used the “Cluster Genealogy Research Method” to get in contact with a living relative of one of my husband’s ancestors and because of that I was able to find a picture of that ancestor.
The Cluster Genealogy Research Method tells us to widen our search to include a person’s siblings and their spouses, their children and their spouses, neighbors, friends, etc. In the case I worked on, I researched my husband’s ancestor’s children and all of their spouses. This ancestor’s children were mainly male and each one married and divorced no less than 3-5 times. I focused on one wife of a man who had divorced 5 times and eventually found a living relative.
That person had a trunk full of documents and photos that belonged to my husband’s family. The woman had kept it and it had been handed down for over a hundred years. The owner wouldn’t part with the trunk but he was kind enough to share a photo of my husband’s ancestor—the only photo of her to my knowledge.
It must be noted here that my husband’s ancestor was always on the side of her daughters-in-law during all the divorces from her sons. That might have had something to do with why this woman’s family kept this trunk all these many years.
Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.
I research both my side of the family and my husband’s side, so my story involves both sides way before my husband and I were even born. My husband has a 3rd great-grandfather that fought with the 49th Tennessee Confederate Army at the battle of Fort Donelson in Stewart County, Tennessee. The battle was fought February 14-15, 1862. I have a 3rd great-grandfather that fought for the 49th Ohio U.S. Army and he was also at the battle of Fort Donelson. My husband’s ancestor and wounded but survived. I like to tease my husband and my ancestor probably shot him!
What’s the most unique record source that you access for research?
I like to use funeral home records for research, a source that I don’t think many people think to access. These records can be a gold mine of information. Over the past 25 years I have only had 2 funeral homes refuse to release records to me, saying they were private records, not public records. Funeral home records should be on the “to-do list” of every researcher. If you don’t live near the funeral home that you need records from, make an old-fashioned request. Send them a typed letter asking for copies of records they have on the person you’re researching and include a self-addressed envelope. This process has worked for me hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
What’s the one must-visit repository for out-of-town visitors doing research in your area?
Hands down it would be the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, Tennessee.
What tools to you use to create the reports/images that you provide to
I use Microsoft Word for reports and Windows Photo Gallery for images.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break through a brick wall?
Never, never, never give up! Many times people find what they are looking for just before they decide to quit. I am a glass-half-full person and hold out hope that all my brick walls will be solved.
What hobbies do you pursue when you’re not doing
Genealogy research is a huge part of my life. I am also my local county archivist/records manager, so that doesn’t leave much time for anything else. My family always comes first and then after working with clients and at the local archives, I enjoy reading non-fiction, historical books, biographies and anything about our founding fathers. Also, on nice days I ride with my husband on motorcycles. I have one of my own and enjoy the freedom of riding and seeing the country scenery.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I would tell anyone doing genealogy research to be more than just a date collector. Get to know your ancestors, where they lived, what was going on in their town, in their community, and even in their country during the time they were living. Just knowing the dates of our ancestors doesn’t seem to be enough to know who they really were and to know where we came from. Collecting and researching every aspect of our ancestors’ lives helps us to put a “life” to the dates and I think it can bring our ancestors to life for us.
Also, don’t give up if you find you are in a spot where you just can’t find what you are looking for. We all have brick walls, even those of us that are professional genealogists and have been doing this for many years. The key is to keep searching. You just don’t know when that piece of information you are seeking will just appear!
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Funeral home records should be on the “to-do list” of every researcher. If you don’t live near the funeral home that you need records from, make an old-fashioned request. Send them a typed letter asking for copies of records they have on the person you’re researching and include a self-addressed envelope. This process has worked for me hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
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