American genealogy is full of students, who for more than 15 years, have attended conferences, monthly lectures, workshops, and classes offered every week. These students are no longer beginners–they know how to search the census. They have already checked for wills and read county biographical sketches. Easy ancestors are already identified.
What can they do when these sources fail to disclose the origins and parents of key, hard-to-find ancestors?
May I share with you my powerful answer:
Volunteer editors, and volunteer committees, sometimes a single dedicated genealogist gathers information and writes it up for our benefit. Usually they are local people who reside in the area where your ancestors lived and died. They are familiar with how the surnames are spelled. They know where the ancestors lived. They may even attend the same church (or a new church on the same foundation) where your ancestors sat on Sunday morning.
I turn to these experts for help. And almost without exception, they give me the Genealogy Answers I need. Consistently, their work enables me to build the right family tree. I go to the library (or in some cases I have a complete run of a periodical in my own library) and find an empty table where I can spread out. I start with volume one, first issue and work my way through the publication, page-by-page, until I reach the current issue (or as far as the library has subscribed).
If there is an index, I check it for the surnames I need and those subject and place entries I know about. And, I DON’T STOP THERE. Even if the index is a good one, I still read the whole periodical, page-by-page.
Why do I spend the time to search page-by-page?
Just give me these genealogy answers. Forget quick!
- What surnames are associated with that local area I might otherwise overlook?
- Do families still reside there who are related to the people I am searching for? Or, are family members who have moved away still interested in that place–still looking for ancestors I am also interested in?
- What records, not available to me on microfilm at the Family History Library, have been discovered and transcribed for me to use? Tax lists, account books of local stores, muster rolls kept by the local captains, church records including membership lists, dismissals and admissions, cemetery listings.
- New family histories, compiled by relatives unknown to me, reviewed by the editor and offered for sale–giving me the address and cost so I can order copies.
- Genealogies written just for the quarterly and not published anywhere else.
- Key facts and traditions about local families sent in by descendants, who hope their work will benefit others with the same ancestors.
- Important research underway that I need to know about, so that I don’t look in the wrong place or collect the wrong people or overlook a migration pattern peculiar to that specific place.
These are just a few of the things I gain by reading page-by-page. The time invested is well worth it. An index alone will not give you this essential background. Nor will it identify specific research published in that quarterly, because people who live in that area will find it of interest. I watch for things which appear to be out of place. Remember that space is valuable so it is reserved for items of interest.
May I also share some specific examples from my research this past week:
The Appalachian Quarterly, published by the Wise County Historical Society, P.O. Box 368, Wise VA 24293, began carrying a substantial section, each issue, on the Melungeons. Melungeons are mixed race people who have inhabited the Appalachian area time out of mind. Each issue carries debates about who these people are and where did they come from. Recent issues of the Quarterly, carriy the official registration list of Melungeon surnames of the National Melungeon Registry maintained by Wise County Historical Society. 204 surnames were registered in 1996.
Three of the four surnames I am currently researching in Wise County are on that list: Collier/Colyer, Osborn, Ramey. One of my husband’s surnames is on that list: Berry. Eighteen more surnames on that list I am also researching or have researched in the past: Carter, Clark, Cox, Garland, Hammon, Harmon, Hyatt, Lawson, Maggard, Nelson, Newman, Sizemore, Stallard, Strother, Tally, Taylor, Tolliver, Wise.
In the March 2006 issue, more detailed coverage of one of those four surnames appears in an article, Melungeon DNA Projects by Elizabeth Hirschman and Donald N. Panther-Yates: Ramey. Wallen/Walling, Ney/Nye, Carter, Caldwell, Bruce, Berry, Saylor, Harry, Moore are other surnames of interest to me covered in that article.
Then, imagine my dismay to discover this announcement in the September 2006 issue:
It has been the most difficult of decisions for me to embark upon by phasing out the Melungeon Section of the Appalachian Quarterly… As many of you know who research Melungeon history, that with the recent years use of DNA testing, little information is left to discover, save for the tried and true small histories from one or another KY, VA, NC, SC, TN, counties that has had a long history of Melungeon families.
Frankly with one of our own long suffering and beloved Melungeon first published researcher, Brent Kennedy, as it were, being ill for the last few months. I dare say that I for one have lost interest, renewed or otherwise during the time Brent has not been with us to help carry on the research and new findings of our heritage the amazing and thoughtful way he has for almost fifteen years.
Saying goodbye to a much loved section for all Melungeon bits of history through the last nine years I have been the Melungeon Section Editor is hard, but necessary…
This is not to say however, that if I am submitted a Melungeon item of interest (of such an ancestry or heritage that is still so admonished and taboo) that it will not be printed. Quite the contrary, it will. It is just the lack of submissions do not earn a whole section these days. Patricia Hopkins-Baldwin
Wilkes County Genealogical Society Quarterly
This periodical began in 1966 as a four-page Bulletin to bring us details on ancestry in the original Wilkes County. Each issue includes transcripts, carried serially, of county records. Deeds, court records, road orders, bastardy bonds, land suits–those records that are the most difficult to search and yet often provide the best proof.
The section I have found the most valuable however, are the Bible records. Each issue carries three to five Bibles–Bibles I have not found anywhere else.
I read these two quarterlies together–a principle origin of families in Wise County VA and its surrounding counties in KY, VA, and TN is old, original Wilkes County NC.
How do I know that?
Because I read both periodicals page-by-page. The same families appear in both. Some are better documented in one or the other. By studying both, you get the origins of the families, and their migration patterns. You also get their Bible records and excerpts from the records where they appear together. You know you are researching the same families–not just families with the same surnames.
This fact is essential if you are tracing a Melungeon family–for they carry surnames common among people of Scots-Irish background. Native Americans (and some European groups) assimilate into the local population by intermarriage, by kinship networks, by proximity. Your hope of linking to your own ancestors is also assimilated in the local population. For these natives are still among us, regardless of what the Federal Government investigators say.
In future sessions of our Genealogy News Sheet, we will explore other periodical pairings which will aid you in tracking your difficult-to-find ancestors. This powerful search strategy has served me well over the past 15 years. It can serve you well too. Be sure to tune in regularly. And to let me know what areas interest you most–where are you having the greatest difficulty? Your favorite genealogy expert, Arlene Eakle
P.S. This week the last of your special reports will be shipped–over 100 went outside of the U.S. The other 1,100 went to US addresses. Many thanks for ordering the special report–once you use the strategies described there, you will identify hidden ancestors you didn’t realize you had already found. AE