Monday, April 19, 2010

Genealogy Society Discovers and Preserves Family History (continued from Part 1 below)

Part 2
By Sandra Knebel

    Editor's Note:  This story is a continuation  that tells the story of the Lucas County Genealogy Society, its members, and the people they assist in finding lost or unknown members of their family trees. ( Chariton Leader, Tuesday, January 29, 2008.)

    All families are participants in an American story.  One of the ongoing goals of the members of the Lucas County Genealogy Society is to help recover missing pieces from these stories.  Like this one.

    A 23-year resident of Chariton, Dottie said she didn't think she had any relatives in Lucas County when she joined the local genealogy group.  "My father died when I was about 2 years old, so I didn't know that side of my family," she said.  "I have since found out that I had an uncle who lived here in town and cousins.  My family was bigger than I knew about."
    Dottie says the society has taught her there are two parts to her family; ancestors are one; the members of the genie society are the other.  "We have taken trips together and have grown close.  They are the people I share things with."  Dottie spends afternoons in the society's workroom, indexing information, filing, proofreading, and stuffing the newsletter that goes out quarterly to over 200 members across the country.

    The members have different stories to tell about the people they have helped.  Most are shared through the newsletter.  The most fun, however, comes from sharing your excitement when you find another piece to the puzzle.  They have been there.  They share it and feel it, too!"
    Evalene began her search with clearly defined lists of relatives.  The lists quickly turned into convoluted trails that started in Wayne County and ended up in Oregon.  Evalene's story is one that many genies hope will be their story.  She actually made contact with newly discovered family members.

    "I found out that one of my great aunts on my dad's side had moved to Oregon.  I didn't know anything about her so I put a query in the Oregon Genealogy newsletter.  About two months later a lady called me.  She told me she was not related to me but was relation to my great aunt's husband.  She got me in contact with several of my fourth cousins.  They, in turn, started sending me information on all their families and my great aunt's family.  One of them sent me a CD with pictures that were her grandmothers that had come from her great grandmother."

    Connecting names to several people of mystery in the CD took two years, a resolute nature, several serendipitous findings, and some just plain "it's a small world" connections. It became quite clear that to be a dedicated genealogist, you must enjoy reasoning and thinking things out.

    The ladies laugh heartily when asked if they ever find an ancestor who may have wanted their skeleton to stay in the closet.  They each had a story, but we'll share the one told by Ev, Society President.  It's about her grandpa's run-in with the Klan.

    Lucas County was not exempt from Ku Klux Klan activities.  According to Ev's father, his father went one night to what he thought was a neighborhood family gathering.  And it was.  Except his neighbors were covered in white sheets.  Not wanting to be part of the action, Ev's grandpa (according to her father) turned to leave, saying "I'll be damned if I was so ashamed of anything that I had to hide under a bed cover!"

    But, oops, there was a skeleton in the closet.  One night at a genealogy meeting when everyone was sharing their family's most outrageous story, Ev told all.  Many years after the event, Ev's aunt found amongst the items in her grandfather's estate a Klan membership card.

    Darlene remembered a skeleton found deep within the birth records of Lucas County.  She was asked to help find information on a man's grandfather.  Unfortunately, it turned out that birth and census records proved that grandfather was not really grandfather.  The records showed that grandfather's mother got married four years after he was born.  Her new husband "adopted" the boy, without benefit of legal paperwork, rocking the family foundation the man had believed in all his life.

    Most are thrilled with the information they get.  "One day a man came in and handed us a hundred dollar bill, " Darlene remembered.  "He told us that the family had hunted for years to find what had happened to the family members we found for him.  He said we had done something that nobody else had been able to do."

    Annually, six members of the group get in a van and travel the country seeking ancestral information for their family trees.  (They coined the term "vancesters" to describe these jaunts.)  They have traveled to Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and Points beyond and between.

    On one trip, Kay met a man who agreed to take her to an out-of-the-way gravesite in West Virginia.  "So we met this guy in the parking lot of a drug store chain," Betty recalled.  "He was in a pickup truck with a 4-wheeler in the back.  We followed him out into the country as far as the van could go.  Then Kay and Mary Louise got in the 4-wheeler with him and they took off.  The roads turned into cow paths that turned into no paths at all.  Up the side of a mountain they went, finally arriving at the burial ground where Kay found not only the relative she was looking for, but his wife and children's stones were there, too.  They were all in good condition considering they dated from way back before the Civil War.  Kay found out she was related to a revolutionary war soldier and was so proud and so thrilled.  After that, he took her to see the old farm where her ancestors had lived."

    On that same vancestor trip, the group traveled to Nelsonville, Ohio.  After several visits to the library and with help from local genealogists and the cemetery books, Betty visited the graves of her great-great-grandparents.  Next to the stones were two small stones marking the gravesites of her grandfather's two sisters who died when they were about 2 and 4.  Other stones helped to piece together family history.  She found that the husband of her great grandfather's sister was buried next to his first wife who had died in childbirth.  "I know my grandfather's twin brother who died at about three months is buried there, too, since his two sisters are there, but we couldn't find a stone for him."

    The next day Betty was able to connect a church across from the cemetery with the First Christian Church that her great-grandfather helped build.  Both he and his sister were founders.  The information and photos of both have now been added to the family's history, which is found in a beautifully bound book Betty compiled for future generations of her family to enjoy.

    Some are happy to just remember the people at the top of a family tree.  Some want to know it all, which members were adopted in secrecy and which cousins are really half sisters and how much great uncle George drank the night he rolled his car in the ditch and died.  Some are even looking at DNA testing to answer age-old questions.  If you are interested in creating or adding information to your own family tree, the members of Lucas County Genealogy Society have a wealth of experience and information to share with you.  Phone 774-5514 or e-mail or visit them at the Chariton Public Library.

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