Organized Research

When I started genealogy sometimes around 1990, I did like most genealogist.
I set down and filled out a pedigree chart as far back as I knew. Wasn’t far. πŸ™‚

I then took a day and went to the library. I knew my grandmother was the daughter of William Bennett and Mary Etta Carlton. I knew quite a bit about my Carlton ancestors, but nothing about my Bennett ancestors. A few hours later, I had found my grandmother on the 1910 census as a small girl. I had found her father on the 1870 census living with his parents and I had found mention in a cemetery book of my ancestor Stephen Bennett, whose body was stolen and sent to Vermont in a box labeled books. Cadaver bodies paid good money in those days as medical hospitals were teaching more and more students how to do autopsies. Stephen Bennett was headed to a medical hospital hundreds of miles from home, yet probably never traveled from the state of TN his entire life.

Next stop was the Bennett Cemetery where Stephen Bennett and his parents are buried. I went home tired, hungry and excited about what I had found out. But it seems dad already knew that about his great grandfather. His mother apparently told us kids the story of the grave robbing every Halloween. Being young I hadn’t bothered to listen to my grandmother, who tended to mostly fuss at us kids, so I tended to tune her out. I had never heard the story, but my older cousins confirmed that she told it often.

In those days, I did genealogy a lot like a butterfly. Oh that flower is pretty, or that record is easy to find. Once I found an ancestor living with his parents, I rarely looked for the family again on other censuses. The will was good enough for proof death, without bothering with probate records, guardianship, etc created by the probate process.

What that gave me was the bare bones of my ancestry. No meat or muscle, just enough data to create a person, but not enough to make his story dance.

These days, I am trying to go back and fill in the meat. I look at records like Chancery court records, instead of deeds, I also look at trust deeds. Sure I hit upon a lot of dead ends since not many ancestors were sued, or owned property backed by a trust. But when I hit pay dirt, or do I hit it. Sometimes the files tell of men who skipped town to avoid prosecution. One record had a pardon from the President. One ancestor was murdered with a “large and murderous knife.” Yup, said that right in the court case.

Your challenge for October. Flesh out one ancestor. Find him on every census. Find all his deeds. Follow his probate process to it’s conclusion. See if he owned rental property. Follow his entire immigration process.

Then tell your story to your grandchildren. Over and over and over. The one who tends to ignore you, tell her again. More than likely that’s your genealogist. πŸ˜‰

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2 thoughts on “Organized Research

  1. Great post! I’ve just started in genealogy this year, and I’ve found the society page of historical newspapers to be my best friend. My g-grandmother in particular was fond of writing in about her comings & goings… which provided me some clues in the mystery of who my “real” g-grandfather was! πŸ™‚

  2. Good point. In small towns, you can see articles like that as late as the 80s. They may contain small genealogical tidbits that will help us find a missing cousins, aunt or if we are lucky, grandfather.

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