Growing up in Louisa – Family Trees!
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
There is a huge movement in this country to discover and document family roots. I have a number of friends and family members that have done loads of research and spent a good deal of time on this endeavor. The internet is a boon and grand resource for finding records, tombstones, and personal histories. There are government records, census documents and town directories, and even phone books from earlier times. Marriage and death notices, as well as cemetery listing and military records are easy to find. There’s also a local opportunity happening in Paintsville at the Ramada Inn next week. The 15th annual Eastern Kentucky Genealogy and History Conference is to take place with a number of speakers and exhibitions. For those having that interest, or that may be at least curious, I’d recommend you look at a companion article in the Lazer for more information.
Once a person becomes involved in digging out the horse-thieves, pirates, and never-do-goods, and find ancestors that were on the Mayflower, or that served in the American Revolution, or in the great Civil War, they become hooked and often understand who they, themselves, are. They often discover more family members, as well. There’s also those that may have evidence enough to join the DAR, or some other organization that bases their membership on genetic lineage.
When watching PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow, I was reminded of an aunt that spent a great deal of time and energy proving her eligibility to join the DAR. In the end she found out even more when she discovered a colonial plantation owner from Virginia who was a forefather of this nation. I was glad she was successful after much work, but I wondered how many other branches of the tree that really may be better left uncovered. The truth is that we could find many branches and roots, each with many different kinds of characters, if we go back far enough. Lineages are important as is family history. If you doubt it, look at how often the Bible lays out family trees.
The concept of doing that kind of research on my own seems to be almost overwhelming and frustrating and likely unrewarding considering what I already know. The problem is that the more you dig, the more you uncover. For some the thrill is never quenched. It’s the investigation that matters to them. In fact, they will research your family, too, if you like and are willing to provide whatever information you may know. I’m thinking they are like the detective that works on cold cases, always searching out new records or documents that shed light on family mysteries. Finding the right records is complex because people often change their names, or they were misspelled in various governmental records, or they picked up and moved without leaving a trace. Also, mankind often had their share of illegitimate births and those running from the law or some responsibility. Some were lost in Indian wars, or went away to join another war, such as the War of 1812, or the Spanish American War. Some ran off to work with a circus, or just ride the rails during the great depression. The one lesson you will learn is that people, or entire families, are more complex than we think.
As a practical warning to those wanting to dig through the records is that the result may be full of surprises. Some newly discovered fact might be very good and a source of pride. Some may not be so good. After all, people are people. There will be some ghosts that maybe ought not to be disturbed. The people we deemed as respectable for years may not have been always what we would wish. It’s possible one or more of our ancestors achieved some great thing, but they likely also had secrets they wouldn’t want known. Even so, good things can develop with us in spite of an errant ancestor.
In your searches you may find mysteries that cannot be solved. Not everything was written or even talked about. Not every birth or death was recorded, or for that matter discovered in its own time. People can be protective and they can be ruthless. Lessons of the past are important only so far as we learn to apply any lessons learned to improve the quality of life of those to follow.
For most of my life I didn’t have interest in that kind of research, but I recently performed a little of the legwork required for me to discover some family history. Up until then I had felt that I knew all I needed to know since I was already aware of some of the closeted skeletons. I now know some of the good to go with the bad and in the process I found a new axiom to remember: The history you find is just history. You were not a part of it. It isn’t your past, but rather someone else’s, and even if it’s bad, you can determine to be something better.
There’s no doubt that knowing family history is helpful when dealing with genetic health issues, or ownership of properties, or even finding an inheritance. Uncovering unknown relationships and finding explanations to family mysteries can be worthwhile. To some it is fun to discover the tools that will assist in discovery of the past. Sometimes discovering truths can change lives. Visiting the old family home place and introducing yourself to extended family members can be exciting, too. The more you find the more likely you will be helped in finding more. I know a person who was excited when they learned a relative fought in the Revolutionary War only to find out later he was on the other side. Ooops! They felt better when they uncovered others that served this nation honorably in several other wars.
So ‘rooting’ out a family tree is a fun way to spend some time to discover just how human we all are. Finding out how and why we came to be Kentuckians can be a source of pride, or a sign that mankind can shine even through dark circumstances. After finding our roots and understanding our past, we can turn to look to the future and purpose to make today and our tomorrows the best they can be. Whether we choose to look back or not, let’s all of us purpose to leave a legacy worth the discovering for future generations.