Friday, February 02, 2007

Researching Family

I’m a genealogist. I couldn’t have escaped from being one. My mother made scrapbooks after scrapbooks, her mother neatly put together photo albums with the names neatly written in, and my father’s mother created two notebooks with both her family lines. My interest was sparked when my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I realized her knowledge of the family would disappear unless I got her to talk. She kept resisting saying she didn’t know any stories about the family. So I tricked her. I got the oldest family album and asked her to tell me about the people in the pictures. I sat with a tape recorder and began an in-depth introduction to my family.

Four months ago, I realized I had misplaced the research that took me almost 10 years to collect. Using, I began to reconstruct that research. After four months I have more than I had—and I didn’t have to drive three states like I did then. [Plus back in the 1970s I didn’t have the 1900, 1910, 1920 & 1930 censuses available.] Ever the researcher, I’m as interested in my collateral ancestors as I am my direct lines. So far I’ve connected 4100 names—and I’m still working. I even have four Revolutionary War soldiers. I’ve used censuses, obituaries, news articles, family histories, photographs, tombstones, public records—and the search continues. As any genealogist can appreciate, I stand on the shoulders of all those who went before and kept records.

Feeling the need to renew my roots, I visited my hometown yesterday, photographing the locations of my ancestors and the graves of 4 great-great-grandparents and 8 great-great grandparents and their children. I began at a small country cemetery, Evergreen, in Lawndale Township, McLean County, Illinois. With probably fewer than 125 graves, the solitary tree and melancholy tombstones stand alone among the flat barren cornfields. (In fact, I could see the cemetery long before I reached by the lone wild pine tree that towers over it.) When I first visited the cemetery in 1973, I found the family tombstones without a problem and was able to read them. Since that visit, some local yahoos have knocked over all the smaller stones so that many are broken and some are no longer readable, making the place feel even more melancholy.
Driving back into Lexington, I stopped at The Fort, home of the Lexington Genealogical & Historical Society. Spearheaded by the late Verda Gerwick, known locally as the “tombstone chaser,” this hidden gem provides the serious genealogist working on McLean, Livingston, Ford, and Woodford a wealth of information. In what other location could you find cemetery records that include the person’s obituary? Back in the early 1970s when the LGHS began publishing their magazine, I enthusiastically edited the first issue for Verda. She helped inspire me to enjoy the thrill of the research, connecting names to facts. It was a delight to spend a couple of hours with volunteer and president, Dennie Hieronymus. [Check out their website at}

Returning home I felt recharged and ready to continue the hunt.