Archive for December, 2007

Season’s Wishes

Although I don’t usually post personal messages on this blog. I try to keep it focused upon the research and writing aspects of genealogy. But I decided to make a “seasonal” exception in favor of the holidays.

During the holidays, I will most miss those family members, now passed. Some years back, I wrote the following poem. I was reflecting on how much I was beginning to look like my mother and grandmother as they aged. Although my thoughts were not on family history at the time I wrote it, there is a sense of a gathering, a family reunion, whenever I research my ancestors and learn about their lives. The poem reflects that sense of reunion.

By whatever name you celebrate this season of promise, of family, and of devotion, I wish you the best of peace, love, and joy. Let us gather again, here, after the new year.

The Gathering

The body characterizes
Everything it touches,
Forming a living relic
From one’s own history.
As our origins frame us,
So our choices claim us
And we hope that the effort
Of our life’s whole design
Will triumph over imperfect parts.
That in our passing ,we leave behind
A legacy to those who, with us,
Formed sweet objects in our hearts.


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Teaching the topic “Learning from Family” to a class of beginning genealogists, I described how I gather family stories from relatives when I visit, some distant cousins. At the end of the class, a student wrote on the feedback survey that she did not think that the information learned from the class would be useful for her. You see, she explained, all her older relatives were dead. The class being over, I did not have the opportunity to stress that family history research is not just about ancient ancestors. It is about understanding ancestors in the context of social history—AND it is about understanding the family in which we now live. DNA does not trace that information for us. Documents rarely offer those insights. Stories do.

So now my lectures on family oral history, I start with the questions: What do you want to know about a ancestor, who is now gone? Can you name five ancestors whom you would love to resurrect for an evening, share a meal, and ask them questions about their lives? I share my top five (I actually have more):

  1. Burt MOORE (ca. 1756-1836)—my 4th great grandfather who served as an Indian spy during the American Revolution. After independence was won, he settled in the remote parts of South Carolina. When children and other relatives moved westward, he stayed. What kept him bound to the land on which he lived and died? What was his first wife’s given name?
  2. Bluford FLANARY (ca. 1822 – ca. 1878)—my 2nd great grandfather. He served in the VA State home guard during the Civil War. He had two brothers, named Black and White (really!), who served the Union from KY. The men lived within 100 miles of one another. All three men must have been close as brothers because they named sons after one another. My central question would be “how did these political differences affect their relationships?
  3. Flossie FLANARY (1910-1993)—my grandmother. Her father died when she was seven, leaving her mother to raise six girls alone. Poor to the point of heartbreak, her mother put all six girls to work in fields to pick whatever they could for a few cents a day. My grandmother’s education ended at age 9. She did not go beyond fourth grade. My central question would be “having experienced many hard times (loss of a parent, the Great Depression, divorce, widowhood, …) during your life, which was the most difficult for you? Which one taught you the greatest wisdom about life?
  4. Virginia COLE (1926-1991)—my mother. Dealt with health problems while raising four of her twelve grandchildren, sometimes with only a disability check to support everyone. If she could pick a defining moment in her life, one whereby if that moment had not occurred her life might have turned out differently, what would that moment be? Would she change it if she could?
  5. Joab MOORE (ca. 1855 – ??)—my great grandfather. According to family lore, Joab died in GA on 21 August 1909. He was murdered by a person/persons unknown. When he failed to return home from a cattle buying trip, wife, Mary Lou, asked her sons, Jim, Will, and Henry to go looking for their father. They discovered his body thrown in a ravine along side the road on which he had been traveling. But research points to the “boys,” then grown men and married lived 150 miles apart, two in GA, one in Pickens, SC. In 1909, telephones were sparse in rural South Carolina. So it surely took a couple of days for the brothers to meet, agree to search, and ultimately find their father. The story, as passed down in the family, begs several questions. My central question would be “Tell about your death. How did it occur? When did it occur?”

Of course, these questions are just the start of that fantasy evening of conversation and stories, but they make a point with my audience. As family historians, we have questions about our ancient ancestors and questions about those departed ancestors that we knew. Sadly, we don’t think to ask those questions until after they have died. Our family history is diminished by the missed opportunity. Some questions are basic, but others are a desire for stories—stories that define the person and, by extension, the family with whom they lived.

I think that I can speak for most genealogists on one point: After we die, we hope to leave a legacy of connectedness behind us. Technology now allows us to gather stories and create historical records on par with any written document—if we also apply the methods used by professional oral historians. As genealogists, we search for records, analyze and interpret them, but we don’t think of being able to create an historical record. That is the perspective that I would like for other genealogists to consider. As family historians, we have the opportunity to create an historical record that can reveal the spirit of those lives; fill in gaps in the public/written record; preserve family values and traditions; and help us appreciate the influence of time and place upon our kin and ancestors.

Then, I invite my audience to flip the handout over and during my talk, write the names of living relatives: nieces, nephews, children, in-laws…, let your list continue.

My list of “living ancestors” is longer than the one about dead people. To give you an idea of the kinds of story that can come out of ordinary lives, I’ll share three. Since these are living people, I publish only their initials.

  1. J. R.—career soldier in the U.S. Army. Combat veteran, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mother of an autistic child. When she is deployed overseas, she must leave her son in the care of others, something that is difficult for both mother and son. Both her combat experiences and her family concerns would produce powerful stories.
  2. D. F.—mentally retarded. After living with his mother and grandmother until age 35, he finally achieved independence. He was married, only briefly, with no children. He supported and took care of himself, living alone, with only someone to help him manage his finances. Age and health issues forced him to chose a group home for men like him. Going from living with his mother to independence to modified independence. What made the greatest challenges? How did he feel about giving up full independence? During his youth, there were no special education classes, he attended with regular students. What was his school experience like? Did he feel that being “slow” make him different from other children? Given that he was once married, did he ever desire to have children? (D. F., by the way, has a remarkable memory for places and people’s names.)
  3. P.N.—married at age 15 to an alcoholic. After 20 years marriage, divorced and remained single. What were the most difficult challenges, as a single mom, that she faced after her divorce. How did that relationship change her life? What were her fears about her children growing up in an alcoholic household? How did she deal with those fears.

Who are the “living ancestors” in your life? Ask children about their grandparents, who probably told them stories about the “olden days.” Ask them about what they enjoyed best or least about that grandparent. Interview siblings about parents. Often they can recall events that you have forgotten. How did they see those parents? What stories can they tell about that relationship? Ask them about their own lives? What would they most like to be remembered for?

Record their stories for posterity. Let them tell it in their own words. As family historians, you don’t always have to research in the remote past. Preserve something of the present for those family historians who will follow into your footprints.

© 2007, Sharon Gayle, all rights reserved.

 First printed in The DGS Newsletter, 33(5), May 2008.


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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a service on its website, called the Nationwide Gravesite Locator. The database shows the interments of veterans in more than 120 cemeteries, some national cemeteries. However, some are privately owned or “family cemteries” containing the remains of veterans. For example, I entered the surname FLANARY. The search engine returned 71 names, including information on several veterans of the Civil War. Image my surprise at two of my Civil War finds in private cemeteries:




DATE OF BIRTH: 11/25/1843

DATE OF DEATH: 04/14/1910





DATE OF BIRTH: 11/10/1844

DATE OF DEATH: 07/12/1914


DRYDEN, VA 24243

I had not considered using this site for my Civil War ancestors because they were not buried in a military cemetery. The lesson here is “check your assumptions.” They may be preventing you from locating that elusive record.

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 This book fulfills a long needed addition to Mills’ 1997 effort Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian. Genealogy, as a discipline, has practioners that range from the casual gedcom collector to professional and academic researchers. For the last several decades, there has been a strong movement toward standards in genealogical research, in an effort to gain credibility on par with historians and other social sciences. At 816 pages (884 total pages), reading it from cover to cover is a bit like reading a dictionary, which few of us rarely do.

Judging from the buzz on various mailing lists before the book was released, you might expect that Mills was providing merely a citation style manual  for genealogists. However, the title, Evidence Explained, hints at more. Throughout the text, Mills uses the term “historian” over the use of the term, “genealogist.” This shift in terminology is perhaps in keeping with the direction that the discipline is moving. Additionally, Mills devoted the first chapter to the subject of evaluating sources and evidence contained within them, a subject that still causes confusion for many experienced family historians (i.e., genealogists).

Book Organization 

For those of us who would rather read a novel than a style manual, I recommend reading the first two chapters in their entireity. Both chapters cover general concepts that are prominent in genealogical research and citation writing. The remaining twelve chapters deal with the various types of historical records or artifacts encountered while researching family history.

Starting with Chapter 3, Mills provides the historian with a section, entitled “QuickCheck Models.” These models provide a simple, “view-at-a-glance” template for the various types of records referenced by that chapter. The “QuickCheck” models are easy to locate, appearing on pages with a greyed background to help them standout while looking at the the edge of the book. 


To aid navigation, each chapter’s title page contains a table of contents to the QuickCheck Models. However, supplying a TOC for these brief sections seems unnecessary. The models, themselves, appear one to a page with the desciption (or title) of the model at the top of the page. Rather, the user of the style manual would have been better served if a TOC had been created for the main text of each chapter, which is much more detailed and offers information not provided by the models. (BTW, Chapter 6 does have the desired TOC for the main text.)

Paragraphs within each chapter are identified by a two level numbering system (chapter, paragraph). Mills mentioned that she modeled her manual after the Chicago Style Manual (CSM), which also uses this numbering schema for navigation purposes. Like CSM, Evidence Explained opens each paragraph with a run-in subhead identifying the subject matter of the paragraph. However, nowhere is there a reference or cross-index to the paragraph numbers, themselves, making them somewhat superfluous.

Each chapter contains a section called, “Guidelines and Examples.” This is the major text explaining issues related to each category of sources. Don’t forego reading this part of the text in favor of just using the models. Here, I recommend that the researcher employ the JIT approach to reading. JIT (meaning “just in time”) is a term borrowed from manufacturing whereby parts to make a product are ordered and shipped to the factory “just in time” to assemble the product, saving time and the expense of warehousing a large inventory of parts.

When searching for the most appropriate style template to use—and once you have identified the source type—,read the sub-section labeled “Basic Issues” within the “Guidelines and Examples” section. Then, proceed to the paragraph that describes the specific type of source. (This is where a chapter TOC would have helped.) Reading the “Basic Issues” section will help the researcher see how concepts in citations relate to that specific source.  


Another feature that Mills employed in the text was the use of icons to indicate explanations of citations related to microfilm, computer databases, etc. Mills did not explain this feature in her preface, perhaps thinking that no explanation was necessary. For an example of how these icons are used, refer to page 347. As a matter of fact, the lack of an introduction and orientation to the book seems to be its greatest weakness. Any reference manual—and this book certainly fits that description—should offer the reader an orientation to the conventions used within.

Finally, Mills provided two indexes to the manual. The first is the general index. It offers the best way to apply the JIT principle, sometimes directing you to multiple examples on separate pages. In absence of a chapter table of contents, the index is your only resource for navigating the book. The second index is to the QuickCheck Models only. It is redundant of the general index, which also includes references to the QuickCheck Models. When searching the index(es), be certain that you know which index you are purusing. The two indexes do not have separate page headers.

Despite the above-mentioned weaknesses, it is a monumental and welcomed improvement over earlier works and, no doubt, will help us all become better writers of our family research. I can still recommend it for your bookshelf.

© 2007, Sharon Gayle, all rights reserved.

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I just discovered a web-source that I thought my readers might find useful: Legacy.com. The website offers a free search engine for obituaries. I’ve been unable to determine if this website is associated with the Millenia Corporation which produces the software, Legacy Family Tree.

The search engine scans the obituaries of more than 400 newspapers published in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. Enter a name and it will return matching results. I performed a search on the surname, TANT and got back 26 results in Georgia, which included the surname, TANTON, as well. So the search engine does a “partial name” search. This can be useful for name variants.

If the obituary was published within the last 30 days, you can get the text for free (actually they send you to the newspaper’s webpage where the obituary appears.) However, for older archived obits, you stil can get a copy of the text, but for a fee. I’ve been unable to determine how much they charge for this service. However, you can probably acquire a copy directly from the newspaper. Again, it will likely involve a fee, but perhaps less than charged by Legacy.com. Follow this link to access Legacy.com’ Obituaries Search Page.

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