Ancestry Research, Again

Once again, I’m in the midst of ancestry research, after being contacted by a relative in Arkansas that wanted to share information on my father’s family.  Each of us has done quite a bit of ancestry work, and it makes perfect sense for us to collaborate and share what we have done on this particular line in the family.  I’ve also been working on some other family lines, too.

I first began ancestry research in earnest after my brother died in 2007.  Some events during that sad time pointed to the fact that we really needed to get our family history documented somewhere, and I realized I had the opportunity to leverage my aging mother’s memory of such things, especially since she had some old family photos that we needed to preserve.

I created a family tree at Ancestry online for the first time in 2007 in memory of my brother, and I will never regret that decision.  My sister scanned the old photos, and I edited them as best I could and even learned how to “rebuild” some areas in a few photos in the process.  I bought a six-month research membership, and I used it almost daily for that entire time.

I was honestly quite surprised at how much good information I was able to glean at Ancestry.  Many times, I would find a piece of information and ask my mother about it, which would jog her memory to confirm the details.  I learned of family members that I never even knew about and new details about others as well.  It was such a fascinating experience, and it was a great way for me, my mother and my sister to honor my brother in the process.

Finally, at the end of that initial six month period, I felt that I had exhausted the available resources at Ancestry for the paid membership, and I mostly put it aside for several years.  On occasion, I would purchase a single month membership, just to check to see if any new information popped up.

After being contacted by this relative a couple of weeks ago, I have once again purchased a research membership, and my goodness, there is so much more information available now.  I have already made some great updates to many people in the tree, and I’ve also been able to work through some “dead-end” tree issues through other member trees that were not available a few years ago.  The 1940 census information is also available now and was not available the last time I did research online.

I’m once again “hooked” on this little project, at least for a while.  The standard membership is a somewhat limited membership, but it is all I need for now.  Having access to other member trees, grave site records and the available census data will get me the information I want at this time, and I can always go back later on to add public records and other information that is available with a more expensive membership.  Over the years, I have also found plenty of errors, especially in the transcription of census data.  It is certainly understandable, and I try to file corrections online when I find them for the benefit of future researchers.

Hubby's great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother!
Hubby’s great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother.  They are buried, along with most of hubby’s other grandparents, in the same cemetery in a remote location in another part of the state.  That cemetery is now has a state historical marker, and it was a truly fabulous find, especially the fact that this photo is such a good one, considering they were both born in the early 1800’s.

The biggest score in this most recent round of research has been tracing my husband’s family back to his great-great grandfather for certain.  And of all things, I even found a good photo of him and his wife!  If you’ve ever done ancestry research, perhaps you can appreciate what a great find that was.

My grandmother (right) and her sister (left) as young women, most likely taken around 1910
My grandmother (right) and her younger sister (left) as young women, most likely taken around 1910.  I spent quite a bit of time restoring this photo a few years ago.

I also found the burial site of my dear grandmother’s younger sister at last.  They were very close but were separated after their mother died at a young age from a ruptured appendix.  I actually had to call cemeteries in California in the area where she lived at the time of her death to locate it, since that cemetery has not yet acquired volunteers to catalog their sites online.  My grandmother and this sister were very close, despite the long distance between them for many years, the distance between west Texas and northern California, which I certainly understand these days myself.  As it turns out, she lived and was buried with her husband in a cemetery that is not too terribly far from where my daughter now lives.  I sent that information to my daughter, and she was excited to know there was some close family history in her area.  She said it “made her day” and plans to go check it out sometime when she is in the area.

If you’ve ever considered ancestry research, I highly recommend subscribing at Ancestry for a month, just to give it a try to get a basic tree online.  You may provide some missing links for someone else, and you will find that you can make a lot of progress quickly, too.  Just *be very careful* and review all records for accuracy before attaching them to an ancestor’s record.  If in doubt, just throw it in your “shoebox” there.  The little green leaves are just suggestions.  I open every census document and review it myself.  Your tree and all information you find will be kept there permanently, and you will always have access to it, even when you no longer pay for a research membership.  It has been a fabulous tool for us, and our wonderful tree is something that I will always treasure.

At some point, I will have to hand off administration of this tree, hopefully to a family member that loves ancestry research as much as I do now.  Much time and effort has gone into it, and much more will go into it over time, too.  It is truly a priceless treasure.

Making progress in my research has also been a great way for me to honor my mother in a personal way right now.  She was all about family, and it seems quite fitting to now continue this project in her honor.  Researching my ancestors has brought back many fond memories from 2007 when she helped so much with this project.  That was a very meaningful time with Mom, one that I will forever cherish, and it is giving me a good deal of comfort right now to return to this project once again.

Note:  If you would like to look for the burial location of a family member or friend, check out Find A Grave.  It’s totally free to use anytime.

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Great-Grandmother Sarah Jane

I am participating in a study on Wednesday evenings for the next few weeks with some other ladies at my church, studying “The Patriarchs” by Beth Moore, and it is a really good study.  As I worked on my homework last night, I read about Sarai becoming Sarah and Beth’s amazing description of how God blessed her, in addition to his blessing of Abraham.  At the age of 90, God gave her this new name that means “Princess.”  That is a post unto itself, and it would be good for me to write about it.  But, as I closed out that section on Sarah in the study, my thoughts drifted to my own “Princess Sarah,” my great-grandmother, Sarah Jane.

When I follow my closest and most “precious-to-me” lineage in my family tree, I am following the ladies on my mother’s side.  I know it is more customary for some people to put an emphasis on the father’s lineage, and while that is also very special to me, it does not hold the tender place in my heart that the ladies in my mother’s lineage hold.  Truthfully, I only ever knew my own mother (who is still alive at age 91) and her mother, but how I wish I had known Sarah Jane in person, too.

If I could make any reasonable assumptions about Sarah Jane based on my grandmother, she would be an amazingly kind and caring soul that I would certainly have treasured to have in my life for however long she lived.  My mother has also told me a couple of times just how much my grandmother adored her, too.  You see, Sarah Jane died in the southern part of the Chickasaw Indian Territory of Oklahoma a few days after an appendicitis surgery that was performed on her at their home when she was only 46 years old.  Her mother, Minerva – my great, great-grandmother, also died at a young age of 39 in Kentucky.  So it is a fact that my precious grandmother that I adored so much in my early life really never had her own mother and grandmother in her own life for very long, since Sarah Jane died when she was just 13 years old and Minerva died many years before she was even born.  It almost makes me feel guilty for having my own mother still in my life and quite healthy at age 91, and it also speaks volumes to me about why family was always the focal point of my grandmother’s life.  When I think of family values, I think of my dear grandmother’s loving example above all because I think it was instilled in her at an early age by Sarah Jane.

My grandmother's handwriting at the top of the newspaper article
My grandmother’s handwriting at the top of the newspaper obituary for Sarah Jane

We only have one photograph of Sarah Jane, an early photograph with her young family, including my grandmother as a small child, but it has meant the world to me to have it.  We also know much about great-grandmother Sarah Jane’s death, thanks to an actual detailed newspaper clipping passed on to my mother that a friend of Sarah Jane’s wrote about her passing.  I have a copy of it that I read often, just to remind me of what is most important in life.  I am ever thankful for this unknown friend that made sure that Sarah Jane’s story didn’t die along with her because if not for that article, I don’t think Sarah Jane’s full story surrounding her death would have ever made it to me.  Except for a few ancestral details, this is all I really know about my great-grandmother.  But if I could know anything about her, this is what I would most want to know.  The article is just amazing to me, as it told specifics about her last moments on this earth before she died, but what I dearly love is that she was described as…

“… a sweet Christian lady who lived what she professed.” 

The article continues and states that Sarah Jane was “almost an invalid” for the last few years of her life for some unstated reason but that she kept trying to live “for the sake of her family.”  That included my sweet, young thirteen year-old grandmother, and while I can only speculate how deeply this loss impacted her at that time, I believe my grandmother did her best to continue her own mother’s legacy of love for the rest of her life.

The article then tells about the final minutes of Sarah Jane’s life with the following statement that I have since memorized just like a treasured bible verse.

“After calling her [seven] children to her bedside and admonishing them to meet her in Heaven, she put her trust and life in the Lord’s care.”

Somehow, I think Sarah Jane’s admonishment is meant for all of us who followed her as her descendants, not just her own children.  I know that it was my grandmother’s wish, and I also know it is my mother’s wish, too.  This legacy of motherly love and a firm desire to pass on their faith in God is what has always stood out to me when I think about these special ladies, my closest and dearest ancestors.  When I think about my male ancestors, I do not have any memory of such things, with the exception of my father’s acceptance of Jesus Christ much later in his own life.  But even after his conversion, he was a very private man and never spoke much about his faith to me or anyone else, even though I could see its’ manifestation in some of the things he did, especially for the poor and for his church.  No, the legacy of faith passed to me has most definitely been from the mothers on my own mother’s side.  And what a beautiful legacy it is.

I am thankful today for a Godly heritage from three wonderful and beautiful women, including Sarah Jane.  God help me to live up to their examples and admonishments and impart the same desires to my own descendants.

And to the unnamed friend who penned her obituary, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and hope to give you a big hug someday, as your words have been an unspeakable and life-changing blessing to me over the past few years.  You are the ultimate friend.

The last sentence of Sarah Jane's obituary - by an unnamed friend
The last sentence of Sarah Jane’s obituary – by an unnamed friend

I first began ancestry research back in 2007 after the death of my older brother, and I did it as a way to give a living memorial to him and help me deal with my grief, since no one in our family had done any research that I was aware of at that time.  It has blessed me many times, and I highly encourage anyone who is even remotely interested to explore their own ancestors and their stories.

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“Sometimes I get to places just when God’s ready for someone to click the shutter.”
— Ansel Adams

Please forgive me for using “Fotos” instead of “Photos.”  Thank you.  It worked with my “Five F’s,” and I thought it was cute.

Now that the apologies are out of the way, I want to introduce my favorite hobby… digital photography and photo editing!  Just typing those words makes me happy.

I confess that I am a newbie as of late 2007 to the non-point-and-shoot club.  Both my husband and I always wanted to delve into quality photography, and early in our marriage, we invested in a Pentax 35mm camera set.

Our first good camera, purchased in about 1985, I believe

Neither of us ever really got the hang of it, though, due to time and money constraints.  Experimenting with rolls and rolls of film and developing costs for that film just did not fit into our early marriage budget.  Ultimately, the camera made it’s way to the top of a closet, and that was it for our first attempt at photography.  From time to time, we continued to look at good digital SLR cameras, but we never bought one.  Something was starting to swell in me about pursuing photography, though, and I think my husband picked up that I was really serious this time.

Fast forward to Christmas Day, 2007.

I try to not put treasure in earthly things.  I really do.  But I must confess that when I opened my gift from my husband that Christmas that I was just blown away… really and truly.  With my family eagerly watching, I unwrapped my new Canon Digital Rebel XTi, (detailed info) the most current Canon DSLR at that time.  If I didn’t cry, I know that I wanted to very badly.  I never realized until I opened the box just how much I wanted to explore photography.  Now that I have experimented with it for almost three years, I think I know why.

I am a “visual” person.  If you want me to learn something new, you will do well to give it to me in writing and not tell me verbally because I am 1000 times more likely to pick it up that way. I am often mesmerized by the sight of something, and honestly, that can be almost anything…. a beautiful sunset, a hummingbird at the feeder, a homeless person on the street, a new baby right after he is born, or my big ol’ poodle taking a nap.  It’s like there is something that resonates inside and says, “This moment is special and needs to be preserved because it won’t come again.” This has been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember.  It is why I now take 150 pictures at my great-nephew’s birthday party.

Just look at those eyelashes and the Indiana Jones hat!

I truly believe that sometimes God is “nudging” me in what I see, so that I will wake up and take notice what he has laid before me to appreciate or notice that something needs to change.  My opening quote by Ansel Adams is my absolute favorite thought regarding photography in general, and I plan to talk more about by budding love “no color” photography at some point, too.

Part of my desire to take good pictures also stems from the experience of trying to preserve the photos of my parents… the only visual record of our family from those days.

My grandmother (right) and her sister (left) as young women, most likely taken around 1910. Her sister looks exactly like one of my cousins as a young woman.

Both my sister and I have worked on this project, and we still have more work to do.  Bless her heart, my sister sat at a scanner and literally scanned hundred of old paper photos.  I have worked to restore some of them digitally as best I can.  And we are still trying to figure out the best (and most affordable) way to preserve hundreds of slides.  But, the reward of having our oldest family pictures preserved in a better format is very rewarding indeed.  Someday, I believe that younger family members will appreciate having our quality pictures in digital format, already organized in an online database can also be searched with relative ease.  Perhaps not.  But, I will have one there for them, just in case.

The art of photography, for me, is moving the image and feeling (especially the feeling) that is so vivid in my mind to the digital image that others see, and doing it as accurately as possible.

Our big ol’ baby, now 13 years old on a “dog day afternoon”

I needed better equipment to accomplish this feat, including digital imaging software.  When I opened that camera on Christmas Day in 2007, I knew that was the first step to making a dream come true… helping others to see what I see and even understand a bit more about who I really am and what my values are.

While equipment is very important, there are techniques for good photography that can be applied to any camera, including my trusty little point-and-shoot and even my phone camera.  Even most of the basic point-and-shoot cameras today have untapped capabilities beyond what most people care to explore.  I still have a Nikon point-and-shoot camera in my purse at all times, so I’ll explore more on this topic here, too.

I have learned much, but I still have much, much more to learn.  It is all pure joy, too.  Grab your camera and come along for the journey!

Visually yours,

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“Families are like fudge… mostly sweet with a few nuts.”
— Author Unknown

I am a child of God, and I know where I come from.

I am a grandchild to pioneering grandparents and great-grandparents that set out to this part of the country in search of the best life they could find for their families.

I am a daughter to a hard-working father, now deceased, who owned a small trucking company, and a life-long stay-at-home mother who still holds the title, “Best Cook Ever,” and made pie crusts from scratch.

I am a sibling to an older brother, now deceased, and an older sister, my longest and dearest friend.

I am an aunt to some great nephews and their wives.

I am a great-aunt to some truly amazing kids that are all wonderfully unique.

I am a niece to some spontaneous and fun-loving aunts and uncles that helped to raise me. All but one aunt are now deceased.

I am a cousin to some wonderful cousins. One died much too early, and his untimely death changed me, and our extended family dynamics, forever.

I am the wife of a loving, smart, funny, opinionated, kind and complicated man that I have known since I was 13 years old. I am still trying to figure him out.

I am the mother to the two most beautiful and brilliant children to ever walk on the face of the earth. Yes, you heard it here first.

With the exception of God, none of us are, or ever have been perfect. Especially yours truly.  Just ask those closest to me.  (Just don’t tell my dog.  He thinks I am perfect.)

We have laughed, cried, fought, made up, celebrated and mourned together. We have had our disagreements and have them still, if you can somehow believe that. We have dropped everything when one of us was rushed to the hospital. We have spent hours on the phone together. We have looked at thousands and thousands of family pictures and tried to figure out just how to convert old slides to digital. We have enjoyed sandwiches and chips on Christmas Eve together after a pan of chicken spaghetti exploded on top of the stove.  We have researched family history and tried to preserve what we can for those to come after us. We have tried to figure out what the doctor can’t seem to figure out. We have wished for days gone by. We have struggled with loved ones with serious addictions.  We have wished for kids to grow up. We have mourned the fact that kids are grown up. We have consumed millions of calories together. We have hosted hundreds of birthday parties. We have made the decision that we needed a break for a little while. We have prayed thousands of prayers for one another. We have brought our children to God and asked Him to guide and protect them. We fought back the tears when we watched kids walk down the aisle at graduations and weddings. We have hauled gifts hundreds of miles so that we could celebrate one single Christmas in the mountains together. We have gotten up at sunrise to go water skiing while the water was still smooth and were rewarded with breakfast afterward. We have wondered if our country is headed toward prosperity or disaster. We have bailed each other out. We have not bailed each other out. We have attended countless kids’ ball games and concerts and recitals.  We swelled with pride at Carnegie Hall watching one of our own on the stage.  We have struggled with how to care for aging parents. We have played countless card games and domino games and board games. We have made some hard decisions that have not been popular. We have proud memories, and we have regrets. We have wondered how in the world Mother will survive without Daddy. We have watched Mother survive without Daddy. We have spent countless hours on the internet researching various diseases that have sprung in our midst. We have picked and shelled black-eyed peas together. We have eaten black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.  We have screamed to God when we didn’t understand.  We have worked long hours in our jobs and sacrificed the things we wanted to do for the things we needed to do.  We have stayed up past midnight or risen before sunrise cooking for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter meals. We have disappointed each other and hurt each other.  We have worried and prayed for a way to pay the bills when the money was not in our accounts.  We have loved deeply.  We have spontaneously jumped on an airplane after dinner to see a newborn niece across the state without packing a single thing to take along.  We held the hand of the most special man on earth and prayed and cried as he passed from this life to the arms of Jesus.  We have marveled at the letter written by great-grandmother, imploring her children to meet her in Heaven as she was dying.  We have done hundreds of other things together, both good and not so good.

It’s complicated, and it’s simple.  We are family.

One of the last pictures of my “angel” brother

Waiting for the glorious day in Heaven when we will all be united again.

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