What Can the Living Tell you?
By Jan Edwards
When I first began Family History it was in March of 1994. For many when they say they have been doing family history for twenty years it means off and on for twenty years I have done some research.
Then there are people like me that say I have been doing family history for twenty years. Meaning for the last twenty years seven days a week, most waking hours I am doing Family History!
When I first began, the internet was just becoming popular. I did not even have a computer. My first system cost $2500, and now a $9.00 back to school jump drives holds 100 times more information than the hard drive of that computer.
We had dial-up. I used to click on a record and go iron a shirt while it loaded. The noise dial-up made I will never forget. Then the dot matrix printers. Oh, the noises those two made together!
Family history at that time even online is nothing like today. Our big goal was sharing a gedcom! How cool was that to share a gedcom anywhere in the world. We had e-mail and made fun of snail mail!
Then everyone started indexing records and putting the indexes online, but my great love at that time was still going to the Family History Center in Salt Lake. Yes I’m there when they open the library. I don’t eat. I don’t take a break at all during library hours and cringe at the loud speaker saying “please put all film, fische and books away as the library will be closing!” So once again, when I say I go to the center for a week, it means a full week.
I decided one trip to work on one of my third great grandfather, Jacob Joshua Stauffer. I am a huge fan of Louis L'amour books especially the series with the family called “The Sacketts.” Jacob Joshua happened to be married to Rachel Mahala Sackett! I wanted to know all I could about this family.
So I researched, and it was hard research. Nothing was indexed. It was film after film, and finally I began to realize that Jacob had been married before. By the end of hours and hours of searching I had learned that Jacob had been married three times. I was so proud of myself and all those hard, dedicated hours searching endlessly.
I decided to stop on the way home in Oregon to visit my grandmother and share my amazing, professional, time consuming hard work. I was pretty puffed up at how good I was getting with research.
I said to her, “Grandma, I have been researching Jacob Joshua Stauffer!” She said “Oh yes, great grandpa was married three times. Let me see, his first wife was Mary James. That marriage didn’t last long. She had a young son that died and just never could get over it. I believe they married in Adams County, Illinois, not Pike.”
Then she said, “His next marriage was to my grandmother, Rachel Mahala Sackett, I think that date was in 1862. Grandma died at the age of 40, I believe.” She continued, “Grandpa then married Mary Herriman a year after Rachel died in Pike County in 1882, I think it was. She is the mother of my Uncle Harry. I just loved that guy.”
I had just had my ego bubble busted! In less than 5 minutes, my grandma had told me more than I learned in 14 hours of six days of research! It is so important to talk to the living! They do know things. Sometimes the stories have changed with the times. Sometimes the story gets altered on purpose. Sometimes family do not want their skeletons let out of the closets! Sometimes the stories are pure wacko, but there is still huge value in talking to the living.
Some information if not gleaned from the memory of those that know will be gone forever when they die. There are some great articles on how to interview the living. My motto has always been the deader the better, but the living have value. Oral Histories is great article on how to do an interview! The Dessert News had a great article on 150 questions to ask!
So take time. Make time for a good visit with those that just may know! Always try and document, verify and prove the stories given. The truths may be twisted. The memory may be faded. That same grandmother went to her grave arguing with me that my Uncle Everett was born in 1900 when I had a copy of his birth certificate in my hand that said 1899!
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