When I was little I often heard stories of my mother’s ancestors. I knew that some of my granddaddy’s family, my mother’s paternal line, had been prominent members of the City of Memphis, having been involved with the Memphis Police Department and the Memphis Court System (the Richards family). I also knew that in her paternal line was at least one famous person (Jacques-Timothée Boucher, Sieur de Montbrun, aka Timothy Demonbreun). I didn’t know much about my grandmother’s family, my mom’s maternal line.
I also knew nothing about my father’s family. Not one thing.
Back in 2000 I tracked down my father, Roger Dale Ray, after not having any contact with him for roughly 15 years. The phone conversation was short and it basically consisted of me asking about his family and him telling me he knew nothing. He had been adopted young and claimed to not remember anything or know anything (though, I later learned that this was false). Not long after this conversation I moved to Colorado and lost his phone number. After moving back to Georgia I took up my search to find him again, but was never successful. I never spoke to him again. In late 2009 I learned that he had passed away on June 23, 2007 in Knoxville, Tennessee. I never realized how close I lived to him.
Last year, in 2010, NBC aired the show Who Do You Think You Are? It sparked an interest and I began my search for my father’s family again. I called my mom and she knew a few tidbits of his birth family. She knew that my father’s birth name was Robert Jewell Vincent and that he had been born in Madisonville, Kentucky. She knew he had a brother named Bobby Joe and another brother (who, incidentally, she had actually met once when her and my father went to Madisonville and just happened to run into him walking along the sidewalk). She also knew that there were several boys adopted out and that the Rays, the family that adopted my father, had initially wanted to adopt the baby girl, but the family had said no, that she wasn’t up for adoption, only the boys. That was pretty much it. So I Googled “Bobby Joe Vincent” and immediately, sadly, found his obituary. I had missed out on talking to him by just a few weeks. I decided to go ahead and find a phone number for him. I called and spoke with his wife who put me in contact with his sister, the baby girl that the Rays wanted to adopt. When she called me I was pretty excited. She was able to tell me a little bit, but I hadn’t really planned out what to ask (since I did all of this on a whim). She told me a few things, like the other siblings that had been adopted and a few things about her family. I was able to find the other brother that my mom had mentioned, but I have yet to speak with him other than emails.
In January of this year (2011) I had my son. I’m not sure what it was, but it suddenly became very important to find out more about my father’s family. I grew up knowing nothing and I didn’t want my son to experience that. When I saw an advertisement on TV for a free trial to Ancestry, I signed up. I didn’t quite know how to use it and was disappointed when I couldn’t find anything right off. I gave up on it, thinking I would probably never find anything. I couldn’t shake the feeling, though, that I needed to keep looking. So I looked at Ancestry again and discovered that if I start a tree then it is much easier to find the information. Using my husband’s credit card I signed up for the free trial again. This time I started a tree. Using the information I had from my mother regarding my father’s family, and using the information I had from Bobby Joe’s obituary, I started searching. Bobby Joe’s obituary had listed his parents as “Albert Tracey and Mildred (Rose) Vincent” of Madisonville, Kentucky. Well, I couldn’t find an Albert and Mildred Vincent anywhere. I sent an email to the sister asking if I had the names correct. She replied that her mother’s name was Louise M Rose Vincent and she only knew her father as “Shorty”. Well, that cleared it up. I had seen several member tree’s that had an Elbert Tracey “Shorty” Vincent. I chose two of those trees and sent messages to the owners asking if their Elbert was my Albert.
I suddenly had aunts, uncles and cousins that were as excited to know about me as I was to know about them. I finally had a link to a whole slew of people that could tell me about the Vincent family, good and bad. I finally had something I could tell my kid so he would never wonder the way I have.
Louise still remains somewhat of a mystery, though I have recently been in contact with her niece and her family. I can’t wait to learn more about her!
Through the use of Ancestry, along with Family Search, GenForum and Rootsweb, along with various other sites scattered about the internet, I have also found more about my mother’s lines and I have worked hard on clearing up some mysteries on both her maternal and paternal sides.
Since starting my genealogy research I have learned some pretty interesting lessons:
- Just because people claim to have the information you are looking for doesn’t mean that they do. There are people out there that will make stuff up in their heads and pass it off as fact.
- Just because you are researching the same family lines as someone else does not mean that they will be helpful or forthcoming with information. I have encountered many people who seem to want to keep everything to themselves, though I am not sure why. I have a feeling it may have something to do with ego, but I have been wrong before.
- Research and citations are your friend. The deeper you can get into research, the better. Just make sure to have the proof of what you present because there are people out there who will challenge you.
- If someone does challenge you, and they can show that you are mistaken, be gracious. I recently had an email encounter concerning a death record. When I contacted a distant cousin to let her know what I discovered she responded with (what seemed to me) a hateful email (though it is hard to read inflection), disgusted that the informant of the death certificate and that county allowed it, adamant that it was incorrect and offering proof that it is wrong (which I still have not received). In this particular case it seems to me that it was hard for her to accept the fact that not everyone in the bloodlines was “moral”. Unfortunately, sometimes digging will just bring up some less than appealing information.
- Receiving information will take longer than you expect. When you send away for vital records it may take a long, long time for you to get them. Unless you are dealing with Mississippi, in which case it’s about a 4 day turnaround.
- If you end up testing your DNA in hopes of filling in some blanks, do not expect everyone you match up with to respond to you. Really. I was pretty surprised at how many people offered up their contact information on Family Tree DNA and GEDMatch that I share a very significant portion of DNA with that haven’t responded to my emails or they have responded, but have no interest in comparing trees to see if more information could be found. I mean, why did you agree to have your contact information viewable by matches if you didn’t want to be contacted? I, myself, have only been contacted by two people so far, though I share large clumps of DNA with several people…enough DNA that GEDMatch and Family Tree DNA estimate the relationship as 2nd cousins (in which case I am VERY interested in having contact with these people and seeing how on earth I am matching up with so many in Texas and California that closely in relationship estimates).
My research experiences led to Digging Up Your Family. Having been a blogger for many years now, with both my personal blog and an art blog (the latter which has suffered greatly as a result of genealogy taking up a lot of my free time), it just seemed natural for me to start a genealogy blog. I wanted to put the information that I found out into the internet world, in hope that people who may be researching could easily find it. I also have hope that if I am wrong on something then someone will step forward and help correct it. I am also hopeful that people are willing to contact me with stories.
Though most every person I write about is directly related to me, I am willing to put information out about other’s families, also. I think it is very important for people to have the ability to easily find their ancestors and the stories about them. I have noticed that just tracking people and dates seems to be all some people care about, but to me the stories of our ancestors sometimes end up helping to weaving our stories, also.
I know the research into my family will continue for a long, long time. It seems as though I discover more intriguing stories concerning ancestors we previously knew nothing about nearly every week. The research is slow going, but it sure is fun!