Why I “Do” Genealogy

I’ve mentioned before that I had a genealogist in the family, but my incentive to start digging was a sense of my own mortality. My parents separated when I was fifteen months old, and my mother moved us from Henry County, Georgia, back to Rock Island County, Illinois, shortly thereafter. One result of that was my total ignorance of half of my family medical history. Once I had the time and opportunity to do some sleuthing (thanks to the internet and my first Family Tree Maker program) it became more and more like eating really good potato chips.

It started with medical history: my father died of liver failure (good to know), and my surviving aunt told me that my paternal grandfather also had a bad liver although that didn’t kill him. Now I pay much more attention to possible liver damage when it’s mentioned among the side effects of drugs.

Next I thought to follow my Y chromosome a little further back, and found many of the nuts-and-bolts facts back to my 2nd great-grandfather, Colville Babb, and was introduced to the work of Jean Sargent and Robert E. Babb, among many others, who did this stuff before computers and went clear back to Phillip Babb when he was the harbor master on Hog Island in the Isles of Shoals in the 1600s. They did this stuff before computers! They crawled through church records and court houses and kept track of it all with note cards! Yeah, Robert said that Joseph’s youngest son was born in 1791, years after Joseph was dead, but he was doing this stuff with note cards!

I found that my great uncle Claude was killed in Belleau Wood serving with the 1st Bn. of the 5th Marines. I’ve deployed twice with elements of 1/5! Plus, Claude was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French before he fell!

I found that those two little girls in Colville’s family after the war were Thomas’ daughters. Thomas didn’t survive the war, and his wife remarried but then died in childbirth and the girls were returned to his family. One of them married my great-grandmother’s brother.

I also found that another great-granduncle was a medic during the war, and I’m a retired medic.

Where does one stop? When does one stop asking the next question? I have no idea; I’m still digging. I’m still finding stuff about my maternal grandfather (adopted by his stepfather but inherited Huntingtons from his biological father) and adding what I can to the work on my mother’s family; and I’ve barely started on my father’s famly.


A Low-Key Celebration of Sorts

Not a huge fan of self-congratulatory posts; but just found out this blog has been added to Cyndi’s List, and that’s kind of a big deal to me.

When I first started poking around in genealogy I had the opportunity to sit in while my cousin, Olive Batcher, interviewed my mother about her recollections as the sole surviving child of my grandmother for her book, Hill-Wallace Family History. Olive came with boxes of photographs (Mom shared some of hers, too). They talked for hours, and Olive carefully sourced and identified everything.

Later, I met Olive in Ames, Iowa, and we drove up to Story County, Iowa, where she walked me through the genealogical section of their library in Nevada looking for Washburns and Stemlers. Again, she emphasized the importance of sourcing, ideally from primary data. Not a fan at all of internet genealogy, she cautioned me against relying on anything that I hadn’t carefully checked myself for accuracy.

She also mentioned another genealogist she had heard speak at a gathering of genealogists a few years ealier: Jean Sargent. Jean, of course, had coincidentally written Babb Families of America, so I had one role model recommending the other to me.

I am conscious, especially when posting anywhere for the public, of the potential for misinformation, and I do try to source as much from primary documents as possible. It’s not that I care about being correct for the folks copying from my trees, but that I don’t want to be an embarrassment to Jean or to Olive, or to misinform the people I hope will use my trees to inform themselves about their families.

Don’t know if they just read my blog or my trees or what, but now I’m on Cyndi’s List; and I take that for what it’s worth, and will try not to embarrass anyone.

It’s a Process

Just knocked out five more batches/pages of census index. I’ve entered more than 3400 names so far, and was starting to get a little cocky about it, but then I met an enumerator who knew just where to hit me where it would hurt.

After the first couple of pages of his, I ¬†got to where I could read his writing most of the time. I managed a 95% conformance on the first page despite his switching between names and abbreviations, ditto marks and slashes, etc.He never did indicate who the source of information was, but it’s too late to track him down for a reprimand now.

As I got into the pages where he started entering the Head by last name and initials, I started to take it a little personally. Then he stopped recording the first names of the wives. Seriously, the Head might be, for example, “Jones”, “K C”, and the wife would then be “Jones”, “K C”, “Mrs”. A whole page like that. If you have a relative in Brooks County, Georgia, I just indexed what he wrote; after that, you’re on your own. (Son of a gun; I was supposed to mark the field for Mrs. Jones’ given name “Blank” and put the “Mrs” in the next field. Dang!)

I was thinking again today about what the enumerators had to write with. Consider that the ballpoint pen wasn’t patented in Britain until 1938, and didn’t go on sale in the U.S. until 1948. All of the letters I’ve found from my father to my mother were written in pencil. My first fountain pen, a Sheaffer, back in 1957 or so, siphoned ink from a bottle into a reservoir, although by high school they had those cartridges of ink you could carry around. I’m a little more forgiving of some of the smudges on the census sheets, but only a little.

I don’t know at what point the census process began to be automated. I think I read that one of the earliest mainframes was delivered in time for 1950 census, so maybe indexing will be obsolete after this. At least in our process I believe there have been two indexers who have either agreed on their transcription or an arbitrator has adjudicated the differences. Can’t imagine what the first automated census is going to come out looking like. Remember in 2000 a little hanging “chad” screwed up a Presidential election.

I need to reread the rules of indexing. I’d have done better than 95% but was gigged because I took the liberty of correcting the enumerator’s work. For instance, he wrote something starting with an “Moult….” in “Colqui..” county, which I transcribed as Moultrie in Colquitt. I’m sure the arbitrator was correct because you can’t just have every indexer in the process doing their own “corrections,” but it didn’t feel right to leave it wrong. I’m sending myself back to school as penance.