In one of my first posts I described how I had benefited by the genealogical research of my father Donald Winegar and my aunt Betty Daniells. Both spent years in their retirement gathering data on our family history. My father left written acounts of his memories of his parents and grandparents.
I recently came across his account of his search for his “Carolina Cousins.” In his mother’s photos he found pictures taken in 1910 or 1911 in Michigan. On the back of one was written, “Stephenson cousins from Carolina” and the names of three children Lola, Jim and Daisy. One of the pictures included my father as a baby in a stroller. George S. Stephenson, the children’s father, did not visit Michigan with his family, but his name was known. The only other thing that my father knew about the family was that the boy, Jim, had been accidentally electrocuted at the age of 21.
Sixty years after the pictures were taken and after the death of his parents, Donald began work on the genealogy of the Stephenson family. He was fortunate to have the family Bible of his great-grandfather, George Wold Stephenson (now in my possession), which contains a great deal of family data, but it offered no help in identifying George S. On two different trips through the Carolinas he made inquiries but without success. Marriage records were kept by county, and he didn’t even know whether the family was from North or South Carolina. The only son of the Carolina cousins had died young, and the sisters had married and had different last names. Some time later, Donald found in his mother’s old address book an entry that said, “Carrie Stephenson, Rawley N.C.” On the assumption that George had died in Raleigh, Wake County, N.C., he wrote for a death certificate and received it. The name of the person who informed the undertaker of the death was J.R. Hayes. Through directory assistance, he found a listing for Mrs. J. R. Hayes. The person who answered was a grandchild of Mrs. Hayes who referred him to another number where, to his amazement, the phone was answered by the son of George S. Stephenson. Donald learned that George S. was the son of a brother of Donald’s grandfather. He was able to establish contact with his cousins and fill in a great deal of the family history.
This long search illustrates the excitement and frustrations of genealogical research. It also shows how research had to be conducted in the past. Donald wrote hundreds of letters searching for information. He traveled to state capitals and searched phone books when he traveled. Aunt Betty’s research was similar. She corresponded with researchers all over the country and paid many to study Census data and other documents on site. She traveled to England and viewed original documents there.
The internet has made a huge impact on the study of genealogy. Census data up through 1930 is now online. Social Security death records since 1939 are on line. I keep my data in Family Tree Maker which is connected to Ancestry.com. No sooner then I enter a name into the file then a ” leaf” pops up indicating information is available for that person.
Genealogical research is still just as exciting and rewarding as in the past. It’s just much faster. Some of the research that took years for my dad and aunt can be done almost instantaneously. Data that was unknown in the past is now available. In spite of that, the thrill of the search and excitement of making new connections is still there. In the last couple of months since I began my blog, Sandra and I have made many exciting discoveries. Not every question is quickly answered. We keep raising new questions and beginning new searches. We just returned from a vacation in Michigan where we visited five different cemeteries where my ancestors are burried. We learned that the old methods of collecting information still have great value. We learned things in this visit that we couldn’t find online yet. One thing that is for sure is that our greatest source of information is still our parents and older family members. Donald regretted starting his Carolina Cousins search after his parents were gone. It might have saved him years of frustration. Contacts that we have made during our travels still open new avenues for searching and bring us in contact with interesting people with similar interests.