October is officially named Family History Month, but for some of us, that’s every month in the year. We’re constantly looking for more information on all the people whose genes combined to make us the unique individuals we are, yet we still marvel at how certain traits — the shape of our noses, the color of our eyes and hair, the funny way some of our fingernails curl over our fingertips when they reach a certain length — carry forward through the generations to remind us that we have a genetic pathway that leads back through the centuries. It’s awe-inspiring to consider, and I think that may be what draws me to genealogy and history the most.
(Side note: I wasn’t kidding about the fingernails. My late mother’s curled like that, and so do mine, and so did my late niece’s.)
For me, October is a perfect month to celebrate my family heritage. Mama’s birthday is Oct. 12; my eldest granddaughter’s is Oct. 2; my sister’s and my grand-nephew’s are Oct. 16; and the most recent addition to our family, who will be officially adopted on Oct. 26, was born on Oct. 19.
Man, I love October!
Not long ago, I checked a website called Find A Grave (www.findagrave.com), where volunteers upload photos of tombstones and additional information if they have it. You have to be careful to verify the info through other sources, though, so if you take a notion to use it, don’t take everything as written in stone, if you’ll pardon the pun. Even grave markers have errors, as I discovered years ago when I visited the graves of one set of great-grandparents and saw that my great-grandmother’s birth date would have meant she was a child when she gave birth to her children. I had the family Bible to check dates as well as census records and her obituary so it didn’t take long to figure out what was correct. Not everyone who posts additional information has the correct data, either, so you must be vigilant in confirming it. That’s true of any source.
Knowing Mama’s birthday was near, I decided to search Find A Grave for her ancestors in Virginia to add to my family file. I found nothing on her dad’s family, but when I searched for her mother’s family, an entire new world opened up. I could not believe my eyes when I saw grave markers that were mostly legible from at least four generations beyond Mama’s grandparents, who moved to Blount County from Virginia around 1921. One of the features of Find A Grave is that the person who submits the information can also link the markers of related family members, if known — spouse, parents, children — and you can follow that rabbit trail, as well.
I was surprised when I found the entries for Mama’s paternal great-grandparents. The contributor, a very distant relative, is obviously a genealogist. Not only had he put photos of the markers, he also put a photo of both of these people and copies of their obituaries. I stared into the faces of my great-great-grandparents and saw a reflection of my own face in the lady’s face; in the man’s face, I saw the shape of my late brother’s eyes. What a treasure! The contributor had listed their children, as well, but he didn’t have any information on my great-grandfather. One of my next projects will be to contact this distant relative and share information.
I must warn you of a great danger if you start digging up ancestors this way. You will lose track of time and space and the next thing you know, it will be 4 a.m. and you still won’t want to stop. It’s worth it, though. I added three more generations to my family file and learned a lot more about my mother’s side of the family in Virginia.
If you want to embark on a fantastic adventure, start working on your family tree this month and compile the information you gather along with photos. Start with yourself and work back through time, taking advantage of online resources, the memories of elder family members, your own memories, etc. Some genealogy websites to check out are FamilySearch.org, a free site; Ancestry.com, a subscription site; and MyHeritage.com, also a subscription site. The paid sites have a short, free trial if you want to check them out before you pay for them. Find A Grave is free of charge.
I’d also advise checking with the Blount County Genealogical and Historical Society (www.blountcountytn
genealogy.org), which has an office at the Blount County Public Library and can steer you in the right direction. The library has a great collection of resource materials for genealogical research, as well.