Commentary

So you want to learn about your family history

By Clint Parker

So you want to learn about your family history, but where do you start? Most people will go to an online genealogical website such as familysearch.org or ancestry.com to start a search for their roots. Some of those sites charge money like $20 per month while others don’t. However, is that really the best place to start?

Area residents who are from here and who are interested in learning more about their family roots should take advantage of the resources available to them locally. 

First, go to family members for your information. Talk with the oldest members of the family first, as they will have a lot of knowledge that you probably won’t get from any online ancestry service, and it will be a first-hand account.

For instance, I had heard from my dad, Charles, Jr., that his mother, Henrietta, knew nothing of her husband’s (Charles, Sr.) first wife until Charles, Sr.’s death and she tried to collect his veteran’s burial benefits from the government and discovered another woman’s name as the beneficiary. However, talking with a great aunt, I learned that wasn’t the case.

Apparently, Charles, Sr. needed to prove he had a divorce from the first wife and had to make a trip to Tennessee. In the 1930s that was not just running down I-40 through the gorge. My grandmother, Henrietta, pressed Charles, Sr. for why he went to Tennessee, and he revealed the truth according to my aunt. This sent Henrietta running home to mom. According to my aunt, my grandmother cried her eyes out to her mom while my aunt washed dishes. You usually won’t find those kinds of family nuggets on an online service, but it can happen (I’ll tell you more next week). So start with family recollections first if you can. You never know when you might lose these valuable firsthand accounts. 

Next, use local historical groups and societies and delve into their treasure trove of information. Places like the Dry Ridge Museum or the Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society offer a vast resource of books, articles and most of all people who are ready, willing and able to help you on your journey to discover your roots. Not only are these organizations low in annual dues ($30-$40 yearly), they also have accounts to the online genealogical websites and are more than happy to let you use them. 

In addition, the friendly volunteers who staff these groups are willing to pass on their knowledge of genealogical data-mining free of charge. Whether it’s online searching, books and articles they have in their collections or DNA testing, these people are willing and more than happy to pass on the knowledge they’ve acquired in their own searches.

Also, don’t forget your local Register of Deeds office that may even have their files online. Deeds, wills, legal documents are located here and could help tie that elusive relative you’re having trouble tracking down back to the family.

Learning about your family can be fun and surprising. The next thing you know, you are the resident expert on your family’s history and who was famous in the family and who was infamous. Turning over the rocks to find the hidden gems can also lead to an occasional snake, but, after all, we’re all just human. Happy researching your own family.

Editor’s note: Jan Lawrence is on vacation for a few weeks but will return with her regular history column.

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Clint Parker

Publisher & Editor Weaverville Tribune

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