Do you wake up at night reaching for a pen to write down your dreams so you won’t forget them? Do you walk around strange places screaming in glee when you find the dead person you were searching for? Do you drive hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to go to workshops and conferences and then cry when they are over? Do you ignore popular television shows to stare out into space thinking? Do you drive hours just to look at a stone with engraving on it? Do you spend hours and hours in libraries and archives reading old books and looking at microfilm of records hundreds of years old?
If you do, you are addicted to genealogy.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there is no cure for what you have. You are a genealogist. Oh sure, they have changed the name of the disease to make it user friendly, but it is still the same old disease that people have had for years. I had it so bad my children did not know you could have a picnic anywhere except a cemetery until they were in high school. For a longer listing of the symptoms of being addicted to genealogy, just Google for “addicted to genealogy,” as there are several already listed on the internet… and yes, I had every symptom! Just ask my kids and husband.
PS: Genealogy is not the study of rocks…that is geology. However, many genealogists have been referred to as having rocks in the head.
The reason for record keeping
It used to be there were family scribes that kept tract of lineages for royalty and landowners so everyone would know who got what when the old patriarch died off, but then in the early 1800s everyone seemed to want to get involved in “doing genealogy.” At first people complained that there was no need for the common man to do genealogy because they did not hold royal titles like those people on the old continent. Anyone doing genealogy was just “putting on airs!”
First genealogical societies formed
It all started when a group of five Bostonians got together in 1845 to form the New England Genealogical Society. Many prominent people joined including John Quincy Adams, President of the United States at that time. Through the years, many other presidents also became members, as well as one of two kings of other countries. Not to be outdone, in 1869 the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society was formed. They all developed large and well stocked libraries for their members use.
My favorite research places
Living in northern Louisiana , one genealogical library I know well is the Cammie G. Henry Research Center at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches . The Normal College library was started in 1886, only seventeen years after the New England Society. The library is a rich diversity of records from all of America , as well as from foreign countries. Some of the records housed in the rare book room are from the 1600 and 1700s. Most of these now are available for use only on microfilm. But I have touched them. I have breathed the dust from 400 years of existence. I was so honored to be one of a few researchers allowed to use them… way back when.
The archives were later renamed for the owner of Melrose Plantation when the holding of the Melrose library were given to the center for preservation. Many famous authors stayed at Melrose in the early 20th century, including Lyle Saxon. One record of his I really enjoyed pouring over for hours was the WPA Federal Writer’s Project records. The “Louisiana Room” as it was commonly called has a complete collection for Louisiana .
Another library I visited back in the 1970-1984 so many times the staff started calling me by name was the Shreve Memorial Library. At that time the genealogical department was on the third floor of the downtown library. You had to park in a parking garage and walk to the library. The genealogy section has since been moved to the Broadmoor Branch where it is much more convenient for patrons to visit. In the late 1970s the LDS Church was given permission to microfilm most of the Louisiana courthouses. A complete set of the Louisiana courthouse microfilm is housed at this library, as well as many other microfilm and rows and rows and rows of books, including DAR and other records.
The Family History Library
And there is no way I can close this article without mentioning the most famous genealogical library of all, The Family History Library in Salt Lake City , Utah . Yes, I have been there. Yes, it is intimating just to visit. Yes, there is a spirit there that will not allow you to come away without the feeling that you are much nearer your own ancestors than before. The FHL is visited by thousands of researchers from all over the world. But if you can not go to the library, you can bring much of the library holdings to where you live by visiting the Family History Centers housed in the local stake centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can order the unrestricted microfilm for a small fee to be used at the center you chose. The FHL is slowly instigating a program so you can order the film online, pay the fee using a debit or credit card, and the film will ship to the center you chose. You can access many records through www.familysearch.org as well as check out their library catalog. It is a free website you can use. You can also download a free software genealogical program.
Are you addicted yet? Keep reading.
As a genealogist, I have attended hundreds of workshops and conferences. I have even lectured and taught classes at a few. I worked for almost forty years as a paid researcher while doing my own research in between cases. I transcribed and published many records. The one book I did not self-publish was: The Men Who Built Fort Claiborne in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Captain Edward D. Turner’s Company of the 2nd Regiment of the United States Army. It was published first by Heritage Books in 2001 and then by Willow Bend Books in 2003. Unfortunately, the book is no longer in print (for sale new), but some libraries have copies. The book is a complete transcription of the records of Turner’s company in 1802-1805, along with facsimiles of the pages of microfilm found in the National Archives.
Captain Turner was the man that was sent by the army to secure the area between the Americans and the Spanish at the time of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase . At that time, the capitol of Texas was less than fifteen miles from the current town of Natchitoches .
Turner was born about 1768, probably in Boston , and commissioned into the United States Army in 1791. In June of 1794, he was elevated to the rank of caption but not given his own troop. He was sent to gathered men on his way to Natchitoches to man the fort, but his major efforts were directed toward supplying the frontier post with food and other supplies. Not only did Turner have to build a fort, a home, and deal with all the usual family problems, he also had to deal with being almost court martial on a trumped up charge.
The truth is much stranger than fiction.
If the blurb from my book does not get you to thinking about what type of life our ancestors had to go through, many other books with true family stories will keep you spell bounded. Like the story of the child that was stolen by a wolf, or how the family treasures were hidden in the war and have yet been found, or how one of Turner’s men drown while swimming a river on his way from Monroe to get medicine for the sick at the fort, or… well you get the point. Actually truth is much stranger than fiction.
Just something to think about…
Other articles by Annette Womack
Cane River Green Market published 04/29/2011
Who Do You Know? published 05/04/2011
05/02/2011 Family History Should Be Fun
05/03/2011 The 2011 DSWA Conference in Texas
05/05/2011 The Adams Family ‘” A murder most foul
05/08/2011 The Ballenger Family ‘” Chasing the name
05/092011 Living With Raynaud’s Disease