Friday, March 16, 2007

Don't Give Up

Good morning!
I know I've blogged about brickwalls and about how sometimes you just have to face the fact that you may never discover the next generation back.
But that doesn't mean that you give up. Every now and then I still get out all of my information and type the names in Google or Genforum. And everytime I go to the library I still check out the names on my "brick wall" list. And especially, if you're visiting a specific location that your ancestors lived that you've never been to before, definitely take your research a long and make a side trip to the courthouse!
Because, here's what happened to me. When I first started researching my family tree, I did what every good little beginner genealogist does (or at least back then before the internet). I contacted the courthouse for the county in which my ancestor lived. My great-grandfather was born, raised and assumably died all in the same county in West Virginia. So, I mailed off for his marriage record to my great-grandmother and got a reply that no such record existed. I requested from this very same county, several more records, got the same reply and finally just wrote an open letter to the county saying that I was most certain these records had to be there, was I maybe spelling the name wrong? I never got a reply to that letter. So, I thought that maybe my ancestors had crossed the county line for whatever reason and began bombarding the surrounding counties with these same requests for these same records (always use a self-addressed stamped envelope) and got the exact same reply: No such records. I spent hours and hours, not to mention money, searching at least seven surrounding counties to no avail. I was beginning to think my ancestors never existed at all. Let me tell you, that's frustrating.
So a few years later, I took a trip to West Virginia with my grandmother to visit a cousin of hers, do some sightseeing, and of course--some genealogy. The first thing I did was head straight for the ORIGINAL county in question. My grandmother felt certain her parents were married there, so I headed to the courthouse.
What happened next delighted me, but angered me all the same. When I got to the courthouse not only did I find my great-grandparents marriage record, plain as day, for the exact month and year that I'd told them. I also found my great-grandfather's divorce records from his first wife, his parents' (my great, great-grandparents) marriage record and my great-great grandfather's last will and testament. In addition to that were scores of his siblings records. For about twenty minutes I was walking on cloud nine!
Then I thought about it. If these records had been there all along, what happened to all those requests I'd sent asking for these very records? I came up with all sorts of conspiracies and realized that either the clerk at the time had been new at her job and had no idea where to even look for the records I'd asked for, or they just blew me off. A request came in from another pesky genealogist and they didn't even bother to look for it. I can't come up with any other explanation for records that were obviously there!
So, the moral to the story is, don't give up. If I'd gone to West Virginia and not even tried that courthouse, I would have never found these records. And honestly, there was no reason for me to even go to that courthouse, since supposedly the records had been checked and they weren't there. So, if I hadn't had the attitude of "I'll just check for myself" I would have never found them.
In addition to this, there are all sorts of other reasons to check the records yourself. A good example is a last name that starts with a vowel. Like Erwin. It could be spelled Irwin or even Arwin. If you list a specific name of say, Tom Erwin, chances are they won't check under the I's or A's for this person, whereas, you most likely would. A researcher also has the time to check records for more than the standard "three year" span, that most clerks will check for. Obviously, they don't have the time to spend all day searching the records for something that's off by ten years and spelled wrong! But you do.
Believe me when I say, I scoured EVERY courthouse within ten counties for records on that trip, just in case anybody else had missed something. :-)
Have a lovely day, happy reading and happy researching!
Rett MacPherson

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