Week 2: Favorite Find

January Theme: Foundations

Asking me to write about my favorite find is a lot like asking me to pick my favorite child.

It depends.

Since my genealogy work includes immediate family, extended family, friends, and “residents” of Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, I have favorite finds all over the place. Some of them I have already written about; others may show up in the future.

Brainstorming exciting moments over the last – say – 40 years of research, ones that come to mind most readily include:

A pre-Ancestry.com find –  I was able to examine Census records at the National Archives in Washington, DC. My husband’s aunt insisted that her paternal grandfather had immigrated from Ireland as an indentured servant. I had found evidence suggesting that this wasn’t true, but needed proof. At the archives I found him with his parents on several census records, showing that not only was he born in PA, but his parents were, too. Later records have shown that his grandparents also were born in PA. In fact, I haven’t yet found the point where they immigrated, and no evidence that they were Irish. (I think the family story got mixed up a bit, and it was another relative the story referenced.) It was so firmly entrenched in family lore, I had to print out copies to convince them. And repeat it numerous times over the years. Learning new information that corrects wrong information is always invigorating. (Unless I’m the one that made the original mistake. Then it’s just embarrassing.)

How we researched the censuses in the olden days ….

Reuben– This is a mystery ancestor on my husband’s side. You know how, when you hit a brick wall, that ancestor tends to take on mythical properties? That’s what happened with Reuben. To hear my in-laws talk, this was a man among men. And then, combing through old newspapers, I found a brief article of some scandalous news.

 I’ve been sitting on this little discovery for probably 10 years. I’m still undecided whether I want to publish it. I think some in the family will be unhappy.

War Stories – My daughter-in-law’s 4th great-grandparents lived through some horrendous times during the Civil War, and their experiences are preserved in a series of simply heart-breaking letters. I might get a bit misty eyed every time I read them. Discovering these letters via Google (my favorite genealogy research site!), and following subsequent links, was a little bit amazing.  I think I’ll probably write about this later this year.

Orlenah’s grave – I’ve written about this before. After years of listening to laments that her grave location had been lost, I was so excited to find it. Felt like a regular Sherlock. https://mypeoplecollection.wordpress.com/2021/09/07/orlenahs-grave/

Unexpected treasures – While visiting my grandfather’s hometown in Switzerland I stopped in a thrift shop where I found a book about the town. My sister returned with me later in the day, the workers remembered me, and gifted us with a dozen or so watercolor prints of Switzerland, and a large framed drawing of the school my grandfather attended.

grandfather’s school

DNA cousin – My (other) grandfather had a half-sister who immigrated to the USA and obtained domestic work. She got pregnant, delivered twins, gave them up for adoption, and returned to Sweden. The story I heard from family was that she had twin sons, adopted by a doctor. Through DNA, I have connected with the son of one of the twins. I learned details of the situation that corrected family lore – they were twin daughters, and no doctor anywhere. My new cousin was thrilled to learn about the family history of his grandmother’s line. A favorite find – a new cousin and new friend.

I have other favorite finds, too. My mother never threw anything away, so it was always fun treasure hunting in her attic or basement. Many items were in poor condition, with no monetary value. Rusted steel. Rotted wood. Outdated wiring. But my husband has restored, rewired, refinished, or rebuilt many of them, and they are valuable to us. (After he finishes a project, my sister has been known to complain, “You get all the good stuff.”) Then there are the old photographs and documents… which I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to scan and organize. So many favorites!

(I suspect that if my grown children are reading this, they are dreading the time when they have to sort, divide, and discard. However, if any are interested in securing rights to “favorite child” status, here’s a starting point.)

Here are a few of the documents my kids will get to sort through. I also have a bookcase in my office, a file cabinet in the garage, and a few boxes in the basement.

After working on this post for a while, and having trouble narrowing my thoughts down to a particular story, I asked my husband, “I know you don’t pay as close attention to my genealogy as I do,” (at which point he snorted), “but does anything stand out particularly in your mind as something I was especially enthusiastic about?”

He named several of the things I’ve mentioned above. He mentioned other things that don’t fit neatly under “favorite find” – the connections I make with living relatives, the experiences of exploring hometowns, churches, and cemeteries, or spending the day in various archives in the USA and abroad. And the times when relatives got intrigued by my research and became involved – or at least mildly interested – in the process.

But then he said, “You always seem most excited by whatever your current project is.” He’s right.

My mother used to say her favorite child was the one that needed her most. It was understood that was a changing, fluid dynamic. And just so, my favorite find is often my most current one. The one that lets me move on to a deeper understanding or a new connection. It is the prospect of new discoveries that keeps me enthralled with the process.

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