Genealogy Detective

We are who we are because they were who they were…

Family Picnics

We had our family picnic yesterday in Asheville on Lake Julian. We started having them again on the second Saturday of June because that was the habit for most summers since the 1920’s. We stopped the picnic sometime in the early 2000’s because many of the old-timers were gone and we started having reunions that included bus tours and planned events, but those are held infrequently and don’t replace the casual visit once a year, so in 2011 we resurrected the tradition of the annual family picnic.

We also formed a family association in 2004 to help fund special events, share our genealogy research and maintain family burial sites. The association has been funded by membership dues and sales of memorabilia related to the family. I’ve been serving as the Secretary/Treasurer for the last couple of years to keep the mailing list current and the lines of communication open, but we need to form a committee to plan our next reunion. It will be one of the big ones!

Our common ancestor is Benjamin Hawkins who came to the western North Carolina mountains when the counties were being formed. He settled in just before the very first U.S. census was taken following the Revolutionary War. Benjamin was living in Rutherford County at the time of that first census (in 1790). Two years later, in 1792, Buncombe County was formed out of Rutherford and Burke Counties, so he next appears in Buncombe County in the U.S. Census of 1800. I’ll write more about him in later postings, but for now you know where the family comes from and why we still gather together.

Below is one of our pictures from the picnic last year. We have as many people interested in the genealogy as the ones interested in the food, so there is plenty to keep us busy for a few hours. One of our family members, Bill Trantham, passed away in May and I am so happy to have his picture from last year. Sharing pictures is just one of the benefits of a family gathering. You will also meet interesting cousins, catch up with the children and hear the stories from the old-timers who are so happy for fresh ears. And don’t forget, the best banana puddings are found at picnics!




My Thrift Store Families

I was in a thrift store last year looking for some sewing patterns and found an envelope marked $5.00. Inside were some pictures of people from the early 1900’s that looked like they were related. In fact, several of the pictures were marked with names and one or two had dates written on them.

Wow! I thought, how can pictures as interesting as these have been donated to a thrift store? Did someone die without any family and someone unrelated had the task of cleaning out the household goods?  At any rate, I decided right then that I would buy the pictures, research the family on and post their pictures for other researchers to find and use. I have done this several times since then and call them my “Thrift Store Families”.

It took me a little time to get these scanned and the family researched, but I found them in the census records and other documents and built their tree. Below is a picture of Jonathan Hamilton Kelsey. He was born in 1873 in Iowa and died in 1935 in New Jersey. How did he end up in New Jersey? I’m not sure – according to what I found in the census records, he was seven years old and living with his family in New Jersey by 1880. His father was an insurance agent, so he might have moved for a job. In the 1900 census record, Jonathan H. Kelsey was listed as an insurance agent as well – like father like son, right? Well, he went on to become an attorney and had an interesting career.

It’s great practice to build the family trees of unknown people. If you don’t know anything about them, you have to use your skills and deductive powers to figure out their identities and their relationships, especially when you’re looking for someone alive before the 1850 census. Look for your own thrift store pictures and start a new family – you won’t be sorry!


A Disposing Mind

Today I was talking to another researcher about a will that he transcribed for me and he said he figured out one of the words he just couldn’t decipher earlier.  He recently found the word – disposing - in several other wills he was working on. Here is how it was used in a sentence:

“I, Benjamin Hawkins of the county of Buncombe in the state of North Carolina being distressed in body but of sound and disposing mind and memory….”

The word disposing was used in a way that was unfamiliar to us so I thought about looking it up in Black’s Law Dictionary to see what they said. I had used the dictionary earlier today on another legal term so it was top of mind. Black’s was first published in 1891 by Henry Black, and the second edition,  published in 1910, is still the best resource on legal terminology and is online for free.

According to Black’s, the definition of a disposing mind is “…alternative or synonymous phrases in the law of wills for “sound mind,” and “testamentary capacity.” Obviously, this term is important in describing the capacity of the person giving final directions for their estate while their life is coming to an end. I’ll have to do some more reading to find out if the term is still being used.

Put a link to this dictionary on your favorites bar – it will help you discern the smallest nuance when trying to analyze a document. Sometimes, the meaning of one word in a sentence can completely turn around your interpretation of a piece of evidence. We need all the help we can get!

The Launch

So this is my new blog focusing on genealogy, history and all things ancestral. I want to share ideas on research techniques, preserving family artifacts and breaking down brick walls. Located in western North Carolina, I conduct research on families and their descendants who settled these mountains. They are resilient, hardworking and talented people who live here and I find it endlessly interesting to read about their lives. In this blog I will describe new resources, unusual research techniques and first hand experiences working in genealogy

Note – my friend Jay Maveety let me know that there are new records on in the North Carolina section. You’ll find new listings under Civil Action Records, County Marriages, Estate Files and Freedmans’ Bureau Records all updated in March, April and May of this year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go to the home page, click on “Search” and scroll all the way down the page. At the bottom you will see a list of countries so click on “United States” and on the next page scroll down the left side and click on “North Carolina”. Now you will see a list of genealogical records from the state. In the column on the right, you can see dates showing when they were posted or the last time they were updated.

When you click on a record collection, you can search by county or, if they haven’t been organized, you’ll have to search page by page. These records are generally not indexed so many of them will not show up in a name search. The records are from microfilm so you will need some time when you want to look through them. Records from all 50 states are here so check them out.

I’ll be posting at least once a week and I hope you’ll chime in with your own comments, experiences and suggestions. Happy hunting!



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