Writing My Family History

I’ve wanted to get this book on my father’s line finished for four years or more. I think I’m making headway for once! It seemed like an insurmountable task in the past, but when I wrote an outline with chapter headings, writing one at a time makes it a manageable task.

Volunteering at the Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society since 2011 has made me aware of the challenges of creating good genealogy books. From the beginning, I wanted to publish this story so fleshing out the family lines from my 4th great grandfather has been my focus. But I’ve learned that getting the individual stories and pictures will make the people come alive.

My grandmother's best friend Rachel and her husband Dick while he served in WWI.

My grandmother’s best friend Rachel and her husband Dick while he served in WWI.

Today, I feel close to being done with all the lines that came out of 13 children, but “done” is a relative term right? I still need more pictures, which means contacting people to see what they have in their closets. One of my volunteer friends walked into a Cracker Barrel restaurant in the Western NC area a couple of years ago and saw his great grandmother’s portrait hanging on the wall. He said he was shocked, and couldn’t understand how they got the oval framed picture. They wouldn’t hand it over, but invited him to visit her anytime he wanted. He took a photo with his phone, but he’s hoping to borrow it sometime to get a better scan for his records.

He has such great luck finding pictures. I need to borrow his technique – he goes to related family reunions in the summer to meet people who might have pictures he needs. His portable scanner preserves anything he finds. I’m not sure what he values more – the pictures or the picnic food!

The reason I’m so fixated on pictures is because that’s what everyone wants in a book. And can you blame them? Most genealogy books are bland lists – who begot who – so I knew that I wanted photos and documents, making it easier to read. And as soon as something gets published, other authors say they get calls from relatives with pictures they want added to the book! Where were you guys when I called and the book was still on the computer the authors want to know?


Anyway, if I can make one recommendation to aspiring authors out there, get more pictures. And I mean pictures of Bible pages, of original deeds or even a marriage certificate because there is nothing like seeing your ancestor’s signature, even if it is only an “X”. I have another friend whose philosophy is to give every person in his book a picture, even if it is only a census page with their name. He thinks every person deserves something to prove they were here. Wouldn’t we all appreciate that?

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Top 5 Steps to Preserve Old Photographs

I gave a talk to the Swain County Genealogical Society on Thursday night. They wanted a subject that had broad appeal for genealogists so I suggested the topic of dating and preserving old photographs. The idea stuck so I got my slides prepared and pulled together some old photos from my collection to take for “show and tell”.

Two children, Franklin and Virginia Antrim Kelsey, photographed in the early 1900s.

Two children, Franklin and Virginia Antrim Kelsey, photographed in the early 1900s.

Now that the talk is behind me and the audience told me how many new ideas they got, I thought this would be a good topic for the blog. The subject of dating old photographs has been covered very well by some really great experts on their websites such as Phototree and The Photo Detective so I won’t cover this topic here.

But I did think that boiling down suggestions into five steps that could help anyone preserve their old photographs would be helpful and interesting. Then at the end of this post, I’ve provided a list of tools to have handy when you want to start on this project.

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My Heritage Took a Left Turn!

I am sure something unusual has happened to you regarding who you thought you were. Maybe a relative told a story about your parent that surprised you or a new link to an American Indian way back in your lineage appears from nowhere. Some big discovery that reshaped how you thought of your world order.


Well, that happened to me this week. My husband and I have planned to visit Ireland since Christmas 2013 and we are finally going next week. We’re traveling with two other couples, our dear friends, who also wanted to see the Emerald Isle. All my genealogy friends have asked me if I’m researching my family and I’ve told everyone that I don’t have any direct Irish relatives, this was a trip for fun.

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A New Tip for familysearch.org

As you probably know, www.familysearch.org is a fantastic resource for genealogy research but I’ve been reading about several new strategies to make this site even more helpful so I thought I would share a few here.

First, if you haven’t registered yet, go ahead and create your own account. It doesn’t cost anything and you don’t need an account to use the site, but having one may allow access to some documents because of agreements with other sites. Continue reading

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Davy Crockett Connected to Buncombe County, NC

Last week I was working at the Old Buncombe County Genealogical Library (OBCGS)  and was surprised to have a call from John Le at our local television station WLOS asking about the relationship between Elizabeth Patton and Davy Crockett. We made a few phone calls to our local experts and found the right books with the story. He was researching background information because a portrait of her was being auctioned and he wanted to know more about her relationship with Crockett. Continue reading

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Gravestone Gravity, cont.

rathe_holton_met05asdf  Picture by Joanne Rathe, Boston Globe

Well, I starting reading about the restoration of gravestones so I could learn more about the process since we may be doing this for one of our ancestors this year. There is a lot of information on this topic, but if you need to preserve a stone, be careful and talk to several experts before hiring someone or conducting the work yourself. Continue reading

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Gravestone Gravity

We went to a cemetery a couple of weeks ago to look at an ancestor’s stone to make a plan to install a second stone – for his wife. We have known that she was buried there for many years, even though she has no gravestone. We measured his stone, copied every word and took lots of pictures. We wanted to get the new stone to match as close as possible.


What I wondered was how deep is a stone buried in the ground – it must be several feet. So then I wondered does the stone continue to be buried over the years? This ancestor died in 1857. I know in my garden, stones around a tree get buried in a couple of years and I have to dig them up and re-position them. Could this mean the gravestone has continued to be buried a little bit each year over the last 157 years – is that what happens?

I looked it up on the Internet to see how deep a gravestone has to be buried, but didn’t find an exact answer.  I need to do some more research and report back because I wanted to get this posted on Halloween night so I’m out of time.

Happy Candy Passing!

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Quilts Can Preserve Family History

On a whim, I went to the Asheville Quilt Show put on by the Asheville Quilt Guild last weekend. I just loved all the creativity displayed there, but I was overwhelmed with the thought of making any quilt, especially those abstract designs, until I found the “Art” categories.

IMG_2527 There was “Pictorial”, “Naturescape/Landscape” and “Special Quilt Technologies”. I instantly thought of all the family pictures I have and wondered if there was one or two that I could transfer to cloth to become a new heirloom.



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Where Did They Come From?

I’ve had a really busy summer and was not quite in the habit of writing this blog on a regular basis so I let it lapse for a while. Now I am back and ready to share more genealogy tips and trends. While I was doing some research a few days ago, I found a most interesting interactive map on the New York Times website that shows the movement of people in and out of each of the 50 states between 1900 and 2012. Continue reading

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Family Picnics

Hawkins Family Visits Sardis Cemetery Asheville, NC

We had our family picnic yesterday (14 June 2014) 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.

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.  Continue reading

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