Genealogy is a strange hobby. Those of us who spend our time searching for the dead are part detective, part peeping Tom, and a whole lot of stubborn. It takes time, patience, knowledge, and just plain luck to find information about the lives of ordinary people. Most of them lived, loved, and died out of the spotlight. Most didn’t get fifteen minutes or even fifteen seconds of fame. If we are lucky, a few were mentioned in the “locals” section of the paper. We get to find out when they visited their mother or attended a funeral or graduated from high school. Otherwise their lives, and our knowledge of them, is based on a birth certificate, census records, marriage license, death certificate, and school or military records. If we are really, really fortunate there might be a family Bible, will, diary, letters, or a photo album. The rest is filled in with family stories and gossip.
Each person has their own reasons for searching the past. Some do it for religious reasons. Others have burning questions that need answers. Some just do it out of curiosity. Some do it for financial benefit. Then there are those who have no intention of doing this and just get “hooked” by finding one little piece of information. I’ve heard so many people say, “Well I got started in this stuff just because we wanted to find out if Edward was really our cousin.” or “We met cousin Fred at a reunion and he said Floyd was Aunt Nelda’s first husband and I just knew that wasn’t right.”
There are different kinds of genealogists and different levels of devotion to the work. Searching for the dead can be a very personal, private thing, or it can be a public career. There are professional researchers who work for fees and publish articles. There are magazines and websites and libraries and museums all dedicated to our ancestors. There are books and forms and maps to make it easier. You can dabble at it now and then, or devote your whole life to it.
My own involvement in searching for the dead is a blend of genealogist and true historian. Because of my interest in, or some might say obsession with, the history of Caddo, I’ll research anyone and everyone who ever lived here. If someone has an interesting story about their ancestors I give it the “30-minute lookup”. If I can find even one bit of fact in thirty minutes, I put it on my master list and keep my eyes open for more. This has led me to some wonderful stories about people and some little-known facts about Caddo. I’ve even made discoveries about my own family and learned some new research techniques. And I’ve branched out into some other areas, like photographing local headstones for family members in other states. (Headstones give birth, death, and sometimes marriage dates.)
Searching for the dead is very rewarding when you learn things about your family that help you understand your own life. Following the writings of my mother, grandmother, and great-grandfather in the pages of the local newspaper has given me insight into my own desire to write. And researching local history explains a lot about how people have coped over the years with fires and floods, wars and depressions. Reading about their lives is comforting. It gives me a sense of community and continuity. My great-grandparents lived here and made a life with their friends and neighbors. They coped and cared, lived and died, here in this place that I call home. It makes me feel that I’ve made a good choice.
Note: Here is a wonderful bit of history/genealogy gleaned from the June 24, 1921 Caddo Herald. Much more interesting than dry facts on a birth certificate. And so much fun to pass on to someone researching their family. This is why I do what I do.
“New Garage Owner- There arrived safely at the home of Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Peters Sunday morning a new owner for the Peter’s Garage. It may be some little time before the young man takes charge down town, but he is doing well at his home.”