After you have all the information on yourself and your parents, it’s time to go visit your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. For years I took my research to family reunions to show to other family members. A family reunion is a good place for people to talk about their memories from childhood. You can learn a lot from older family members. Family reunions are also a good place to exchange post office addresses and email addresses.
My cousins became very interested and wanted to research their branch of the family. We all got ancestry memberships so that we could share our research. This was a good way for us to share photos and documents. When I started researching my family, the only way to share information was to find a xerox machine, copy all the documents and pictures, and take a large envelope to the post office. Email was a godsend because copying and mailing was costly.
Cousins are a wealth of information. When I went to visit my mother’s nephew, he had an entire book that he shared with me on the history of his branch of the family. He had traveled to Missouri and Illinois to talk to family members and search for documents. In exchange for his help, I provided information about me, my children, and my siblings.
Now, a word about all those pieces of information that we discussed in the last post: the ones that you do not understand. In the paper bag of information that my mother left with my brother there was the name and address of one of Mama’s cousins. I had never heard the name and didn’t know why she would have their address. When I contacted them, they were just getting ready to retire and travel the U.S.A. One of their stops was the Stuttgart Agricultural Museum in Stuttgart, Arkansas. My mother had donated her father’s prayer book to that museum. My grandmother’s family was one of the early settlers of Stuttgart and the museum had some mementos from her family. They also had an old phone book where I was able to look up the address of their residence, the name of both husband and wife, their occupation and their employer. This same information can be found at the library–just ask for a city directory.
I drove to Stuttgart and met my cousins at the museum. There we exchanged photos and they gave me pages of their research on my grandmother’s family, as far back as 1625. I also bought a book from the museum that has a lot of information on my grandmother’s family. My cousins went through the museum’s unknown photo drawer and were able to identify several of those photos.
While I was in Stuttgart, I decided to go by the Lone Tree Cemetery where my grandmother was buried. The cemetery was a wealth of information since family members are usually buried together. From the headstones I was able to get birth dates, death dates, and the names of spouses. So, a trip to the cemetery is well worth the time and travel that it will take. Be sure to take pictures of the headstones to use as your source for names, birth dates, and death dates. Also keep up with the name of the cemetery and the city, county, and state where the cemetery is.
Every year on the Saturday before Mother’s Day my father’s side of the family has a memorial service. They put flowers on the graves and reminisce about the family members that have passed on. Then they gather for lunch. I wouldn’t give anything for the time I spent there with my relatives. I was able to get a lot of information from my cousin at the cemetery. She gave me a book written about the church my family attended when they first came into the county. One of my relatives had been a pastor and another relative was the church clerk. I discovered that I am related to almost everyone in the cemetery in one way or another.
After the cemetery visit, another cousin invited me to her house for lunch. The food was exceptional and after we ate we talked more about family history.
Then on Mother’s Day, my grandmother’s side of the family spends time in the cemetery where her ancestors are buried. The cemetery is across from the church (they used to be side by side until Highway 82 was redirected.) Then we gather at the church for the service and dinner on the grounds. For those of you not old enough to remember dinner on the grounds it means we all bring a dish to share and eat in the fellowship hall of the church. (It’s called dinner on the grounds because before air conditioning, we used to eat on a picnic table under a big shade tree.) My cousin’s watermelon rind pickles are so good I got the recipe from her so that I could make my own. On the wall of the fellowship hall hangs a document stating that my great-grandfather and his brother donated the lumber to build the church. They owned a sawmill.
My grandmother’s family meets again later in the year for a family reunion at the country club and as usual the food and fellowship cannot be beat.
Never underestimate the power of a cousin. They are a wealth of information.
Come back next week when we will discuss census records.
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