Sunday, April 29, 2012

Listening and Recording History

What used to be called genealogical research is now simply called family history, and broader communication tools make it so much easier to share information.  There were histories written about my father's mother's family and his father's family.  When my great aunt, Lettie Reed Cochran Grove, did detailed histories of her her mother's ancestors, she wrote hundreds of letters and visited local historical societies.  On my father's "other" side, the Orr Reunion Association did a history at almost the same time Aunt Lettie did -- the mid 1950s.  Those written histories are the starting point for those of us who may have done the library or on-site research initially, and now supplement it with the magical world of online records.

But what if you don't have someone else's carefully researched family history of 60 or 70 years ago?  The adage in family history work is "start with what you know."  Then you go looking for distant relatives, and hope there are some very old ones who are willing to talk to you.  Aside from the fact that this can be fun, you need a context for information you find online.  Almost every name in a census has a duplicate, and a lot of them live in the same state.  In my extended family there have been enough William Orrs to start a baseball team in the great beyond.

In the case of my mom's father's family, which had almost nothing written, my cousin Peg Pierson started the work and lucked out.  Not luck, really.  She searched hard for Rooney/Roney families in Kansas, Missouri, and Indiana.  She came up with two long-lived women, and in fact just attended the 100th birthday party of one of them (Alexis McCormick), and together we visited another, Eugenia Chandonia, who is 92.  I can say her age because she will brag about it to anyone. 

But it wasn't just the good fortune in finding these two women.  These are women who listened to the stories of those around them and were willing to share.  In Eugenia's case, her mother (Inez Roney Groff) had collected photos and names, and Eugenia continued the tradition.

Peg Pierson, Eugenia Chandonia, and Elaine Orr - Rooney/Roney cousins.
Peg and I are the daughters of two women who were cousins (so second cousins).  Eugenia's great grandfather is our great, great grandfather, so our relationship is more distant (second cousins once removed).  But you'd never know it to hear the three of us talk -- similar senses of humor and the same value of preserving family history.  Eugenia's mom (Inez) even kept copies of some photos of our great grandfather and some of his children, people Inez likely never met and who were dead long before Peg and I were born.  Because of Inez and Eugenia, Peg and I were able to scan these photos and load them on to share with other distant cousins. 

I hope you can find the Lexis and Eugenias of your family and spend time with them.  Don't wait.  You don't have to be as nutty as cousin Peg and I, who record and publish the histories (though future generations would be happy if you did).  Just ask and listen, and then share the stories with your children and cousins. 

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