A number of years ago I got into doing some genealogy. Maybe it is the history lover in me. Maybe it is my curious nature. My last foray into delving into the history records was before I had twins. Plenty of things fell to the wayside after I became a mom. Recently though as my husband delved back into his genealogical research I too decided to sign up for a month of access on Ancestry.com. It is a fascinating journey to find the connections and the mazes of my family tree.
A week into it, sometimes obsessively tracking and connecting the dots of one generation to another, I found myself asking “Why am I spending my time doing this? Does it really matter if I find out the names and birth dates of the people who I share my DNA? Does that have any bearing on the present and my life today?”
What I find myself contemplating is how all of these people who I am related to were once alive and walking on Earth. They were born, grew up, got married, had children and eventually died. I am perplexed at times how quickly memories and historical information in a family can fade away. So many stories and the history of a family can be lost in a generation. I consider how after I die and my daughters grow old and die that I too could fade away. I consider that this too is just how things are, and yet at the same time I think about keeping the stories alive and doing my part to preserve some of the family history for future generations.
There are moments such as when I discovered the death certificate of my paternal great grandmother Eva Lavendar that she and her life story becomes more real to me. My paternal side of the family I new the least about. More of her life story began to unfold as I discover census documents, a marriage certificate, and her death certificate.
Yet let me start at the beginning to give great grandma Eva Lavender a moment in the spotlight. This is a woman who could fade away if descendants, like myself don’t keep her memory alive. Eva Lavendar was born on July 28, 1880 in Menard Co., Illinois. She married Thomas Franklin Higginbottham on January 1, 1901 in Weiser, Idaho. They moved to Missouri and their first child, Howard Higginbottham was born on October 19, 1901. Their first child Howard sadly died the following July. Their next child Jesse Ray was born on July 20, 1903. The third child Annie may have died at birth as the records only estimate she was born in 1903, though I am guessing it had to be more like 1904. Their fourth child, my paternal grandmother Lula, was born on June 9, 1905. Following the birth of my paternal grandmother Lula, my great grandmother Eva would go on to have seven more children.
I read on the death certificate filed in August 1914 that Eva died from childbirth, a postpartum hemorrhage on July 18, 1914. She was only 34 years old. The child she gave birth to died too. I discover this as I look at the birth and death date of her 11th child. As I contemplate her life I do the math and figure out she married at age 21 and had her first child that same year. In the course of only 13 years she gave birth to 11 children.
There are many women in my family who had this many children or more. My maternal great great grandmother Sarah Roberts (Maiden name Briggs), was born March 17, 1868 in England. She emigrated to the United States with her parents and siblings and married her husband in Beaver, Utah on April 16, 1884. Her husband William Roberts had also been born in England and had emigrated to the USA. Together they had 16 children. Her first child was born when she was only 17 years old and her last child was born when she was 44 years old. My great grandma Ida was her 10th child.
In my research I came across a short written biography about my great great grandmother Sara Briggs parents and family. Her father James was a Methodist Minister in England. He ended up converting to Mormonism and married his wife Betsy Fielding who converted with him. They left England on the ship “Idaho” on June 30, 1875 with four of their children Betsy Alice, John, Alma and Sarah. They arrived in New York City on July 14, 1875. They then arrived in Utah by rail on July 22, 1875. They were received in Salt Lake City by Bishop Jacob Wheeler. Two of their older sons had come to Utah two years before. In my searching I come across some journal accounts of those two sons. In with the biography I also discover someone wrote a poem about the Briggs family.
The James Briggs Family
There was Robert, Alma, John and Joe
Finest of men you would ever know.
Bob, a shoe maker, the best they say,
Made many a shoe without any pay.
Joe lived in Frisco, for a long time,
Was superintendent of Horn Silver mine.
Alma and John owned a big her of sheep,
And would tramp o’er the hills, till they got sore feet.
The girls were Sarah, Alice and Nancy,
Lovely and charming as girls could be.
Sarah, blue eyes with blond curly hair,
When she caught the eye t’would make folks stare.
Nancy, brunette and brown hazel eyes.
And a shy little way that took folks by surprise.
Alice was small, dainty, gentle and sweet,
As pretty a lassie as e’re walked down the street.
The Father and Mother were Betsy and James.
They reared this family a credit to their names.
James lived the gospel and knew it by heart,
And in every way tried to do his part.
‘A very good family’, folks would say,
Now may years have gone, since they passed away.
My explorations will continue. It feels like a treasure hunt and when I find photos and stories posted it feels especially exciting. Getting a glimpse into reading my ancestors life stories is interesting. There are other people on Ancestry.com who have created their own family trees and they show up as links and hints because we share relatives. I have yet to reach out to any of these long lost relatives. I came across an article called My Top 7 Tips for Finding Old Photos of Ancestors on a website called Teach Me Genealogy that offered some great ideas too.
Have you done any exploration into your ancestry?
Do you still have great grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, who you could talk to about your family history?
Are their family photo albums, bibles, or other records that could provide details about your ancestors?
In addition to genealogy sites that require you pay like Ancestry.com which I am using, I came across a list of sites that offer free resources. I haven’t looked into all of these, but feel free to explore for yourself:
- Family Search www.familysearch.org (For research, historical records and
volunteering to help index)
- Find a Grave www.findagrave.com (Millions of online memorials, from transcribed headstones)
- World GenWeb Project www.worldgenweb.org (Genealogical data per country)
- US GenWeb Project www.usgenweb.com (Genealogical data per state)
- National Archives www.nationalarchives.gov (Archived Genealogical data from the US Government)
- Genealogy Today www.genealogytoday.com (Genealogical Data)
- Google www.google.com (Genealogical data, images, maps, and more)
- Access Genealogy www.accessgenealogy.com (Online Genealogical Data)
- Family Tree Searcher www.familytreesearcher.com (Online family trees)
- GeneaBios www.geneabios.com (Genealogy Biography database)
- Cyndi’s List www.cyndislist.com (Online genealogical data)
- Roots Web www.rootsweb.org (Online message boards and genealogical data)
- Genforum www.genforum.org (14000 forums devoted to genealogy)
- Jewish Genealogy www.jewishgen.org (Jewish Genealogical data)
- Billion Graves www.billiongraves.com (online memorials with gps tracking to each headstone)