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January-February 2007 Selected Content

The Hunt for Lucy Harris
A Genealogical Education
- Dawn Adams

Some people put wallpaper on their walls. Us? No, we recently had a 24-generation timeline with maps and pictures surrounding it. We have officially been bitten by the genealogy bug. Currently we are hunting Lucy Harris, who married Hatsel Hodge. And I don't use the word "hunt" lightly. It's not just a matter of finding Lucy Harris, as there are several in Connecticut during the 1800's, but finding "the" Lucy Harris to solve our puzzle.

The genealogy bug is contagious by the way. You may want to stop reading this article now before you too become infected. (Rule 1: Be ready to set aside time and space for this study.)

I have always been interested in my heritage. I still have the first family tree, three generations back, that I wrote as a class assignment during my elementary school career. I reignited this interest a few years ago when my mother-in-law passed along a copy of genealogical facts her cousin had compiled (Rule 2: Gather information about your family. Write down what you know. Ask living relatives what they know. Look for old family documents like the family Bible with written-in births and wedding dates, articles of family accomplishments, birth certificates, etc. These documents can help you start your search. Glean all the names, dates and places you can.).

I took the information she gave me and started searching online for more. Could I take the line further back in time? What about the matrilineal (mother's) side of the line? What about cousins?

The information I gathered teleported us back in time and place from Greene, New York, in the 1950's to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the 1700's. We even crossed the Atlantic to England and France. Each new and interesting fact I read I blurted out to the children from my computer perch. And they would come like baby birds waiting to be fed: "They came from where?" "On what ship?" They soon gave up waiting for questions to be answered and joined me in my search. Sometimes I even had to fight them for my seat.

We madly printed off maps and used yarn to show our descendents' travels from one country to another. We added pictures of boats they immigrated on and pictures of a Knight of the Garter, representing John VI Sutton their 17th great grandfather. The wall filled with our heritage.

It was as if these people became not just distant relatives, but friends. As we searched genealogical websites, like www.ancestry.com, www.rootsweb.com and www.familysearch.org, looking for firsthand proof of these people and places, we became intimate with them. (Rule 3: Use primary sources to back up your data, i.e. sources that were recorded at the time people witnessed them--death certificate for death date; marriage certificate; even a written record recorded at the time. People's memories are not reliable, even within one generation.)

The kids had fun with the information we gathered. They often tried to count the number of greats to reach a grandparent or look for things that happened on their birthday or compare and use their family tree as a reference point for other historical events. "Rhoda Chapman was born in 1776. Isn't that when the Declaration of Independence was signed?"

They were fascinated with why people had such large families. "Why did the Glenny's leave Ireland?" "What do you mean they changed their name from Glenny to Glenney?" "Ellis Island, we went there."

They were intrigued by the mystery. How can people disappear, that is appear in one location on a census record and in newspaper reports but then just the year before be gone? They enjoyed being detectives and trying to decipher the truth. For example, we found a website that claims our Lucy Harris is a descendent of Thomas Minor of Chew Magna, England. However we have yet to find firsthand proof that this is the correct Lucy. There are several reasons to believe it is not true even if it would have been cool to be part of the Thomas Minor Society (www.tmsociety.org). (Rule 4: Take advantage of other people's research, but make sure they have reliable sources to back up their claims.) We are actually planning field trips to Middletown and New London, Connecticut, to see if we can find marriage certificates that will clarify the issue.

My daughter was even so interested she found free genealogy courses online to hone her genealogy skills. (See www.elearn.byu.edu in their personal enrichment center.) (Rule 5: There are several genealogy societies with experience and information to share. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help from town clerks, librarians, or ministers. As the Girl Scouts say, "Use resources wisely.")

As we ebb and flow on how often we work on our genealogy, I have since had to remove my "wallpaper" and confine the information to a binder. But we still search frequently, looking for all our relatives. We do not believe that ancestry only follows the patrilineal line (father's line). We like to look at our matrilineage and all the individual roots too. We have learned that once you sit down to work on it, you may get side tracked for hours (Rule 6: Be organized in your approach. There are many free paper templates online to maintain your information or invest in a computer program like FamilyTreeMaker to help you. Be sure you back up your information.) Online information is updated frequently, so when we get stuck on a problem like dear Lucy, we may put her aside for a time and go back to visit her another day.

This has been a great adventure for all of us. We have found history means a lot more when you know Grandpa Schilsman was in WWI and WWII and that Gross Hill on Cape Cod is named after your family. Do you feel the itch yet? What historical facts can come to light in your family?

© 2007, Dawn Adams

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