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Genealogy Envy

I often get frustrated when tracing my family history because I rarely find anything interesting.  “My family history is so boring”, I often complain to my genealogy buddy, Robyn. “Your family history is much more interesting”, I tell her.   Robyn just laughs and says, “Girl, you are so silly!!!”

Sometimes when I listen to Robyn talk about her family history, I get a slight case of genealogy envy. One of her family lines is the Holt’s from Hardin County, Tennessee. She is related to Lester Holt who is a news anchor for the weekend edition of NBC’s Today and Nightly News.  Her Holt relatives intermarried on two sides of Alex Haley’s family and she is related to his paternal grandmother, Queen. The Haley’s have been a part of her family for awhile and attend the family reunions.  Her great great grandfather, John Holt, was the largest black landowner in Hardin County, was the Postmaster, owned a store and had a school named for him (Holtsville).

The The Children of

The Children of John Holt

If that is not enough, another of her family lines is the Waters from Eastern Shore, MD. Several of them were Methodist ministers and the family had been free since 1819. Her paternal grandmother, Pauline Waters Smith, went to Bennett College and served on the Board of Trustees. Her paternal great grandmother was a Prather and was educated at the Institute for Colored Youth in Pennsylvania, a prominent school that later became Cheyney University and is the oldest historically black college and university (HBCU) in the nation.

And there is even more.  Her grandfather (Pauline’s husband) William Smith started a string of successful pharmacies in Jacksonville in the 1940s. The family was well-known and prosperous. They owned a beach house on American Beach – a popular beach for Negroes in Florida during the era of segregation – and were featured in several newspaper articles.

On top of all this she has met numerous new relatives.  And almost every new relative she meets shares a ton of pictures and information with her.  The room in her house where she does her genealogy research looks like a museum with all the photos of her ancestors!!!

Most family historians would love to have ancestors who were movers and shakers in their community.  However, for many that will not be the case.  Many of our ancestors were just ordinary people who spent their lives working hard to provide their families with the basic necessities of life.

I come from a family of ordinary folks who lived ordinary lives.  My family is very private and does not talk much about the family history. There is no oral history that was passed down through the generations.  I have a few photos of my grandparents, but nothing for the previous generations.   Most of the family history I know I obtained in bits and pieces from relatives and a lot of research.

Willie Woodfolk my paternal great grandfather's brother

Willie Woodfolk - My paternal great grandfather's brother

Susan Woolfolk Waugh

Susan Woolfolk Waugh - My paternal great grandfather's sister

I have not met anyone who is researching my direct family line.  However, I have met a few cousins who are descendants from siblings of my great grandfather, Overton Roy Woodfork.   One cousin in Philadelphia had an interest in the family history and had done research.  She shared with me a family bible, pictures and other documents that were very helpful.  We still talk occasionally.  I have met a few other new cousins who have been helpful as well.

One time I thought I had found something interesting, but it fizzled out.  I was contacted by the descendant of my ancestors slave owner (Elijah Wiggelsworth) after being featured in a news article about the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center (CRHC) in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  We scheduled a meeting.  The meeting was pleasant, but uneventful. The majority of the information the lady had on the Wiggelsworth family was after the Civil War (which was not very helpful to me) and she did not have any information on their slaves.

I plan to read Melvin Collier’s book 150 Years Later:  Broken Ties Mended in which he discusses his journey to locate descendants of his ancestors who were separated during slavery. I believe the book concludes with a discussion of how all the descendants he located got together for a family reunion 150 years after their ancestors had been separated.  How exciting!!!  Maybe one day I will be so lucky.

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  1. November 8, 2011 at 9:25 am | #1

    This article is well written (the word “be” was omitted in the final paragraph, however). It gives the reader information on two families—one a family of “movers and shakers” and the orther, a family of “ordinary” people. Most of us will fall into the latter category where our research job may be a bit more difficult. I feel that the “ordinary” people will have fewer traceable, verifiable records available to those descendants doing family research today. The personal reward and pride of learning about genetic forefathers is just as great!

  2. Alice
    November 10, 2011 at 10:50 am | #2

    Marion, I really like the concept of a blog about “ordinary people”. I agree that not everyone has made discoveried of ancestors like Robyn’s. I don’t have a blog, but hope to do one soon. Based on my research, I have documented short stories about individual ancestors to share with family members. In my research, I have been fortunate enough to find at least one thing of interest about each ancestor, around which I focus their life story. There is something about every individual which makes them special, whether it is raising 9 children as a widower; working for a family of whites and raising their children (I was reminded of some of my ancestors when I saw the movie “The Help”); organizational involvement and church affiliations; military service and the regimental battles they participated in; etc. I think it is up to us to take these “ordinary people” and tell their stories in the context of the extraordinary events occurring at the time and place where our ancestors lived. That is the opportunity your blog provides. I’d like to see more positive stories about seemingly “ordinary people”. Good luck! Alice

  3. November 11, 2011 at 9:43 am | #3

    Marion,

    You couldn’t have said it better. We are ordinary people, and just the discovery of family heritage makes this journey so rewarding. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and family history with us.

  4. November 12, 2011 at 9:30 am | #4

    Marion,

    welcome to geneablogging! the details on Robyn’s family are interesting for sure and I look forward to reading more about your family & research also. Robyn’s been great – she provided me with some data about one of my family members awhile ago. :-) I have added your blog to my RSS reader so I can keep up with your new posts!

    • January 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm | #5

      Hi Taneya,

      Thanks for the welcome. Robyn is a great genealogy buddy!!
      I am still getting the hang of blogging and wordpress.
      I hope you are enjoying the post.

      Happy New Year to you,
      Marion

  5. November 12, 2011 at 11:27 am | #6

    Welcome to Geneabloggers! I am so excited about your blog. I am amazed already by the photo’s you attached on your post. “Ordinary” may be the case but “Ordinary” does not mean doing things in an extra-ordinary way. Just think of all the stories that can be told that were never told. As you research you will find that this journey of yours will be very rewarding. I am already drawn in by those you detailed on your post! I look forward to reading more.

  6. November 12, 2011 at 9:21 pm | #7

    Like you I have what I would call a very ordinary family. Mostly farmers that worked hard, but no one that made a drastic difference or changed the world. I have felt the ancestor envy you spoke about in your post. But I have learned that while my ancestors were not notable enough to make it in to history books they still had value and the joy is in finding their details…however small. I suppose what makes their story interesting is that it is also my story. Best of luck in finding your story!

  7. Donna Becker
    November 13, 2011 at 11:58 am | #8

    My family is ordinary folk, too. But once in a while, a story comes my way that makes my eyebrows go up. Like the one about an uncle of my Dad’s who got into a fight, was bitten on his thumb, developed a raging infection and died within a few days. When I confirmed the story by finding a mention in a newspaper of the time, I was pretty amazed.

    But being able to expand my knowledge of my parents’ families has been so fulfilling for me, even the stories that seem a little strange. I understand them so much better now.

    Congrats on your blog! May many more bits of information come your way to help you on your quest.

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