Monday, February 15, 2016
When I was just a kid, we would watch the TV show "Dragnet" with the police detective, Joe Friday, saying to a lady witness: "Just the facts, Ma'am!" This is what we as family historians should insist upon - Just the Facts!
I have been researching, questioning, investigating, doubting undocumented (& some documented) “facts” since I was in the fifth grade (age 10, now age 69 about 59 years). You might think I am a little bit stubborn and generally do not accept circumstantial evidence as “fact!” One thing that I have discovered over all of these years: if there is any "fact" that does not totally add up or seems suspicious, that "fact" needs further research! Another important item, is any normal information that is missing like birth, marriage, death, lost periods of time... these missing facts can change all that you knew about that person and much more. Finding proof (documentation) for “facts” is often elusive and even to seem to be totally non-existent; however, do not give up… keep searching for it, the proof is usually available, we just do not know where to look. I once found a document in Texas for an estate in Kentucky that was “lost” in Kentucky, but recorded in Texas by an heir to that estate!
Let me provide some background of two important facts believed to be lost forever. My father was an avid book reader who devoured books of all kinds including my high school and college textbooks and whole sets of encyclopedias. He loved to read western paperback novels, but his favorite was history. Dad dropped out of high school after his sophomore year to support his mother and younger sister, but through his readings of math, science, grammar, literature and the arts – he easily acquired more education than what most get from high school. From his readings (studies), he “knew” he was descended from someone who participated in the Revolutionary War. He researched in the public libraries in the 1950’s when he was not working. He learned some about our family in county history books, but also realized that much of that information was generally glorified stories of the family. He was told that the Christian County, Kentucky courthouse was completely burnt down during the Civil War and the records were all destroyed. The Health department was burned down several times by fires that included Dad’s birth certificate (which meant that he did not have a certificate to prove his birth, etc.). If only Dad could have gotten access to U.S. Census records, the latest released was the 1860 census. Cemetery inscription books began being published in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Dad died young in 1973. I had done some research and asked family about our history; so, I knew most of what Dad had learned, though it was limited and undocumented.
Shortly after Dad had died, I learned that the courthouse in Hopkinsville was burned to the ground, but before the Confederate soldiers arrived the citizens removed all of the records with all being saved from 1797 when Christian County was formed. That same day I found the court records to prove our line back to Thomas West, Jr. and that he provided material aide to the U.S. militia. I also learned that his son Charles H. West was married to Aquilla Buckner, the daughter of Jesse Buckner a Private who fought in the Revolutionary War. Dad was right about the family involvement in the development of our country’s independence from England… he just could not find the proof!
Another “fact” that proved to not be absolute was about Dad’s birth certificate. By state law all births and deaths were required to be “returned” to the State Office of Vital Statistics within 5 days of the event. Sure enough I was able to get Dad’s birth certificate from the state office!
Another example is Dad’s Woodis family of Christian County, KY. Littleberry Woodis was in NC in 1810. I found in Kentucky that his wife was Luvana, but what was her maiden name? I could not find a marriage record for them. They had a son, William Woodis, who appears in the 1860 census with his wife, children and mother, Luvana age 90. In the 1870 census, William is nowhere to be found, but his wife and children are in the census. Where was William? Were they divorced, did he run away, was he dead??? He would have been about 53, so I decided he died between 1860 and1870. Many of his family and other relatives went to Illinois between 1860 and 1870. I was checking records in Illinois and accidently found William in the 1870 census. So, he went into hiding again from 1870 thru 1880 Census… lost again. I assumed he had died this time or ran off to California or whatever! I gave up on him. A member from my genealogical society informed me that Henderson, KY (just across the Ohio River from Evansville where I live) had a complete set of the volumes of the State Vital Statistics in their courthouse. Wow! I could check for many of my family members and send off for birth/death certificates!!! I was there the next morning looking through the long lists of records. The state records begin in Kentucky in 1912 with death records being the most important to me. I checked for Mom’s family and all of Dad’s lines (West, Flatt, Phipps, Martin, Williams, Woodis, Buckner, Rogers, Rager, etc.). I found a death record of a William Woodis died in 1913 (lived just long enough). The record lists name, date of death, county and certificate number. This couldn’t be Littleberry’s son since he would be very old, it would be about right for William’s son who was named William. I sent off for the certificate to see who was listed as this William’s mother. When I got the record, it listed the mother as Luvana Blalock and father Littleberry Woodis – what??? Age 95 years old! This elusive William Woodis did not die just after 1870, he was alive in 1913!!! I checked the 1910 census and found him, and then I checked the 1900 census and found him again. I checked all of the surrounding counties and did not find him in the 1880 census.
I gave up on this William Woodis and assumed he had died sometime after 1870… a span of 43 years before he actually died! I did learn of him for part of that time, but still have 30 years lost (1870-1900). I only sent off for this death certificate to ensure that Amanda Black was his mother. My direct line from Littleberry was William (1818-1913) and Luvana then Margaret G. Woodis. I would have never found this information, if I just assumed it was the wrong William!
We tend to give up and search another line or person. However, no matter how discouraged we may become or how hopeless the possibility of success, something happens to pull us back into looking some more. I will say that for myself, I have been to the point of thinking I will never know the answer to our quest and just put away my files and notes in total surrender! And then, you find some documents out of nowhere that sheds new light on your research. Or perhaps... Ben, Joy, Ronnie or someone else will ask a simple question that leads us all scrambling to find the answer. This has happened to me many times and keeps happening over and over. So many facts were said to be impossible to find from that courthouse to lost deeds, wills, death dates and burials, maiden names, etc., etc., and so on! [smiling]. Too many people have not been stubborn enough like George, Ben, Ronny, Kevin, Joy, Vy or me. The less stubborn gave up and said that there existed enough evidence to say that it is likely or highly assumed to be true... only to learn many years later that the “lack of evidence” was because we were on a false trail! Please do not be like the family on the TV commercial - we are settlers. Remember, "just the facts, Ma'am!"