Out On A Limb
Looking for that “needle in a haystack” often describes the search for ancestry records. Sometimes that yearned-after discovery appears as a sparkle on the surface of the hay, but more often we find it embedded deep within the hay, under a boatload of prickly straw and musty smells. Taking a few genealogy research excursions together lately, the Tree Shakers experienced the thrill of discovery and a fruitless dive into the hay in our quest for “needles.” Donna, the point person for our Fuller family research, discovered a living relative of our mom (deceased), a second cousin, once removed, living in Louisiana. We took a day to visit with Lucille and to share family stories over bowls of her homemade Cajun gumbo. While the visit did not uncover many new revelations pertinent to our lineage, we had a great time and felt the connection. The next day, we took a stroll back in time in Abbeville, LA, where we believed our grandparents were married in the late 1800’s. The old courthouse still stood majestic among spreading oaks and a variety of other interesting species native to that area. We received proper southern salutations at the clerk’s office and were directed down a long hallway connecting to the library of old volumes holding the mysteries of previous generations. By then, our hearts were throbbing with anticipation of discovery. (Old records have that effect on genealogists.) The archivist, probably a distant relative of ours, judging by his Cajun last name, appeared to take great pleasure in giving us a personal tour of the stacks. He selected a giant volume and placed it on the desk. Our fingers were itching to take over, to turn the ancient pages ourselves, keen on discovering what it would reveal. However, we held back, allowing the archivist to slowly flip the pages…and finally, there it was, the marriage license of our grandparents, that nugget of genealogical proof that we had longed to find! We exited there with triumphant grins on our faces. Bolstered by this success, we traveled to the Mississippi state archives to trace the migration of our maternal line. We dug through books, cemetery records, land records and microfiche for the greater part of two days. Although we found a few noteworthy pieces, we left sorely disappointed and exhausted. Another day and another old courthouse off the beaten path, a much smaller version of the other. We had names. We had a few dates. We had the hope of discovery that keeps us looking. We met some nice people and learned about the area where our ancestors owned land, married, had families, but they had left no trail that we could find. Sadly, we headed home. We had again experienced the reality of genealogical research. Many times, you find exactly what you believed was hidden in that haystack; sometimes you find more than you expected; sometimes you don’t find what you are looking for at all, no matter how hard you look. Is this the end of the road for this short branch of the family tree? Maybe. Probably not. Dedicated researchers never stop pursuing. With all of the tools we have for remote research, we will continue to look for that bit of information that shows the migrant’s trail. Who knows, maybe some vital record, stored for generations in the dark corner of a storage room, or attic, on a cemetery roster or in a records depository, will be sorted, categorized, digitized, and will pop up on a database…and there it will be, that link that we have been searching for deep in the haystack!