I never make New Year’s Resolutions and it’s a good thing because I’ve already missed my blog posting schedule every week this year.
In my defense, I have been doing a lot of research for the blog, but none of it is ready for publication, so I’m just writing this (late) post freestyle.
This is the second weekend in a row that we’ve been “snowed in” here in my neighborhood. I’m okay with that. My sister pointed out this morning that the number of inches of snow on the ground during a snow emergency directly corresponds to the number of pounds gained over that same snow emergency. Seems about right.
Now, about the research I’m doing to help me continue my family stories here on my blog:
Research is hard
I just spent a frustrating few days trying to access old newspaper clippings without paying outlandish “membership” fees for the rest of my life. I finally managed to use my library’s credentials to get into the archives to find the information I sought, but there was too much wasted time for the few details that emerged. Once again, I found I had the facts, but not the whole story…and that’s my motto: The story is the thing.
I have many of the hard facts, birth dates, death dates, etc. They’ve been available to me thanks to a huge book compiled by three distant relatives, Kenneth Scott, Connie Hackman, and Leona Lawson, who tracked the descendants of our ancestor William Edward Collings and pulled together the details of the Pigeon Roost Massacre. I will be forever grateful that they not only tackled this massive project, but they saw it through to completion.
Seriously, though, where does a story begin? That can be a huge problem for a story teller. How much background does one need before telling a story? My family story doesn’t begin at Pigeon Roost, it doesn’t begin when the family moved to the Indiana territory, it doesn’t even begin when they moved to Kentucky. I haven’t found the beginning yet and I’m not sure I will, but I’m still trying.
Research is confusing
As soon as you think you have the facts nailed down, along comes someone’s opinion or some other researcher’s notes or a date that’s slightly off from all the dates you’ve carefully recorded. If the birth year has always been 1724 until you read another family tree and find the date quoted as 1754, those lost or found 30 years can change the whole sequence of later events.
I did have that happen with one person’s birth date. Children and events didn’t line up quite the way they should, so I did the math and found that she appeared to be 110 when she died. That seemed highly unlikely back in the 1700’s so I had to spend another day running that information down, trying to find out which was incorrect, her birth date or her death date.
Official government records are fairly reliable, but they are difficult to come by and more so as the story reaches further back into history. I found one official petition by some residents of Kentucky to government officials requesting that Kentucky be allowed to become a state. Several of my ancestors are shown as signers of this petition, so that places them in a general area on a specific date.
I’ll be sharing that petition on this blog in the future because of one section that makes me smile to read how wily the pioneers were in selling their argument.
And then there are the names
I wrote about the naming conventions used by German families, but seriously, names like William and John, used in generation after generation with (maybe) a different middle name (maybe not), do not serve researchers well. Luckily the Collings have some rather unique first names like Spencer and Zebulon and Kearnes and Phoebe (Phebe), but they crop up in many generations, so once again, dates are so important.
Consistent spelling of names was not a high priority in history. I have in my background Collings, Collins, (possibly) Kollings, Nicholas, Nichols, Nicolaus, etc. Doing a search on inaccurate last name spelling has been somewhat of a nightmare even today. That newspaper article I was researching, the one I almost didn’t find, finally turned up when I searched an alternate spelling of the last name.
Researching the women
One of my biggest frustrations is the lack of records for women. Often wives’ maiden names are never provided, they mostly didn’t own property, and when men had two or three wives (pioneer life was especially hard for women) the children of the men were not always listed according to the proper mothers.
When women married more than once, their second marriage only recorded their previous married name, not their maiden name.
Most disconcerting, women just seemed to randomly disappear from family stories. That’s actually what got me started on this journey through my family history.
In all the stories of Pigeon Roost, there was no detail about where or what happened to William Elston Collings’ wife, Phebe, mother and grandmother of many of the victims. William and his two teenage children resisted the Indians, the details of their escape have been told, but there was no word of Phebe, his wife. Many, many researchers claim that she died in the massacre, but she did not.
So, I went looking for her…and found her. Never fear. I’ll tell you that story, too!