Some years ago, a cousin asked me for some help in something he was doing. He was planning a family reunion to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his grandfather's birthday. He néeded someone to do some data entry and perhaps make up a chart or family tree. I was to be that person. I said yes, as his grandfather was my husband's great grandfather and I had been after him for a long time to share information, which he had. It was always too much trouble to take the time to look for it in his papers. Now that he had a reason, the information would be forthcoming. I had worked collateral lines on this hoping to jump over a brick wall. I had information on my husband's direct line going back to the early 1700s.
I set up a separate file so that I could keep the information separate from what I had. He sent me reams, or so it seemed, of pages with names of people and their lines going back to this grandfather. I did what I could to unravel some of the mysteries of relationships and made a seven-generation tree chart showing where everyone belonged. It made quite a hit.
The time came for the reunion. I met family I had not known existed and I guess my husband had not either. We sat and talked of family, answered questions the best we could, or promised to find answers. We visited the old home of that grandfather, went to church where he and his family had worshipped in the 1800s and above all ate. We enjoyed the fellowship over the meals we had together, including the birthday cake for grandfather. People did not want to lose touch so another was to be planned for three years later.
The same cousin was going to make the arrangements. Meanwhile, my husband and I planned a week away from our vacation spot so that I could visit and use the Regional National Archives in Pittsfield, MA. One afternoon I was sitting looking at my genealogy things I had with me and I decided that if I was ever going to get anywhere with this line from the reunion I had better do so then. I picked up the phone book and looked for the family name in the next town. This is where the earliest person I had in that line was living at one time. The surname still existed in that town...three men all with the same first name. Which one should I call first? I picked one and made the call. The man was out but I left a message. Later, that evening I received a call from him. It turned out that my first try was the correct person with whom to talk. We arranged to meet the next day and sure enough, we had information to share. I found our connection and he was able to add to his. He also gave me the name of his nephew who had done the work on what he had.
Duane, the nephew called me when I returned to my home in Florida. We had a delightful conversation and exchanged more information. He was no longer able to do active research due to ill health but we kept in touch and the following summer I had a list of names and places that would fill in some gaps or verify information we had. We found two others researching the same family and the four of us joined forces. They were descendants of other brothers of the one on which we were working. Duane heard from someone else who was descended from the other brother of the earliest name we had. I added his information to what I had.
All of this was leading to the next reunion. I asked our cousin if we could invite those people whom we had talked with and who were descendants of others in the line. Our reunion grew in numbers. The day finally arrived and this time we had a family chart that covered most of one wall in the small meeting room. People were thrilled to look at it and see where they and their children fit into the overall picture. People who wanted it got copies of the chart. We now went beyond the grandfather of the first reunion by five generations. How did we do this? We all shared our information and documentation. We heard more family stories.
The person who had started the reunion three years previous sent copies of some of his data. One of the things was a transcription of a diary his grandfather had kept during the Civil War. Another was a transcription of one he kept when he and his wife went back to Vermont when his father was terminally ill. I was fascinated by that as he talked of seeing Aunt Mary and Uncle Jim and a bunch of other names. I had fun putting the puzzle pieces of names into families and then realizing that names I had seen and heard in other places were all family and not just friends or neighbors who had moved west to Ohio with them. Later, I was finding them nearby on census records. This was proof that family and friends did move together and live near each other in the new settlements.
Use pictures, diaries, stories and every other source you may run across in searching for your ancestors. Be patient and try to find these people in other sources of public record like census, land deeds, marriage records, church records and many more. Best of all though, is if you find someone else searching the same line. You may get new information from them but you have also found a relative no matter how far distant.