General Non-Fiction posted July 21, 2022 Chapters: -Prologue- Prologue... 


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Experiences and facts I've learned from looking for family.

A chapter in the book Pioneers of My People

Digging for Family Roots

by BethShelby


As long as I can remember I was interested in learning about what my kin who lived before me were like. I was fortunate enough to grow up with three grandparents. My dad’s parents lived in the next house over, and my mother’s mother lived with us most of the time.  Her dad had passed away several months before I was born. 

Neither my mom nor dad knew their grandparents, so their knowledge of the past was limited. From my grandparents, I constantly begged for stories from their memory. I got a pretty good view of what life was like in the early days of the twentieth century and who their parents were, but very little information going further back than that. 

I did have an aunt who was interested enough in her roots to hire a professional genealogist to trace her Davis line. Although some of what she learned proved later to contain errors, she was thrilled to report to the family she had learned "none of our ancestors had hung by their necks or their tails." I later learned she’d been misinformed, because one of our distant cousins was hanged by his neck when he sought revenge for the death of his son at the hands of the local sheriff. Darwin might have disagreed about those he felt hung by their tails, but that is not an argument I would care to engage in.

When I got my first computer and purchased a genealogical program, enabling me to organize names and dates, a whole new world of knowledge opened up. Ancestry.com was free back then, and putting the names into the computer program gave me insights into generations of my own family stretching back years. 

We have the Church of Latter-Day Saints in Utah to thank for so much knowledge being available on the computer. Their members are encouraged to trace their own ancestors and as many other people’s as possible back as far as they can go. The reasoning behind this practice has something to do with a ritual they engage in called “baptism for the dead.” Their belief is baptism is necessary for salvation and perhaps those in the past were unaware and God has provided a way for them to be saved. It is their purpose to make sure those who have gone before aren’t excluded from rewards of heaven. 

In Salt Lake City, the church contains the most extensive databank in the world of the names and dates of those who have lived before. This doesn’t mean all of the information is correct because those who put it into the database are not infallible. When accessing this information, you need to be aware it is only as accurate as the knowledge of those who placed it there. When DNA testing began, the information became a lot more accurate and will continue to improve over time. 

As far as what I have learned about my own family, it is hard to say which facts are the most interesting or impressive. I was surprised to find there were good records kept when the early colonists first came to America. Maybe because there weren’t so many people to keep up with back then, it was easier. Some of the early settlers were writers, who recorded stories for historical records. 

I was able to trace one of my lines accurately back to Jamestown, and it was exciting to realize that in the first colony there were five people who arrived on the Mayflower who were a part of my family line. It addition there was a great story about how one of my ancestors fell from the boat and nearly drowned.

Apparently, when someone becomes well known, like a president of the US, their family lines are sure to be traced back. I was surprised to learn that all of our presidents were found to have royalty somewhere in one of their family lines. I thought it strange, and wondered if some type of conspiracy might be behind it. Perhaps, only certain special people could ever stand a chance of becoming president.

Later when tracing back my own lines, I realized by six generations back, we have over a hundred lines. This is because the number of individuals in our ancestry doubles each generation we go back. With so many lines, it is likely all of us might discover more than one line containing royalty. Many of the first settlers who came here were from wealthy families. Some came to escape persecution. All of them seem to take the Biblical commandment to "go forth and multiply" seriously.

If you study the history of Europe, you might note how many members of the royal family ended up having their heads chopped off. You can’t much blame them for fleeing to a new land. I’ve found a lot of my lines go back to lords and ladies or counts and countesses and some to the sons or daughters of a king. So far, I’ve found none of them in direct line for the throne. I’ll keep looking. 

One of my family lines belonged to a Quaker group, and they also kept very accurate records. The Quakers made friends with the Indians and managed to convert some to Christianity. They often took orphaned Indian children in as family. Records show some in my line as having Native American blood, but I’ve not been able to prove that with my DNA. I’m not convinced Ancestry has tested the Native American blood as much as they have other groups. Until I can confirm it, I can’t share the interesting stories I’ve learned about what might be my Native American ancestors.

One thing I did learn is that I have a second cousin who is afraid to find out how she is related. Learning the truth might prove embarrassing for her family since it means the person, she has always believed to be her father, isn’t. It also means one of my cousins may have strayed into territory where he shouldn’t have been. Some stories are best left untold.



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