Retracing Family Roots
Who among us considers taking time to retrace our genealogy, to discover interesting tidbits about our ancestors or the distant branches of our family trees? Few of us have the time, patience and determination to carry out these plans despite our best intentions, no matter how much we want to.
A group of Carroll County residents have taken that step back into the past, however, spending countless hours researching records in state libraries, cemeteries, town clerk offices, and various other sources to try to find the roots of their family trees. Their efforts are not always fruitful; records are sometimes non-existent or erroneous, the research often tedious and exhaustive. But nonetheless, they sometimes find discoveries that more than make up for the difficulties encountered along the way.
Formed in February 1978, the Carroll County Chapter of the New Hampshire Society of Genealogists is comprised of 40 members residing in such towns as Conway, Freedom, Tamworth, and Center Ossipee. The group meets the third Monday of every month between March and October at the Ossipee Central School at 7:30 pm. The meetings usually include general discussions on research techniques and often are highlighted by talks by persons who have made remarkable efforts in the field of genealogy.
The group's president is Jeanne Oxandaburu, a pleasant resident of the town of Effingham. Jeanne's interest in genealogy grew out of her work as a Census taker during the past year. In her work she found herself spending as much time in cemeteries writing down the names of deceased persons as she did at the doorsteps of the houses.
A member of a Graveyard association as well, Jeanne shares with society members a love of history and a sense of excitement in learning with others. Echoing her comments at a recent meeting was Joyce Van Tassell of Effingham, noting that genealogy brings a combination of rewards. "Once you begin to learn and research, it's not just a matter of filling in your family chart. People ask us why we would even want to go around graveyards jotting down information from crumbling headstones or spending time in libraries researching - well, there's much more to it. You obviously learn about your own history in researching the names and lives of dead ancestors, but you also meet a lot of living persons along the way who are just as important," Joyce commented.
The recent chapter meeting illustrated her remarks as Dr. Lawrence Hall, an 83-year-old Effingham resident and experienced genealogist, presented a discussion on his own successful retracing of his family's past. Remarkably fit for his age, he has spent the past 18 years uncovering the intertwining, and sometimes deeply buried roots, of his family's colorful history. A former research chemist, Lawrence says that the scientific approach of forming a hypothesis and then following it out through long hours of research have aided him in mapping his heritage. His own tree extends 10 generations back to the 1630s in this country and even further to England.
"Persistence used to pay off as a research chemist, and it has helped me over the past years with my genealogy research. Ninety percent of your research work will hit a dead end, but you just have to use your imagination along with a scientific process of elimination and go from there," Lawrence stated. He added that the mystery and chance discovery aspects of pursuing genealogy are what makes the hobby such an adventure for him. "It's real honest fun, and exciting, too. We all like to know who we are and where we came from, but most people never talk with their elders when they're young to learn about the past. Consequently, they have little knowledge of their ancestors past their great or great-great grandparents, which is unfortunate," he explained.
Lawrence began his own monumental delve back into the past upon his retirement. His mother and sister had always been actively interested in history through various organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, and he said that he probably was attracted to genealogy "just to do them one better." Unlike many of the other members of the Carroll County chapter, he has been fortunate in being able to devote all of his energy into the effort. He has also recruited a few friends in various states to help look up information for him when he needed it.
His articles have appeared in a number of historical publications, including an acclaimed piece for the National Association of Watch and Clockmakers concerning his great grandfather. Reflecting on Laurence's comment that a genealogist starts with nothing and finishes with a good story and an understanding of history, the 15-year effort spent in tracing the life of the gifted clockmaker left the Effingham resident with a more accurate account of his ancestor.
"I had always been told that my great grandfather had once had a huge fortune, which had been lost or spent. To the contrary, I learned from various letters, county records, and a walk through the grown-over graveyard where he's buried in Georgia that his fortune had dissipated in the depression of the late 1830s, and that he had died at the age of 42 from yellow fever," he related. Lawrence noted that his subsequent article cost him an additional 20 dollars to publish. " I had to join the Watch and Clockmakers Association in order to get the article published in their membership magazine," he laughed.
When researching family genealogies, Lawrence told the members of the Carroll County Chapter that the best place to start is to talk with relatives. Following those encounters, he advises persons to consult local histories, existing family geneology books, old family bibles, letters, and whatever manuscripts one might happen to come across. Plowing ahead even further, various county probate records, deeds, tax notations, and church notations of marriage and funeral dates may be used.
Other helpful information can possibly be obtained from the National Archives, period newspaper articles and obituaries, census records, memorial markers, and from visiting old family cemeteries. "It takes a lot of time and patience, and it's easy to see that not all the information you encounter is going to be available or accurate. You just have to go on a hunch and be a good detective," he said, admitting that parttime enthusiasts can be hampered by uncooperative record keepers, resource centers that are closed on weekends, and lack of time. "Every time that you do uncover something, though, you should always record the date the birth, marriage, or death occurred as well as the correct spelling of the person's name," Lawrence added.
Lawrence intends to have his 10 generation account of the Hall family published by the winter. As with his journals on "Glimpses of Goshen," his family's home, and the article about his clockmaker relative, that publication will be sent to various libraries in the Northeast so that students will be able to use and learn from it. His next project will take approximately two years to complete, although he preferred not to divulge exactly what it will focus on.
"I can't die now because I've got that work left to do," he said. He was somewhat embarrassed and yet also proud to mention that this is the first year that he will be unable to cut his own wood for his house, the oldest in Effingham. He then ironically added with a grin, "That's the thing about genealogy - it's never done, since life goes on. It's living history, and it all falls into place, eventually,"