When I plan a journey, I don’t just head out the door and hope for the best. I do a bit of homework first. If I’m travelling by car, I might open up a road map and trace out my route. If I know people who live in the area, or friends that have visited my destination previously, I may ask their opinion on places to go or things to see. For a place I cannot ask about from those I know, I may turn to the Internet or the local library for additional information. In arriving at a destination, I might even ask a local or two to suggest a good restaurant, or a place to see. Guidance and advice can often lead to interesting finds on the journey.
My journey in genealogy started off with some homework as well. The road map that I consulted was my own knowledge of my family tree. I knew both my parents’ full names and dates of birth. On my father’s side, I knew both his parents’ names, as well as his mother’s maiden name. I knew the name of the city they had both come from (Malden, Missouri). On my paternal grandmother’s side, I knew her parents’ first names, but I did not know the maiden name of my great-grandmother. I had no clue about my grandfather’s parents at all.
As to the uncle about whose children I was trying to find more information, the only guide I could consult was my father, and at the beginning of my journey, there was not much guidance he gave. He knew his brother’s full name; he could even rattle off his military ID number by heart. But, when I asked what I thought would be a simple question (“When was he born?”) I got this response: “I don’t know.”
Other questions turned out to have similar frustrating conclusions. While he knew the names of the children, he knew none of their birth dates. The name of my aunt from this previous marriage (at least what they called her) was Bunny; was that her real name? He didn’t know. While he thought my aunt and uncle met (and possibly married) in Texas, he couldn’t be sure, and since my uncle had been in the military while they were married, they moved around. He knew of one or two locations, but as to when they had been in each, again, I met with the dead-end that is “I don’t know.”
On my mother’s side of the family (which I also decided to look into), I had a better road map. I had been given a copy of research someone in the family had already compiled. It contained birth and death information, names, some locations, and on some, even the cause of death. Once again, the information stopped pretty much with my great grandparents, but at least I had both of my maternal great grandmothers’ maiden names; one better than I had on my father’s side. I did some similar queries with my aunts, but their knowledge stopped at about the same place as the printed family tree.
So, I had consulted the maps of my family tree, and I had asked for guidance from my family. I was now ready to embark upon my genealogical journey, and let the adventure truly begin!