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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Ancestry and Ancestors

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 21, 2016

For several years, our library system has contracted to be part of Ancestry Library Edition online services to allow the public to search the databases provided by the world’s largest genealogical system.

 

It must be used at the library; the only way they contract the services of the library edition.

 

Over the years, Ancestry.com has continued to enlarge its system with countless new sources of information that is now digitized and online.

 

You can also purchase the home edition of Ancestry.com which makes you a member of their network and allows you to develop your family tree.

 

The system also is constantly searching for connections to your family tree and displays a leaf if it thinks something else online will assist you develop your family tree.

 

In the 6 months I have been working on my family tree, I have over 1,100 links to individuals dating back into the 1500s.

 

As a librarian, what irks me about all of this is a computer that keeps suggesting more links to my family tree.  Actually any computer that tells me what to do irks me!

 

The recommended family tree links are based on information that “the computer” thinks belongs in my family tree.

 

Sometimes the computer is correct, and sometimes it is wrong.

 

I enjoy assembling and working on my family tree, and it is one of the most popular library activities that takes place in America’s public libraries.

 

I also enjoy collecting the stories of my ancestors, something that is difficult to do with just computer searches.

 

Ancestry does provide space in its system for scanned photos, documents, and stories of ancestors, but talking to people at family reunions provide a great source of learning about the lives of ancestors.

 

Many years ago, I had a conversation with a distant cousin about my great-grandfather Thomas Hall, who was a Private in the American Civil War.

 

Her story was that Thomas Hall was 30 years old when the Civil War began, and he and Rebecca Jane already had 5 children.  He and his brother operated a large farm in SE Ohio, so he was told to “stay home and run the farm to provide for the Union forces.”

 

Thomas joined the Union war effort toward the end of the war, and only made it to the military post in Columbus before the war ended, so he returned to the farm with sword and uniform.

 

According to the story, he hated the whole war effort which placed brother against brother, and family against family.

 

He took his uniform and sword to the middle of his corn field and buried them, never again talking about the war.  He didn’t apply for any military pension until 1909 when he and his wife were ill.

 

Their pension applications do provide a peek into their life, such as basic family information.  He had gray hair and a gray beard by then, and had been a farmer as well as a “postal transportation” person, riding horseback six days a week with the mail.

 

His beautiful signature shows “Thomas Hall” written in bold and perfect script.  His wife, Rebecca Jane Campbell Hall, signed with an “X.”  You would think Thomas could have taught her to write her name!

 

His 1911 death certificate says that he lived with his cousins when he died of stomach cancer, and was cared for by Dr. McCurdy, his wife’s cousin.

 

Rebecca Jane died in 1913 of “old age” and was still living with the cousins.

 

Stories combined with facts from documents and paperwork provides an overview of the life of your ancestors, but it also leaves questions that cannot be “filled in” to complete the picture.

 

There are the sad stories of Sadie Hall, a school teacher, who fell off a wagon and was killed on the way to a school picnic, as well as the story of the Okey Halls going to a school program and rolled their 1929 Model A Ford completely over, and continued driving to the event.

 

These stories make people real when stories are combined with the documentation.