Sleepless Nights and Total Strangers: Human Interaction vs. the Best Technology

Tracing my family history has always been a hobby; up until this point, however, it consisted mainly of reading the book written by my great-great uncle and looking up names on the internet. With ancestry.com and lots of new tools at my disposal I just knew that I’d be able to work my way through each branch of my family tree with ease. Unfortunately, things usually don’t work out the way we imagine them, and researching a family tree is no different.

I decided to start on my father’s side (since that’s the side of the family I know the least about). I made it through the first four generations (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and 2nd great grandparents) with very few issues – family history isn’t too hard when you’ve already got a list of names and dates. Then, I hit the fifth generation, and the proverbial “brick wall.” I was trying to find the parents of my 2nd great grandmother, Estelle Gibson. Unfortunately, at the time of the 1900 Census, her father had died, and of course, her mother used her married name. I looked back to the 1880 census, and her parents weren’t married, so I had no way of finding her father’s name, or her mother’s maiden name. I spent several hours in the library pouring through records trying to find an obituary, or death certificate – anything that could give me a clue, and found nothing. Not being able to find an answer drove me crazy, and I ended up staying up past 3:00 AM working on family history every night. Eventually, in conversation with my grandmother, she reminded me that my 2nd great grandmother still has two surviving children. I was very happy when I was able to talk to one of them, he knew everything that I needed to find out and more – leading me to the conclusion that all of the technology in the world can’t make up for firsthand knowledge gained from human interaction.

In between the ups and downs of tracing my father’s side of the family, I also reinforced my knowledge of my mother’s side of the family by filling in some of the gaps. I was working on finding out details about my 3rd Great Grandfather, John Napoleon Henton, and I saw that he died in 1864, so I began to look for any information that he may have been involved in the Civil War. From what I’ve seen so far, I believe that he did fight in the Civil War, though it isn’t clear what side he fought for, so, knowing that there are often markers or symbols on graves to indicate service in a war I looked for his grave on findagrave.com. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture, so I requested one. Within several hours I’d received a response, and a picture, from another of John Napoleon Henton’s descendents. As of yet, we’re corresponding with one another to fill in the gaps in our family trees, and I’m learning a lot more than I probably could have from the internet.

Just more proof that sometimes connecting with people can be much more helpful than a green leaf beside an ancestor’s name.