EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
A new tool for digging into family roots, the internet has helped genealogy enthusiasts grow new branches on their family trees.
However, libraries, road trips, and good old-fashioned sleuthing still play a big role.
“We’re like detectives,” said JoAnn Myers of the Burnet County Genealogical Society. “We find a piece of information, and that leads us to another piece. We think, ‘Well, who was this and who are they related to and how?’ So we just keep digging.”
Genealogy, the study of family history, solves the “who-was-it” rather than the “whodunnit.”
“You want to know where you came from, who your people are,” said Pam Hance, who moved to Texas from North Carolina in 1981. Now a resident of Briggs, she remembered feeling a sense of belonging as she crossed into the Lone Star State, although she had no known connection to Texas. Through research and diligence, she discovered otherwise.
Genealogists pay attention to the details — that one sentence found looking through piles of information. A good genealogist connects information gathered from different places at different times to put together their stories.
Burnet resident Maud Cain picked up her genealogy quest from a cousin who began researching their family history in 1995. When he had to give it up due to lack of time, Cain took over. Her research led her on a road trip to Guntown, Mississippi, near Tupelo in search of her dad’s family. The Hopkins also had ties to North Carolina, but there were gaps in the trail. She picked up the hunt in the Guntown library, where the librarian helped her find the right books. As she was going through the material, Maud came across information from a woman who kept details of the Hopkins clan. She listed where Hopkins family members lived or moved and other information. Cain found a sentence that jumped out at her.
The woman wrote, “I don’t know what happened to Jim.”
Cain perked up. Her great-grandfather’s name was James, and she knew he had come to Texas. Suddenly, Cain had a possible link connecting her family tree to the Hopkins family of Guntown and, quite possibly, North Carolina. She eventually discovered that her family lived in Montgomery and Randolph counties in North Carolina. She found a grandfather several generations back who had six brothers and, through her work, was able to contact descendants of all of them.
However, the trail eventually hit a dead end. One of the courthouses that held records she needed burned down in the early half of the 20th century. Cain lamented to attendees at a state genealogical presentation that her trail ran cold because of the fire. A woman in the audience backed up her account of the fire, proclaiming, “That’s right, because my uncle and cousin burned the courthouse down.”
That’s also part of the draw: When solving a mystery, you never know who you will meet or where the clues will lead.
In search of her own connection to her new state, Hance was looking for why.
“I was from North Carolina,” she said. “When I came to Texas though, I felt like I was coming home, but I couldn’t tell why.”
That became evident when Hance began researching one of her grandfathers, a man her parents didn’t want her to know anything about. With that, the search became more interesting. Was there some big secret?
“Nobody in my family had even met my grandfather,” she said. “I didn’t even know his name.”
Hance pieced together enough clues to find the grandfather’s name and final destination.
“He was buried in Grayson County,” she continued.
That cemented her Texas connection.
There doesn’t appear to be any family secret though. But her research isn’t done. In fact, for genealogists, the hunt is never over.
“If someone tells you they have finished their family tree, they haven’t,” Myers said. “Nobody ever finishes. There’s always another question or person to look for. That’s what’s so much fun.”
Highland Lakes genealogists assist anyone wanting to know their own family story. Burnet County Genealogical Society volunteers meet at the Herman Brown Free Library in Burnet on most Fridays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. to work on projects, help patrons, and cut and file newspaper clippings. If a request comes in about family history and they have the resources available, they readily lend a hand.
The volunteers also spend a great deal of time adding to historical records, both online and in traditional formats. While much of the information has been digitized, much more remains to be done, according to Myers.
“The internet’s been a boon to (genealogy),” she said. “A lot more people do it, or want to do it. You don’t have to go to the courthouse or cemeteries like we used to. You can find a lot of it online.”
However, that doesn’t mean these detectives aren’t ready for some “off-line” sleuthing when it’s necessary.
“Oh, it’s fun,” Cain said. “You never know what you’ll find.”
And, Myers reminded, one clue usually leads to another.
Local resources for genealogy include the Herman Brown Free Library, 100 E. Washington in Burnet, 512-715-5228. Online resources are available at hermanbrownlibrary.org and usgenwebsites.org/TXBurnet. The Kingsland Branch Library, 125 W. Polk St. in Kingsland, has genealogy resources as well. The Highland Lakes Genealogical Society normally meets at 2 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the Kingsland library. Call Michelle Hogan at 210-216-2044 or Shirley Shaw at 830-385-7070 for more information on the HLGS.