I want to kick off this category of articles with a little bit of what it was like getting started with my genealogy research before there was an internet.
I come from a family that doesn’t seem to have been very close. In fact I grew up within an hour’s travel of several of my father’s sisters and brothers, yet rarely saw any of them more than once or twice a year, if that much.
Both my father’s parents died early. My grandfather in 1952, four years before I was born, and his mother in 1960.
When I was younger, queries about my ancestors were usually answered very vague. My father did know his father was originally from Culpeper, Virginia and remembered his aunt and uncle coming by to take him, his father and his older siblings to visit “an old white haired man” in Virginia. He assumed it was his grandfather, but didn’t even know his name. He also thought we might be Irish because the name sounded kind of Irish.
Sometime in the 70’s, I stumbled upon a book by Gilbert H. Doane on finding your ancestors. There was nothing special about the book, except that I knew nothing about how to find out about my fore bearers and it showed me how to get started.
Start with the living. Such an obvious choice, since they can answer your questions. So I asked my parents, only to find out that beyond my Father’s sisters, brothers, and his parents they really didn’t know much and even weren’t too sure about that. But my mother volunteered that a cousin had done a genealogy project in school. Now I was getting somewhere.
Not so fast. After obtaining some of the information from it, I gained two pieces of useful information, that actually turned out to be correct. My great grandfather’s first name was Robert and the family indeed was from Culpeper.
Where would I look next? My father was born in Baltimore, but moved to Washington, DC when he was eight, and his father had lived in Baltimore for some time. Oh yea, and searching the census meant accessing microfiche for a particular area, and I was living in Florida at the time.
I had to find people who knew more than I did about my family origins. So I got hold of a Culpeper phone book and wrote a personal letter to each Kilby listed there. I, To my surprise, received some replies. One of these replies was from Lucia Kilby. Lucia didn’t know exactly where I fit in because I had so little to go on: but she did put me in contact with a woman near Baltimore “that was asking the same questions.”
Turns out that this woman was Florence Kilby Mavronis, a first cousin to my father. My father and Florence never even knew that the other existed. I told you my family wasn’t exactly close.
I will leave this story at this point. Needless to say, I went on to build a network of contacts with other researchers that’s has helped me immensely.
Building a network of fellow researchers can prove valuable. They can help you overcome geographic limitations by assisting in data collection.