Our History: Explore Your Family Tree
Every Now and Then is a column featuring a little piece of Douglas County history.
Editor's note: Lisa Cooper's newest work can be found at douglascountyhistory.blogspot.com.
You probably could care less about the details surrounding such events as the French and Indian War or the Treaty of Paris in 1898 signaling the end of the Spanish-American War. But maybe little things like how a certain fire arm became the property of your grandfather or why your mother’s aunt always took great care with a certain turkey platter might interest you.
Looking at your great-great grandmother’s handwriting filling up the family information page of a worn Bible might just send historical shivers down your spine but reading a sterile passage about the causes of the World Wars might put you to sleep.
As an educator and writer regarding historical topics I have found history holds little value until it become tangible in our own lives. Personal connections have to be made. We have to buy into the topic because it has value to us. Perhaps you want to read about the causes of World War I because your great uncle served as a Doughboy. Perhaps you have located a stash of chenille bedspreads handcrafted by a relative and you want to learn more about Georgia’s Peacock Alley of the 1930s. Perhaps you found your father’s service medals from the Vietnam War and you suddenly become interested wanting to know more about the battles he fought in.
Whatever the reason, drawing a personal connection between yourself and history is an important key to understanding historical events. Genealogy plays a huge role with making those connections.
My first real experience with genealogy happened in 1985 when I was living in Virginia Beach, Virginia while my husband was stationed at Dam Neck Naval Base. I drove past a historical residence every day bearing a sign advertising it as the Francis Land House, a home dating back to 1804. I was further intrigued when I learned the Land family had owned the property dating back to 1638. These facts interested me since my maiden name is Land. When my father came to visit he went to the home and was immediately bitten with the genealogy bug. Could Francis Land be our earliest ancestor in America? Dear Father researched our family for years tracking down every little lead, every picture, and every family Bible reference. He could not have undertaken such a monumental task without the assistance of a genealogy society.
Here in Douglasville we are fortunate to have the Douglas County Genealogy Society, a very active and productive group. Recently I had the opportunity to trade some emails with Paul Trew, president of the society.
Trew advised me his 40-year interest in genealogy stems from a desire to know who his ancestors were, where they came from, and he realizes through the process he will learn more about himself. Trew marvels about his ancestors, “How could they just pick and go to places they have never seen and don’t know and start out with a team of horses and a wagon for thousands of miles?" His great uncle in Tennessee inspired him to begin researching his family history which has resulted in more than 93,000 names in his family file. Trew shares his information with anyone who needs it. In May, 2010 Trew placed 82,000 names on Ancestory.com and has had more than 175 people to date contact him via the website to ask if they are related.
The DCGS members meet monthly at the Douglas County Public Library presenting programs to help the general public to undertake their own family research. The Special Collections room at the library contains publications compiled by the Douglas County Genealogy Society including a book containing all of the older Douglas County wills. The library also houses The Heritage of Douglas County, Georgia, 1870-2002, one of the stand-out projects of the DCGS, as well as the book titled, Who’s Who in Douglas County compiled by DCGS member, Joe Baggett.
Members of the group have also taken on the arduous task of researching the Douglas County marriage records. They are in the process of being bound in book form and will eventually be housed in the Special Collections room at the library. A future project on the group’s task list includes taking the microfilm version of Douglas County’s first census in 1880 and publishing it in the form of a book.
If you visit the Douglas County government website you can see the other stand-out project of the DCGS involving the Douglas County Cemetery Records. Society members compiled the research, and then presented it to the county, so that the information could be made available to everyone across the Internet. The search page for Douglas County cemeteries is located here.
The DCGS provides a “First Families Certificate of Douglas County” to any member of the society who can document their direct ancestors were listed in the first census in 1880. The Society also regularly honors Douglas County citizens who reach the age of 100 by giving them a “Centurion Club Member” certificate.
The process of becoming a member of DCGS is very easy. Anyone is welcome to attend their monthly meetings and membership dues are $20 for one year or $36 for a family. Membership includes 12 issues of the Society’s newsletter, The Skint Chestnut Logs, and members enjoy an annual Christmas dinner.
I think most people would like to research the branches of their family tree, but they just don’t know where to begin. I asked Trew about the steps a novice should take to get involved with genealogy. He advised the first thing to do is get involved with a local genealogy society like the Douglas County group. Basic supplies should include pre-printed family forms to use for each family you are researching along with genealogy software to enter your research and to keep it organized. Trew recommends Family Tree Maker while telling me, “Start with your immediate family, then your grandparents, then great-grandparents for information, and ask for any old family Bibles to get names and dates.” Trew also states various genealogy websites are key ingredients to obtaining all the information you can with the website, Ancestory.com as the most popular. Other useful sites include Find-a-Grave.com, Footnote.com, and Rootsweb.com.
The Douglas County Genealogy Society plan to continue in their quest to find projects that will help contribute more research to the Special Collections Room at the Douglas County Public Library for people to use to help in their research. The group plans to eventually put the 1880 Douglas County Census in book form, organize and plan more field trips, enlarge their membership base so that more projects can be completed and implement an advertising campaign to advise the general public regarding the purpose and projects of the Society.
You can visit the website for the Douglas County Genealogy Society here.