Researching, Preserving, and Sharing Genealogical Information For Future Generations
Author: Carrie Brown
Carrie Brown is a genetic genealogist, hobby blogger, and long-time history enthusiast with a passion for genealogical research. Currently she is working on her degree in business from Western Governors University. Carrie is a member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy and volunteers her time as a research volunteer for SearchAngels.org
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Know what you are looking for before you start searching.
It is important to know what records exist for a given time and place.
In the genealogical world it is common knowledge that a vast majority of the 1890 United States census was destroyed. A seasoned researcher will not waste time looking for a record they know doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, we all search for records that do not exist as a day to day part of the job but it is helpful to do a little pre-research homework and try to determine if the records you are looking for even exist. Work to understand the locale of your research subject. Did the courthouse burn? Did the location make any effort to record births before a certain date? Answering a few simple questions before searching can be a time saver.
Two of my favorite things are newly discovered cousins and old photographs.
The name dusty roots and forgotten treasures is a subtle shout out to that. Most of my roots were dusty and forgotten until I set out to dig them up.
Every day I dig, and I am constantly rewarded with the discovery of amazing historic treasures. Not monetary treasures, I will never die rich, but I have a wealth that is incomparable to a stack of cash.
Recently I hit the lotto when it comes to the family history
I connected with some cousins that I had never met before
and not only has it been wonderful to connect with this newly reconnected
branch on the family tree, I was also rewarded with being able to get copies of
many priceless photographs.
Photographs I had never seen before. Photographs of people who have some of the same features that I do. Enough photographs to help fill in the gaps of photographs on one family line to the point that I now have a photographic timeline of NINE generations!
I’m always excited to connect with relatives because it gives me the opportunity to share the family history gold I find. On those instances where I find myself on the receiving end of such wonderful bounty it feels like karma is rewarding my genealogical good deeds. I get smiled on by the karma gods of genealogy a lot.
I have really been blessed.
To accomplish this great feat of 9 photograph generations it took a lot of people to share their treasures with me. I have had distant cousins mail me packages of photocopies from the opposite side of the country. I get emails from cousins filling my inbox full of priceless photographs decades old. I get text messages from relatives as they make road trips and can visit long forgotten family cemeteries that I may never get the opportunity to visit for myself.
Often in various genealogical groups I see people that are upset that people are not sharing with them on sites such as ancestry. I have not run into that a lot. Most people are very generous with me.
These are my 4 tried and true tips for breaking the ice with
cousins and opening the door to sharing of information and photographs.
Approach newly discovered cousins with a gift of your genealogical treasure. Do you know some information that might not be common knowledge? Do you have an old photograph that you can share a copy? Can you share information about how you and the cousin are connected? Generosity often begets generosity. It is a great way to break the ice.
Be willing to let information simmer. If you send a message off to a cousin and get no response just let it go. There is no way to know what another individual has experienced. For some people family history can be a traumatic experience or information that you reveal might be shocking or confusing. Stalking an individual with repeated follow up messages will probably not make a new friend.
Show gratitude. If contact with a cousin results in nothing of use to you personally at least thank them for their time. They may not have any information for you currently but if you make a positive impression, they are more likely to recall you in the future if or when they encounter information or someone that has information.
Family photographs used to be rare and hard to copy. Today with great cell phone cameras in most pockets and handheld scanners available at affordable prices there is no reason to suggest ever taking possession of someone’s treasured original photograph. You want to irk Great Aunt Betty? Take her priceless heirloom photograph out of her site. Quietly get a copy if you can and thank her profusely for the privilege and then for goodness sake put it back exactly where and how you found it!
Do you have any tips and tricks for getting people to share
their genealogical treasures?
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Most adoptees have questions. Few have questions like those who began life in the Hicks Community Clinic. The case of the Hicks Clinic babies is a powerful example of the information that can be discovered with the use of genetic genealogy technology.
Taken at birth – words to strike fear into the
heart of any mother. That is the title of a 3-part series on TLC that aired on Oct
9 -11, 2019. The series is about a small community that straddles the
Georgia-Tennessee state line and the dark history that gave the community
The town of McCaysville, Georgia was the scene of a secret black-market baby ring that operated for decades out of the clinic of a doctor named, Thomas Hicks, Sr. The town seems like any other quaint small town however, nothing about the small town is quite what it seems on the surface.
Dr. Thomas Hicks, Sr. was a respected family man and
community doctor, he was a fine upstanding citizen in his community. Under the
polished surface many layers of deceit festered.
It was a poorly kept secret in the region that the doctor
ran an illegal abortion clinic, drawing desperate women from all over the local
region for his services. It was a poorly kept secret in town that the “good”
doc was having affairs and fathering illegitimate children. A better kept
secret was the fact that the doctor was running a black-market baby adoption ring,
trading babies for cash in shady back door deals.
More than 200 individuals have been identified that passed through the back door of the Hicks Clinic.
No records have ever been found in the quest to learn the
truth behind the Hicks Clinic adoptions. If any were kept, they have been either
destroyed or have yet to be found. Extraordinary measures have been gone to in the
search to locate any of Dr. Hicks records only to turn up nothing. It seems as
if from beyond the grave, decades later, some of the townspeople of
McCaysville, Georgia are more interested in the cover up than the truth. Even
today Dr. Thomas Hicks Sr. is locally regarded as a man who did bad things with
The Hicks babies are all grown now and most of the
biological parents who have been identified have died taking their secrets with
them. Of some of the adoptees who have been reunited with their biological
families, the reactions have been mixed. At least one adoptee was intended to
be aborted and Dr. Hicks convinced the young woman to carry her child and put
it up for adoption. Even with those truths revealed it still feels like there
is more left unsaid to that story than has been revealed. Dr. Hicks plays the
complicated part of both villain and hero in many of the babies of the Hicks
Nothing about the case is cut and dry even decades after
the Hicks clinic closed.
Questions far outreach the answers and the web seems to grow ever larger. Powerful men in the town, the doctor, the mayor, and the chief of police all had knowledge of what was going on and indeed were involved in using the clinic to cover up their own private misdeeds in some cases.
How did the doctor eventually get shut down after decades
running his abortion clinic? What led to him getting caught after so long in
business? How did he manage to escape jail time for his illegal abortion ring? Have
any of the Hicks babies DNA matched each other?
I have so many questions about this case. I cannot fathom
the depths of frustration that is felt by the individuals who are trying to
navigate this in their own lives.
There is no documentation about what happened behind the doors of the clinic.
Few living individuals who know what was going on at the
time and of those…fewer are willing to speak. Even from the grave the “good”
doc manages to keep a town quiet about some of its darker secrets
To really understand the case in perspective requires a broader
view. Abortion was illegal. Women died in unsafe back alley abortions. Dr. Hicks
at least as far as anyone can tell took good care of the women in his charge if
not making the best medical decisions regarding the children they birthed. There
were not safety net programs to support unwed mothers. Society held a negative
view of unwed females. These were often desperate young women.
Was Dr. Hicks a villain or a hero? On some level perhaps he was both.
The doctor lost his medical license after his illegal abortion
clinic was closed by the authorities in the 1960’s. At that time the black-market
baby ring in McCaysville, Georgia ceased to operate. It would be decades more
before anyone even realized what was going on at the back door of the clinic.
I consider myself an addicted genealogist. There is a joke in the genealogy community. We are all self proclaimed addicts but you will never see a genealogist anonymous meeting. Why? Genealogists never want to quit. Perhaps we’re not a funny lot but the point is valid.
Everyday I dedicate time to researching or improving my research skills. I have been at this a long time and I consider myself a good researcher. In this field no one is ever truly an “expert”. People have specializations, but the subject is just so wide that it is is impossible to know it all at an expert level. It is a constant effort to acquire more information and skills.
If I ever strike it rich I might allow myself to spend endless amounts of money on this passion that I love so much but that is not this reality. Each of my precious genealogy budget dollars has to be used in the best way possible. I have discovered a few hacks to stretch my budget while still utilizing the vast resources at ancestry.com.
Being a member of ancestry.com can be a budget buster. The vast resources on the site, and the ease of use makes it worth the effort to subscribe to the paid site at least for short periods of time occasionally. However those monthly subscription fees can be hard to choke down.
4 Money Saving Ancestry Hacks
My first ancestry hack is to only subscribe when you are able to dedicate a considerable amount of time to research. If you are pressed for time and don’t know when you might have time to research then cancel that membership. It seems simple enough but I don’t know how many times I see people with a paid subscription to the site on auto renewal that haven’t touched the site in months. Your tree will remain there waiting for you to return at a free membership level unless YOU delete it. Don’t be afraid to save a few bucks if you can’t find the time to research.
My second ancestry hack is that even if you are researching on a regular basis cancel from time to time to get the company to offer a discount rate to stay. Often they will give 2 months for the twice of one if you have been a subscriber for awhile. It is no secret that most companies put more effort into attracting new customers than they do to ones who are loyal. I have no problem reminding companies that my research dollars are hard earned and I expect them to work for them just as they would a new customer. Ancestry is definitely one of the biggest and easiest to use sites but it is not the only place to research. I like to walk away from time to time just to remind myself that there are so many wonderful records repositories other than ancestry.
My third ancestry hack is to watch for sales. Ancestry is big on running regular sales. They typically run sales around holidays. The sales will typically offer DNA tests at $59 plus shipping and 50% off subscription services. I like to take advantage of sales around Black Friday and Mother’s Day to get my subscription services 50% off for the 6 month package.
My fourth ancestry hack is to use rakuten. It sounds too simple to be true but I always make sure I use a rakuten link when I purchase DNA tests or my regular subscription memberships. Typically, ancestry offers 7.5% cash back through rakuten. That’s right, just for buying your normal subscription you can earn 7.5% each and every time if you open a ticket through rakuten. I actually LOVE this site. They also offer 4% on DNA tests through ancestry. On a rare occasion I have even found ancestry on the double cash back list and received 15% cash back on my purchase.
Disclaimer: I will receive a small compensation from rakuten through this link however I recommend using rakuten for many of your shopping needs if you like to save money and receive cash back. I recommend this product because I think it is valuable and I have earned hundreds of dollars back in this method not because I have a referral link.
These are my 4 brilliant ancestry hacks. I use these methods to stretch my research budget and get the most out of each dollar I spend. Do you have any budget stretching ancestry hacks?
Recently I stumbled upon an article about an odd double murder that happened nearly a 100 years ago which left me fascinated and delving deeper for more information. The murders took place in Ripley County, Missouri during prohibition.
Ripley County was an area with a reputation for lawlessness. Homemade corn liquor poured from stills long before the law forbidding alcohol in the country. A lack of roads inhibited the law enforcement authorities from cracking down on unsavory types in a region where many of the locals traveled by the many waterways that snaked through the area.
The region was mostly poor; a majority of the population was illiterate. Many of the people in the area had immigrated to the area during the lumber boom after 1880, most of them from Tennessee. Small family farms and timber operations were the main industries of the area.
enjoy sharing the stories I discover in my family history research with my
family. Often, I bore them to tears but from time to time I manage to turn up a
tidbit of information that sticks. For my youngest son learning that we are
distant cousins to Abraham Lincoln is that detail that stuck. He loves telling anyone
willing to listen that he is related to Abraham Lincoln.
It was a couple years ago when he was about 9 that the topic of Abraham Lincoln being a distant leaf on the family tree came up. He was learning about Abraham Lincoln at school and he came home bragging that he knew why Abraham Lincoln grew his famous beard.
A History Lesson
had to admit as he grinned like the Cheshire cat that he did in fact know
something that I did not. He proceeded to educate me on the story of why Abraham
Lincoln decided to grow his beard.
October 15, 1860 a young lady by the name of Grace Bedell, at the ripe wise age
of 11 years old, wrote a letter to the republican presidential nominee
insisting that growing a beard would help him get elected.
My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to [sic] but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chautauqua County New York.
I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye
future president returned a letter to Grace Bedell.
Ill Oct 19, 1860
Ill Oct 19, 1860
dear little Miss
very agreeable letter of the 15th is received. I regret the necessity of saying
I have no daughters. I have three sons – one seventeen, one nine, and one
seven, years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family. As to
the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a
silly affectation if I were to begin it now?
very sincere well wisher
after the exchange with young Miss Grace the future president began to grow his
In 1861, Lincoln and Miss Grace met in person. When the two met the president, elect was sporting a full face of whiskers.
the advice of the young Miss Grace Bedell help to get Abraham Lincoln elected
to the highest office in the United States? We may never know how much impact the
decision made in his election but her advice definitely impacted the image most
people think of when they picture Abraham Lincoln.
That’s the story of how Lincoln grew his famous beard…and how I got a history lesson from my son.
Like many other long-time genealogists, I find myself captivated
by the powerful tool created with the marriage of genetics and traditional genealogy.
There are so many implications both positive and negative that have come from
this meeting of science and history.
While the discussion of the merits and risks of genetic testing is one that will probably never be easily settled debate, for this moment I would like to touch on one interesting positive aspect of this exciting new research frontier, the DNA Doe Project.
The DNA Doe Project was one of the first organizations that drew
my interest to genetic genealogy.
While the tales of cases such as the capture of the Golden
State Killer dominate headlines when they are finally cracked with the sleuthing
capabilities of talented genetic genealogists such as CeCe Moore, quietly
behind the scenes thousands of equally talented researchers toil on cases that
will never make headlines.
The DNA Doe Project is one such organization full of
dedicated and talented researchers. The people at DDP work to fundraise for
extensive DNA testing of the remains of unidentified persons in the United
States. Thousands of volunteers work to give the names back to these “Does”
using both DNA analysis and traditional genealogy research methods to correctly
identify family connections. In some of these cases the families have waited
decades for closure, wondering what happened to their loved one who suddenly vanished.
Belle in the Well
The “Belle in the Well” was an unidentified person found in
a well in 1981. Recently, through the work of the DDP the family of the belle
in the well was identified and she was finally given back her name after nearly
In April 1981 2 girls playing found an unidentifiable object
in a well. Authorities were contacted and the severely decomposed remains of a
female were pulled from the well. The
adult woman was fully clothed, except for missing shoes. She had a key for a
bus locker on her body. There was not much to reveal the identity of this woman
who had been so callously strangled and discarded in a well. The “Belle in the Well”
would be her name until July 29, 2019.
” The woman was found wearing a pair of grey flannel pants, and a lightweight shirt under a gray pullover. She also wore a red cable-knit cardigan sweater, with rubber bands around her wrists. The only items found on her body were the key to a locker at a Greyhound terminal in Huntington, WV, a bus ticket, a pay stub, and a Jerry Falwall commemorative coin. “
DNA Doe Project via original case info
Louise Peterson Flesher
Fourteen months after a DNA profile was extracted from the
remains in the belle in the well, and with the efforts of thousands of
volunteers, the living daughter of Louise Peterson Flesher was located and with
DNA testing was performed to confirm the two were mother and daughter. The belle
in the well finally had her name returned to her and a woman who had wondered
for decades what happened to her mother finally had information and some
The murder of Louise Peterson Flesher remains an open case.
I found myself wondering how someone goes missing for
decades with no one realizing that their loved one is on an unidentified
persons list. Didn’t someone wonder where Louise disappeared to for 4 decades?
I looked up what I could find on Louise Peterson Flesher and the circumstances
of her life before she vanished.
She had been married at one time; she had a family at one
time. Her husband was a police officer. How did she wind up forgotten in that
From what I could find in quick research on Louise Peterson
Flesher her life was at one point at least on the surface a nice life until
1959. With a little deeper digging I discovered that the Flesher’s had two
daughters, the one who eventually helped identify her mother’s remains, and
another daughter, Helen. Helen was born about 1939 in Wyoming. In 1940 the family
is all living together. Two years later the household of Louise and her husband
is back in their home state of West Virginia which is not odd. At this point I
realize there was something amiss in the Flesher household. I found a death
record for Helen Flesher dated 1959 in Wyoming. She died at a place called the
Wyoming State Training School. Closer inspection reveals this to have been a
home for the “mentally retarded and feeble minded”.
The first instance I can find of Louise and her husband not
residing in the same household is the same year that their daughter Helen died,
1959, in Wyoming. The family was living in West Virginia and had been there since
they left Wyoming in 1942.
Did this death of Helen cause the crumbling of the Flesher
household? I can only speculate.
Louise’s and her husband divorced, and he remarried. I wish
I had a crystal ball to see what happened to Louise in the years between her daughter’s
death and what brought her to that well in 1981. How did she disappear, and no
one wondered where she was?
While hope of solving this case is dim I am thankful that
through the dedicated efforts of individuals like the volunteers at the DNA Doe
Project are working tirelessly to return the names to these unidentified persons
and to give closure to families who have sometimes waited decades to learn what
happened to their loved ones.
The “Belle in the Well” is just one of the many cases that
have been solved by the DNA Doe Project.
check for local genealogical societies when you are doing research in a certain
there is an expert on local history this is a good place to try to find them.
Genealogical societies often have records that aren’t available in other places
or information on how to find them.
of local genealogical societies may know the location of long forgotten cemeteries
and details of family histories that might not be published or widely known. It’s
also a good place to stumble upon distant cousins!