A Letter to a Long-Lost Friend Pays Off

The Combs family cousins, about 1955, Washington, Ind.

Where I am from, everyone knows everyone else. I am pretty sure in my mother’s home county everyone is all related in some way, unless you are a foreigner (i.e. not born there). As you can imagine trees merge, intermingle, and sometime collide right into each other. This leads to people you never even thought about being in your family tree turning into cousins. Just so you all know, I think my parents merged the only two families in two counties that were not linked yet; or at least as far as I know.

I can remember a nice woman who was a teacher friend to my dad’s mom. My Grandma Combs was Miss Hilbert’s mentor and they became lifelong friends. They traveled together, worked together, and were in many of the same organizations. I even had Miss Hilbert as a substitute teacher a couple times when I was in first and second grades.

Then one summer Miss. Hilbert was at a Sanders family reunion that I went to with my mother’s mother. What was she doing there? Well, it turns out that Miss. Hilbert’s mother and my Grandma Arvin’s mother were sisters; both Sanders girls. That was when I started paying closer attention to exactly who came and went from family reunions over the next few years (as well as whether that cute boy I was making summer-crush-eyes at was a cousin too).

Miss. Hilbert had been a keeper of most of the family history for that side of the family. She never married, but she has always been diligent on keeping the family (now families) together and informed. A few weeks ago I ran across some old newsletter articles she wrote for the now defunct Arvin-Armstrong newsletter (we have an online group now) and wondered if she could still be alive. If she was I know she would be able to help me a lot with this research. Time was of the essence, as she had to be nearing ninety.

I have not been home to a family reunion since we left Indiana almost six years ago. Many things conspired against a trip home, but I am doing my best to make the 14 hour drive back this fall. I had not heard that Miss. Hilbert had died, so using some of the sleuthing techniques on finding living relatives I was taught through a Family Tree University course, I went to work.

I found her.

Using nice stationary, I hand-wrote a letter to her re-introducing myself, letting her know that I have taken up researching the family history and that I would love to correspond with her. That was the middle of March. In the second week of May I got a reply, and I had found the correct Miss Hilbert. She caught me up on her family, told me about how the Loogootee boys’ basketball team won state in their division this year, and how she knew both of my grandmothers.

The best part: She sent me a photocopy of an index “Mother Alford Sanders” had written listing the Sander’s parental lineage for three generations.

The page states:

G. Grandmother Wildman name

was St. Clair Burton

G. Grandmother Sanders

name was Gamble

Grandmother Wildman

name Mary Francis Moberly

died April 30 1864

Grandmother Sanders

Name Elizabeth Denning

Born May 27 1827 Died June 13 1880

Grandfather Armstead Wildman

Born Dec 6 1829 Died Mar 15 1900

Grandfather James Sanders

Born Sept 8 1829 Died Jan 30 1913

Aunt Ann Sanders died

Sept 22 1937 Wednesday 6.30 O Clock

Thankfully, it confirms some of the research I have done (or at least gives me another source), but it also gives me some more mysteries to chase. I am going to have to write her back and ask who the writer is. Alford is one of the names that have been in the area for a long time, and I am going to make the assumption that one of her uncles married an Alford. The question is which one? Also, who was Ann? It is a name I had not heard before and do not have in any of my records. The last question I am going to ask is: when was this written? There is neither a date on the page nor identification.

It always seems that there is always a mystery to solve or a name to chase with each new piece of evidence that lands in my lap. The thrill of the chase, as it were.


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.


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2 thoughts on “A Letter to a Long-Lost Friend Pays Off

  1. I have come across the name “Alford/Halford” in Indiana genealogy before. In my case it was the first name of my g-g-uncle. I thought it was using a last name as a first name (perhaps from a maternal line), but never found one. And then a few years ago I found the maternal g-uncle of my g-g-uncle, whose first name was Alfred and was often listed in Census and government records as Alford or Halford. I said the names out loud in Indiana accents and suddenly all was clear.

    Consider looking for variations of Alford as Halford AND as Alfred and you might stumble upon something.

  2. Oh, I will look into that, you never know what a name could lead to. However, I am almost certain it is the last name Alford as there is a town named Alfordsville in the same county. It was named for members of the Alford family who settled that area. Good to double check though.

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