Stores on Sunday in Vincennes, Ind., courtesy of the Library of Congress Archives. I learned this past week that my family were tenant farmers there in the early 1900s. This is a picture of the downtown area… and it looks the same the last time I was there. Different signs, but the buildings are still there.
Over the past month, I’ve been reviewing my family research, looking for any shred, scrap or string of information that could unravel my next break through. Which is what happened.
I have been living in misery trying to locate something stating the death and place of my 3rd Great-grandfather, James McCraw (or McGraw) Combs. A cousin I met online told me he died in Keensburg, Wabash County, Ill. on January 23, 1885. Her information came from another cousin, whose sister had done extensive research on the family over 20 years ago. I wrote to the Wabash County Clerk’s office and received a reply that said they had no cemetery, probate or death record for James. After e-mailing back and forth with my cousin, we concluded that she would try to track down the sources. Fingers crossed.
Since I have no patient bone in my body, I returned to the files. That is when I noticed something that hadn’t registered before: a footnote at the bottom of a page I had printed off of FamilySearch. A year ago, when I really started delving into genealogy, I made a copy of the Ancestral Files for any family member I could find. One of them was for James. I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked this before, but the footnote stated: “family records, bible records in possession of Eliza Kinman, Bloomington, Ind. Eliza’s father was Willis Franklin Combs.” This had to be the ever present, but never found, Eliza Jane—the woman my grandmother got all her information from. She was the reason I’d heard stories about the Mayflower growing up.
Because Google is my friend, I entered her name (a married name I didn’t know) into the search box and hoped that I would find something, anything, which could lead me to her. To my amazement, a transcript of an interview she had done in the 1970s popped up. It was located in the Indiana State Library manuscript section [http://www.in.gov/library/2530.htm], but I was unable to obtain a copy without written permission from the manuscript holder. It is held at the Lewis Historical Library in Vincennes, Ind., and after a conversation with the librarian there, a copy of the transcript was on its way.
You have to admit—this was a bit of a bold move. I didn’t know what the transcript was about. I had no idea what she said, or if it contained anything that could help me. However, the simple idea that a relative of mine gave an interview talking about her life gave me goose bumps. This could really add flavor and character to my family’s story.
A hefty 50-page transcript—the interview Eliza Combs Emmons Kinman gave on March 27, 1973—arrived a week later. In a moment of complete giddiness, I opened the manila envelope and drew out the manuscript. Immediately, I called my dad and read it to him over the phone. Yes, all 50 pages. It blew my mind away. This interview was a part of the Oral History project from Vincennes University. The interviewer, Thomas Krasen, was at the time the director of the Lewis Historical Library, and was interviewing people about their lives during the Great Depression in Knox County, Ind. Eliza and her family were tenant farmers on the Brevoort farms there.
It was fascinating. Eliza periodically talked about her life as a child at the same farm where her family rented land for a few years: a piece of information that my father and I never knew. We only knew that they lived in Orange County, Ind. She talked about what she and her siblings did, what crops they grew, what was wild to eat, canning fruits and veggies, going to school, her step-mother, and so much more. My father would interject bits of information, telling me exactly where the places she was talking about were, who the different people in the community were, bits of back-story on the area, and other things that I would never have known without his memory.
Lesson learned: Check and re-check files for new information, and never, ever, be too scared to call a library for a transcript. You, too, could unravel a path to your dream breakthrough.
Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.
Getting your own research in order may reveal an overlooked or forgotten bit of information, just as Shannon’s did. Try our Organize Your Genealogy independent study course, on sale for $74.99!