Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

52 Ancestor #3 – Longevity of a Search


Longevity can be defined as “long life” or “long existance or service,” which covers a few more options. While I have some long-lived relatives (Great Aunt Mary Magdalene, who was 98 when she died, or Great-Great-Grandmother Margaret Brookmire Morrison Segar, who died at 93), I’m taking this in a different direction: the length of time I’ve been searching for the parents of Grandpappy Jim.

Sometimes a search can yield results in a matter of minutes. You pop into a database, put a name into a search box, and filter resultsJamesLKeel by location and time frame, and Voila! A marriage record from 1906 for your great-grandparents, found online in Ancestry or FamilySearch or FindMyPast. And you’re ready for the next question.

But sometimes those searches take a long, long time. I’ve been looking for my great-great-grandfather’s parents for over 40 years. Sometimes I think he popped out of the earth or was dropped by aliens.

My paternal grandmother got me started with enough basic information that I could find the Keel family, her family, in the microfilmed census records, but they weren’t accessible anywhere near me so it took time to figure out what I could and couldn’t confirm. I lived in another state and traveled to North Carolina to look at courthouse and land records, but many were lost in courthouse fires in 1862 and 1884. Plus the state of North Carolina was thoughtless enough to not require state-wide birth and death records until 1913 and James Keel died in 1908. Rats.

Before computers, there was only so much I could do from a distance. Research trips were spread out – and once I moved to New England, they didn’t happen. I got copies of his military records in 1975 which were a treasure trove of other information – the man was captured at Gettysburg and went to a prison camp at Ft. Delaware, where he changed sides and became a prison guard. He went AWOL and was later captured and court-martialed, but then was returned to copmlete the rest of his service before he disappeared for 6 years. I would have disappeared, too, if I’d done that.

With so much online now, I can search many records from my home, but tax, land, estate records, and existing probate have been silent regarding Grandpappy Jim’s parents.  I’ve connected with cousins also working on the line and no one has been successful finding resources. We found the graves of Jim and his wife Betsy and have photos of their tombstones, but his parents are not buried in the same cemetery.

There have been false steps along the way and long periods of doing nothing while I worked on other lines; picking this one back up again over time meant repeating research because I wasn’t very meticulous in recording the steps I’d already taken. My research strategy has been far from strategic and it’s dragged on for a very, very long time. It’s time to sit down and actually come up with an actual research plan.


5 thoughts on “52 Ancestor #3 – Longevity of a Search

  1. Funny….my kids always want to know if I’ve found the aliens yet! I really think my great great grandparents arrived in a spaceship! Happy Searching!

  2. I feel you!! Although, I haven’t been looking for certain info as long as you have!! Luckily, there is always another project to keep us busy in the meantime.

  3. So I am assuming where James Keel died is not where he was born, or his parents would be buried there too. And you do not know where he was born? And you do not even have the parents names to be able to search for them directly? Do you know where James and Betsy were married? And anything about siblings of James?

    • No, no, no, no, and no. James and Betsy were buried in a cemetery that did not include either set of parents. NC didn’t start keeping state wide records until 1913 and courthouse fires destroyed some of what might have been available. It’s seriously annoying! I’m hoping doing a structured, strategic search of the neighboring county will at least reveal some cousins if not siblings and parents.

      • I walked onto a library a couple counties away from me looking for data, probably 25 years ago. The genealogy librarian had been working there a long time.

        I was asking about MY 2X great grandmother, and happened to mention this woman’s 2nd husband to the Librarian.

        She knew his name, she knew his family. A book had been written about them by a family member. But the author had never been able to find his birth records. He was the oldest of 6 or 8 kids. Everyone but him had been born in same county.

        He had been born in a totally different county because of where his parents had lived for a very brief time. Like they lived there long enough for him to be born and that was it. Weeks maybe.

        I had copies of his stuff because it had come down on my side of the family (marriage) not his birth side. So this woman had hinted for years and found nothing. And there might well have been nothing to find because of fires, etc.

        She made copies of everything I had and called the author.

        So it would be exactly like you getting a phone call that someone had wandered in with what you were look for out of the blue.

        Ironically the birth certificate for this (2X)’s daughter, my (1X) great grandmother is no where to be found. No fires. I know where she was born. I know where they lived. She was born after birth certificates were required. (I think the birth was never reported, on purpose, so the father did not have to be documented. But that is purely a guess.)

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