By Matthew T. Patton
Fredonia resident Pamela Faughn has always been interested in family history and enjoyed hearing her grandparents tell stories about their own childhoods.
“I always loved projects in school where you had to make a family tree. I was so excited to go to my parents and grandparents to get names of people I wished I could have known personally. I always thought someday I would learn more about them. But with other life obligations, I never seemed to get around to fulfilling that wish,” she said.
In 1994, with a little push from her mother, Dot Rogers, Faughn’s wish came true. That year, First Baptist Church of Fredonia was celebrating its 100th anniversary. Rogers was compiling a booklet about the charter members of the church for its centennial celebration.
“I agreed to help her research the charter members. I remember my first trip to the George Coon Library Genealogy Room in the basement of the library. I loved finding bits and pieces of history about our charter members long hidden away,” Faughn recalled. “As soon as I finished the research for the members, I began researching my family nonstop. I spent every spare minute at the library, cemeteries, courthouses and on my computer. It was this great big puzzle, and I thought I had to find every piece.”
Faughn is among the thousands across the world known as genealogists, those who study families and trace their lineages and history.
Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG, is a certified genealogist and avid Caldwell County researcher who has authored several books on the county and region, including compilations on marriages, births, deaths, vital statistics, court orders, wills and estate records.
To begin, Jerome suggested asking questions of older family members. “Record everything you are told and list who told you, where (by phone, in person at what location), and the date plus the age of the person,” she explained. “This may play a part in the validity of the information.”
She noted other documents may provide a name, date or location (such as a Bible record, school report card, newspaper obituary or baby book). “Always begin with yourself and obtain copies of all records (e.g., birth, marriage, confirmation records). Then work backwards to your parents and then grandparents to get started. When you have done as much as possible on your own, it is time to start checking census records,” Jerome said.
Most importantly, Jerome stressed new researchers should not believe everything family members say. “Oral tradition often is based on a bit of fact, but you will need to do some research to learn what is fact and what is not,” she said.
Jerome also suggested beginners “write down where you found every bit of information.” She recommended rather than writing something generic, like “Marriage Record, Caldwell County” that researchers instead document the book and page number and the title of the book, plus the location of the record. “If the record was in the county clerk’s office, state that. If the record was read on microfilm at the library, state that,” she said.
Additionally, genealogists should photograph tombstones and record every word of the inscription, along with the date of the photo. “Old tombstones have a way of disappearing and you never know if the stones for your ancestors will be there later,” Jerome said.
Faughn added that one of the best pieces of advice she received is to always validate Internet information.
“The Internet is valuable and gives us access to much more information than researchers could access years ago. However, there is a much greater likelihood it may not be accurate,” she said. “It is imperative to document the sources for every piece of information you find. I have seen information printed in books for which I have documents to prove its inaccuracy. But once the error is out there, it is perpetuated by others for generations.”
She also warned against “chasing rabbits.” In other words, don’t get sidetracked when you’re researching. “Have a plan when you go to the library or courthouse or archives and stick with it,” Faughn said.
Rewards and Progress
When it comes to repositories for local genealogical information, Caldwell County ranks high among Kentucky’s counties, according to some historians and genealogists. Understandably, maintaining its treasure chest of material requires teams of both paid and volunteer genealogists.
Linda Ward is a Caldwell County genealogy assistant at the Glenn Martin Genealogy Center along with Jane VanHooser. “We both help people research their family history. We also answer questions and help search for pictures and historical facts concerning this area,” Ward said.
She also offered tips for beginning genealogists. “Don’t try to walk before you can crawl. In other words, start with what you know: yourself, your parents and grandparents and then continue working back. Remember, only to a genealogist is a step backwards considered progress,” she said.
For Faughn, progress is “when you discover a missing piece of the puzzle or when you find a photograph of your great-great grandfather or when you discover, as I did, an ancestor who has the same name as you do. Those kinds of things are adrenalin rushes for a genealogist.”
Meeting new cousins is also rewarding. “Through genealogy, I’ve met countless people who have turned out to be distant cousins I would never have met were it not for being a genealogist,” Faughn said.
Ward did offer up a caveat. She said beginning genealogists should understand information about your ancestors may not be revealed through documents. Agreeing with Faughn, she reminded, “Everything is not on the Internet, and what is there is not always correct.”
Ward also gave one final warning: “Beware. Genealogy is addictive.”
Matthew T. Patton descends from the Lamb family, one of the earliest families to settle in Caldwell County. He is a journalist living in Philadelphia and has written several books on his family and the local area.