Courtship takes a turn

We have no clue who they were, but they obviously knew each other. We're left what other secrets they were keeping.

We have no clue who they were, but they obviously knew each other. We’re left what other secrets they were keeping.

Earlier family photos of courtship are more subdued. I’ll need to go back to see if there was any touching. Sometimes the young couple was accompanied by a horse, too – including our illustrious Prince. Maybe the introduction of the automobile changed everything.

My triangulation process

Working a relatively recent period in my ancestry allowed me to interview a few surviving family members but raised the curious problem of what to do when their memories clashed or, in some cases, were simply blank. These were good stories, often augmented by other materials such as letters, newspaper clippings, maps, and photos.

I decided to do what forest-fire lookouts do: triangulate, which means drawing visual lines across the landscape from each observation tower to the pillar of smoke itself. Something was going on there, and this is what each one saw.

In terms of the genealogy, different observers had their own biases to consider. And conditions and responses might vary along a timeline, so that what one remembered had changed drastically by the time another detailed.

The result (still unpublished and deeply personal) is, from my point of view, deliciously ambiguous in places. If anything, it makes the subjects more real and quirky.


How do you handle source materials that conflict? Do you give precedence to one over another? Do you accept them both? Do you play them off each other?

Vera before she was an aunt and great-aunt

These were originally part of a strip of five snapshots.

These were originally part of a strip of five snapshots.

My grandfather’s sister Vera provided some delightful commentary early in my genealogical research, and she’d already given Floyd enough to help give us a foundation of our project. The big lament, though, was the loss of her childhood correspondence from her grandparents, Pleasant and Eunice, in North Carolina. Their letters disappeared in her move to a smaller residence shortly before we launched in our research.

They show sides of Vera Hodson I'd not expected.

They show sides of Vera Hodson I’d not expected.

Go ahead, introduce yourself!

Now that you’ve found your way to this site, I’d love to hear of your interest. Are you one of my kin, waiting to be introduced? Or a history buff, perhaps living along my family’s trail? Something else altogether? Maybe you’re interested in the religious ways that Plain People like my Quaker and Dunker (Brethren) ancestors upheld? (There are also some Mennonites, way back, as well as more worldly Lutherans and Irish Catholics.)

If you’re doing research, you’re especially welcome. What I’ve posted here is essentially all of my findings. If there’s something that helps you in your own genealogical pursuit, I’m happy to add a piece or two in working your own puzzle. If you have something large or small to contribute here, please pipe up in the comments and we’ll see where it leads. As you’ve already learned, every answer raises a host of new questions. Genealogy research is never really done, even if I’ve essentially retired from this pursuit after three obsessive decades. (Or think I have.)

One of the delights in undertaking a project like this comes in meeting others along the way and swapping material. Many earlier researchers have been quite generous in their willingness to provide detailed answers. I feel a duty to them, especially, in making their work as widely available as possible. Yes, we can place copies of our work in libraries, as I have, but a blog like this makes the material available worldwide. It not only beats having dust collect on drawers of old files, it opens a club for others to join. I hope you’ll be among its members.

Consider the chair

Sometimes a baby sat in it, although it helped to have armrests to stead them. And sometimes adults used them for balance. Sometimes they had fringes, like this. Here's one detail.

Sometimes a baby sat in them during the session, although an armrest to steady them helped. And sometimes adults used them for balance. Sometimes they had fringes, like this. Here’s one in detail.

Sometimes a subject sat in it. Sometimes a subject simply stood elegantly beside it.

Sorting through family photos, I’ve noticed the same chair just might remain in a photographer’s studio for years.

Notice the mantel, too.

Notice the mantel, too.

And the way it moved.

And the way it moved. Is it the same girl, years apart?


In the face of scandalous findings

Maybe you’re one of the genealogists who aspires to connect your roots to royalty, wealth, or some other, well, glamorous or historic past. That was certainly my mother’s ideal, if she had ever undertaken the research. (Having done a bit there, I can reply she wouldn’t have liked most of the findings.) My Quaker connection, via my dad’s side, which prompted my genealogy efforts has become, well, much more humbling than I’d envisioned at the outset. You can forget the smiling oatmeal-box portrait. Scroll through this site for the real photos, if you wish.

At some point, though, you’re likely to come across a scandalous discovery, and that can be troubling. One friend told of the way her Italian family’s quest came to a halt when they learned they’d been Jewish five generations back rather than proudly, even prominently, Roman Catholic. Others have mentioned the ancestor hanged as a horse thief or, as one found, banished from several New England towns as, uh, having a sexual appetite that ran in all directions.

You can stop there.

Or you can choose to push through the bad news, which I feel gives us a much richer and more honest history – more appealing and dramatic in its own way.

Coming across transcripts of bastardy court records in the Guilford County Historical Society’s periodical untangled one of the knots in my ancestry, as I report in one of the postings here. So there was illegitimacy even within the Quaker culture? We’ve survived, and the sexuality of Southern folkways is part of a larger story that needs understanding. There are several other knots in my lineage where I suspect it will play out. We’ll see.


Are there points of inquiry you’ve put aside for similar reasons? Are there others that gave depth to your understanding? What’s scandalized you as you’ve pursued lines from generation to generation? Have any of your ancestors been charged or convicted of crime or taken flight to evade prosecution? Where does divorce fit into your perspective? What about questions of confidentiality, no matter how long ago they arise? Any other situations we need to consider?