Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! (More to come!)


Well, it's a brand new year, and like most, I've set some personal goals.  This is something that I typically do quietly, and privately.  I don't make "resolutions", but I do spend time reflecting each year on the previous one, and making decisions (which I hope to stick to) about how I might do things differently in the new year.  Usually, I do a pretty good job of sticking to my plans, but of course there are some things that end up carrying over to the next year's goals.

Anyway, this is my third year blogging, and I've been reading everyones' genealogy-related goals.  I applaud those of you who diligently post your resolutions each year, and then, go back and "grade" yourselves (publicly) on how well you've done.  Certainly, there's an aspect of accountability that comes with doing it that way, and perhaps I'll graduate to such heights in the future.  But, for now, I just want to share a few thoughts about where I am in my genea-life, and to clarify, or perhaps, reassert my commitment to this work.

Although I've always been curious about my family, my official start as a family historian began in 1997.  Two life-changing events occurred that year, both of which contributed to my quest to learn more about who I am, and where I come from:  I got my first computer; and my father died.  As I wrote my father's obituary, and designed and published his funeral program (using my new computer), I ended up learning more about the man I called, "Daddy", than I'd ever known before.  Later, as the executor of his estate, and the one who handled his personal effects, I discovered even more, especially with regard to his military career.  With each new find, I gained a greater respect for my dad, but I also realized how little I'd actually known about him - about his younger years, and about the experiences he'd had which made him the man that he'd become.  This led me to a new level of reflection and wonder about my entire family, but in particular, about myself.  Who am I, exactly?  What am I really made of?  Why am the way I am?  What made me this way?

I began to try to find as much information as possible about my family.  I remember using AOL for something, and eventually (after 2000), I started to use Ancestry.com, and Familysearch.org to look at documents. At some point, Google became my friend. But, before all of that, I just started asking QUESTIONS.  I visited and interviewed my mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, most of which involved taking road trips to North Carolina towns. I took lots and lots of notes, and I began building a hand-written pedigree chart, which I'd actually started in 1990.   I remember being amazed just to learn the names of ancestors that were only two generations ahead of me, whom I'd never even heard of before!  But, sadly, there were very few stories to go with those names.  It seemed that my family was historically disconnected, and that very little effort had been made to preserve the history that was ours.  I wanted to change that.  And so, I began...
My first pedigree chart, which I started in 1990.  (Home address and phone number are covered with sticky and scratched over.)
Now, it's 15 years later.  I've spent hours and hours in courthouse backrooms and basements, archival repositories, and county, state, and university libraries and municipal offices, all resulting in thousands of copies of original documents, for which I'm still trying to find just the "right" organizational system! (Smh) I've visited public and church-owned cemeteries, as well as private burial grounds on plantation properties, on which my ancestors once labored.  I'm a member of two genealogical societies (about to join a third), and I travel in and out of the tiny towns from which my ancestors hailed, taking photographs of places they might've been, and feeling sure that I sense their presence in some of them.  I have two blogs, and I volunteer as an indexer for two companies and one major project in the genealogical community. I've published two articles in the Franklin County Heritage Book (Volume 1, 2008), and I also worked as part of the committee which published it.  I'm a contributing member of FindaGrave.com, and I put out a monthly e-newsletter to all of my family members for whom I have email addresses.  I maintain subscriptions to Ancestry.com and Tribalpages.com, and have trees on both sites.  I'm a member of Afrigeneas.com, and I follow and contribute to message boards all over the Web. I've had my DNA tested, which has given me data about my maternal line, and I've gotten two male cousins to submit theirs, allowing me to obtain, confirm, and learn more information about two of my paternal lines (HAWKINS and YARBOROUGH). I have discovered and "met" (online) a female cousin in another state who has recently submitted a DNA sample that will give us much-needed information about the maternal line that began with my gg-grandmother, Anna GREEN. I communicate with people all around the country each day via Twitter and Email, as we work together to figure out family lines and to share research techniques. I've scanned hundreds of family photos and documents, and have shared many of those, electronically. And yes, I spend countless hours on the Internet, digging, digging, digging for ANYTHING I might find that will lead me to more information about my ancestors.  I do this because they are who I am.  They are where I come from.  Learning about them, gives me the answers to the questions that began tugging at me unstoppably in 1997, and which will no doubt one day pull on the heart of one of my descendants.  Hopefully, the work I've done will make it easier for that yet-to-be-known somebody to find their answers.

Slave auction-block and hitching post at Cascine Plantation - Franklin County, NC (taken in July, 2007)

So.... What will 2012 bring for this researcher?  More of the above, because there are still so many questions, unanswered.  I renew my commitment to fidelity in sourcing my information, something I didn't know to do in the early years of my research.  I will work on creating a better, "just right" (for me) filing and storage system for my hard copies of documents, and I will continue to scan family photos, so that they can be preserved for the future in digital format. I plan to begin participating in "Amanuensis Monday", a Geneabloggers meme, which encourages transcribing and sharing historical documents on the Internet.  I'll keep sending the family e-newsletter, even though I sometimes want to stop because I get so little feedback from it. Nevertheless, I will continue, because the work I'm doing is not just for me, it's for ALL of the descendants of my ancestors! I will try to do more to help others in the genealogical community.  And, I hope that 2012 will be the year in which I attend my first genealogical conference! 

For me, genealogy is not a hobby, at all.  It is work - hard work.  But it is hard work with a purpose, and for the most part, I do enjoy doing it.  Researching my family has it ups and downs.  There are long periods of frustration, and brick walls that seem insurmountable, but for me, these are incentives to keep at it.  Anyone who knows Renate knows that once I start something, I perservere until it's finished.  I guess that means I'm in this for my lifetime, because, as I've learned from many who've been at it for longer than I, researching one's family history is a "job" that never ends!

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading Into the LIGHT, and supporting me in my genealogical quest!



  1. Happy New Year Renate! I am in awe, what wonderful work you do!

  2. Thanks, Carol! You're one of the people who's inspired me! Thanks for all of your support. :)


  3. Renate,

    You are a true Family Historian!
    Hi 5!

    Peace & Blessings,
    "Guided by the Ancestors"

  4. Ha! Thanks, George! Funny, that's what I was thinking after I typed all that! (And, I even left some stuff out!) I guess I'm really "in there" now, huh? :)


  5. Renate,

    What an amazing post! It truly reflects all the hard work you've done in documenting your family history; work I'm sure you'll continue to do. Your dedication is an example for us all. I wish you much success in this new year.


  6. Thanks, San! Same to you!


  7. Renate,

    Just now reading your New Year's post. What a wonderful post! The love, passion, and commitment you have to telling your family's journey definitely comes through.