Solving Family Mysteries

July 26, 2013

A genealogist is much like a detective. Instead of solving crimes, a genealogist tries to find the answers to family mysteries. A genealogist is a solver of puzzles, trying to fit the pieces of the past together. Some puzzles are harder to solve than others. Many people turn to the Internet to help solve their family mysteries. I often search my favorite genealogical sites on my computer for clues in solving my own family puzzles.

I have found many clues and several answers to my questions on the computer. It is especially helpful when the answers you seek are to be found in locations far away. The family history sleuth must be very careful and must question much of the information found on the Internet. The Internet is very useful and some of the information is very reliable. You can find census records and records of births, deaths, and marriages posted on the Internet. Such records are called primary sources and are used by a genealogist to prove or disprove family lineage. Unless you are looking at scanned copies of these records, you must realize that mistakes could have been made in transcribing these records.

The danger in relying only on the Internet is that many people have posted family trees on genealogical websites that include mistakes or wrong information. For instance, my maternal grandfather was Frank Hursey Vance, not Franklin Vance as his name has been posted on many websites. His mother was Salena Browning. She was married several times. Her first husband was Elisha Vance, son of Abner and Christina Vance. Her second husband was Elias (Ale) Vance, son of Francis and Malenda Jane Williamson Vance. Elias, not Elisha, was the father of my grandfather, Frank. Many times I have seen family trees on the Internet that claim that Salena Browning married Elisha/Elias Vance. Someone somewhere assumed that Elisha and Elias was the same person. I can understand how such a mistake could have easily been made because the names are so similar. If I did not know better, I might assume the same thing because the wrong information appears so many times on the Internet.

There is a danger in making such assumptions. The information posted on the Internet is only as good as the research that produced it. The Internet is a great tool to use to find clues to solving your family history puzzles, but to be sure the information is accurate, a genealogist must be a detective and seek out the primary sources that will prove whether or not the information is accurate.

County courthouses hold the records of marriages, births, deaths, wills, land deeds, and naturalization records. Newspaper articles are not considered primary sources but may also provide clues through birth, death, and marriage announcements along with the events that made the news of the past. Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College has microfilm copies of The Logan Banner and The Logan Democrat. The earliest copies go back to just before the 20th century.

The Logan County Genealogical Society has many resources available to search for information about our surrounding area, as well as from many other states. We maintain a library that includes census records, birth records, marriage records, death records, family histories, county histories, and state histories, as well as many other published works. We have a complete copy of The Four Wing

News, which was a newspaper published by Island Creek Coal Company during and just after World War II. It contains news of Holden, Whitman, Monaville, Verdunville, Davin, and all the other communities located where Island Creek had coal mines at the time. There are many pictures and articles about WWII soldiers, as well as news of the home front. This is just one example of a resource not available on the Internet.

Something else that you cannot find on the Internet is the assistance offered by a local genealogical society. The members who attend our meetings can help with research, give advice on where to look next to solve your genealogical puzzles, and provide instant friends who share your interest in family and local history. Chances are we have members who have already researched some of the families that you are researching and can provide a piece of your genealogical puzzle.

Meetings are held on the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Logan Area Public Library. Anyone wishing to learn more about researching their ancestors is welcome to attend the meetings. Follow us on Facebook at Logan County WV Genealogical Society for additional information.

Note — Barbara Morris is a member of the Logan County Genealogical Society members. Watch for future articles that will be based on the history of Logan County and the families who settled the area.