Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stories Told in Stone

On Memorial Day, numerous ceremonies were held throughout the United States and elsewhere honoring this country’s veterans.  Many of these ceremonies will take place in cemeteries where hundreds, even thousands, of simple gravestones mark the burial places of those who fought in wars dating back to the American Revolution. Not only do their gravestones remind us of our nation’s history and the freedoms for which our men and women in the Armed Forces fought, they remind us, also, of just how fragile life often can be.  And sometimes the only reminder of that life many years later is a simple gravestone in a cemetery among others like it. 

Cemeteries and the gravestones contained in them are among the most valuable sources of information for family history researchers throughout the world.  Inscriptions on gravestones often reveal not only a birth date and a date of death, but they may include other vital information as well. This additional information often includes where the deceased was born and limited relationship information, such as a spouse’s name, parents’ names, or a woman’s maiden name. In older locations in the United States, it is not unusual for several generations to be buried alongside each other in a cemetery that bears the family’s surname. And often, families who intermarried may be buried in the same cemetery in close proximity to each other.  Discovering a family cemetery and especially one where allied family members are buried is simply “pure gold” for genealogists everywhere.

The cemetery where your parents or grandparents are buried may be the first place to visit if you have decided to embark on the journey to trace your family’s history.  And some amazing discoveries about a family’s origins and relationships within that family often have been made from just one trip to the cemetery.  Most of us are not fortunate enough to have families that have lived in the same location for several hundred years. But if you are one of those people, that one trip to the cemetery may provide you with enough information to fill the branches of your entire family tree. In reality, the one cemetery trip scenario is certainly not the norm, simply because our early ancestors were adventuresome people who seemed  to be forever “on the move,” searching for personal freedoms, land, and always a better way of life.

If your ancestors were already living in the south, the southeast, in Indian Territory, or in other locations west of the Mississippi River in the early to mid 1800s, tracing your roots certainly will involve trips to more than one cemetery.  Most of the early settlers to these areas of our nation’s expansion, migrated through the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.  Some later moved into northern Louisiana, Texas, and to points further west. Many who began the trip decided the journey was too long and too arduous and decided to put down roots somewhere along the way. Others settled for a time near family and friends, eventually choosing to forge ahead to distant places where others waited for them in newly opened lands to the south and to the west.  Because the Great Migration took years to complete, family members often died along the way and were buried wherever it was convenient to do so.  

Because such a large majority of our families’ early generations were so transient, it was extremely difficult at one time to determine a location to begin researching a family’s origins. The free database known as Find-A-Grave (, however, now makes it easy to pinpoint the locations where our ancestors lived and died - all without ever leaving home.  Although it is only one of many tools available to family history researchers, this website is absolutely among the best.

If you are among the many families throughout the country who attend summer family reunions, consider taking the time this year to visit a family cemetery. Talk to older family members whose ancestors may be buried there. And take a few photos of the never know what you might discover.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tracing Your Family Tree

Blogger's Note: Last month, I began writing a column entitled "Tracing Your Roots," for my local newspaper.  Beginning here today, and continuing each Monday, I will be posting a copy of the article as it appeared in the newspaper on the previous Friday.

Interest in genealogy research, or tracing one’s family tree, is a hot topic these days. Once viewed by many as simply a hobby, genealogy has become one of the world’s newest industries.  In case you haven’t heard, family history research is the subject of two very popular television series, NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” which airs on Friday evenings at 7 p.m.,  and the Sunday evening PBS program “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by Harvard professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. If you haven’t watched either of these shows, I encourage you to do so.  

The current interest in family research and the fast growing number of resources available for conducting that research have made it easier than ever to search for one’s family roots.  But if you are like most individuals who want to begin the journey down the family history trail, you may be asking yourself the question “Where do I begin?”  And that’s what I want to discuss here today.

Family history research is like a puzzle - one piece is added to another, and another, and another, until the entire picture is visible.  Often the puzzle’s picture tells a story.  And the search for our ancestors sometimes begins with just one piece of information - the name of a known ancestor. Luckily for most of us, we know the names of our grandparents, possibly the names of our great-grandparents, and more often than not, we also know where they lived.  Armed with just a single name, one can successfully search literally dozens of online databases that contain bits of data about our ancestors.  

One of the best sources of genealogical information out there are census records, and thanks to, a website maintained by the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) Church, the information there is free. This same website also contains information gleaned from birth, marriage, and death records. Probably the most widely publicized source of online family history information is, which requires a subscription to access the millions of records contained in this huge database.  According to its website, the company “has spent more than a decade building the world’s largest family history resource” that includes birth, marriage, divorce, death, military and census record information.

Some of the least known but best sources of free information for beginning family history researchers are genea-blogs. When I first began blogging in 2008, there were only a few hundred of us who were writing blogs about our family history. Now there are over two thousand genea-bloggers who hail from around the world, and many have become leaders in the genealogy community. Thomas MacEntee, well-known as one of those leaders in the genealogy world and a blogger himself, maintains the website, where links can be found to each member’s blog.  This site also features a search function where anyone can search a family name contained in the many blogs listed there.  

An important source of free information for online researchers is the website known as, a site that contains information and photos of millions of cemeteries and gravestones throughout the world.  Founded by Jim Tipson, the website was originally maintained as a place for posting photographs of the celebrity graves he visited, a hobby of his. However, the site no longer contains just photos of celebrity grave stones - it contains over 80 million grave records, including photos of gravestones posted by its 800,000+ volunteers.  According to statistics available on the website, more than 11 million pages were viewed today by its visitors.

The resources mentioned in this article are but a few of the thousands of databases, repositories, and publications available to family researchers.  But if you are ready to start the search for your own roots, they are excellent places to begin.