When I developed an interest in family history in the late 1990s, my mother-in-law was a willing co-conspirator. She was eager to fill me in on names and dates on both side of Wayne's family but she was even happier to solicit information from cousins and beyond to fill in the blanks she couldn't. If there was one thing Pansy loved, it was sending letters and cards and this gave her a new reason to drop a note to someone dear but not so near.
I've been spending my evenings this past week or so lost in the files she amassed from all the information she collected. Lost, in part, because of the volume (the stack reaches about 6" high and needs to be viewed page by page, line by line) but also because of the condition. My sweet mother-in-law did not lack for enthusiasm but her organizational skills left a lot to be desired.
In those early years Pansy often brought the notes she made from the replies to her inquiries with her when she came to visit and we'd sit at the computer together, her directing me to the correct relative and me keying in the information she'd uncovered. Most of it was from cousins and second cousins listing their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, and even though I was far more interested in ancestors rather than distant descendants, I was grateful for her help and learned a lot about how various names I had seen or heard fit into the big picture during those sessions.
But Pansy never threw anything away so these files contain those same notes we went over plus the ones she continued to assemble when a store and then subsequent other positions associated with scrapbooking left me no time for family history. It's tedious to go through these files to verify I have the information but I don't want to wholesalely assume that I do without checking either.
There are pages with names and dates that I obviously don't have in my database. The problem is they are first names only and given all the families and their extended descendants, I have no what to know what last name they go with. And then there are the sheets with names and dates and a note at the bottom with a question mark and the comment, "I have no idea if or how these fit into the tree."
The files have other stuff in them too. Notes she made either from reading a letter or maybe a phone conversation about first one person then another. Shingles, hospitalizations, new babies...just the everyday happenings of life that really have nothing to do with family history. Sometimes there's a full name and sometimes it's just a first name, all without a date. And there are lists of who she sent birthday or anniversary cards to along with a description of the card so she wouldn't repeat a similar design or color the next year. I say lists but often they are just a name or two on a slip of paper. Never mind that she wouldn't be able to find them again buried in a folder labeled with a different branch of the family tree. I've smiled and shook my head a lot; it's typical Pansy. But there's a warm connection in that too.
Fortunately there are a few gems too that make it all worthwhile. Like the entire Civil War record for John Wesley Kitterman, Wayne's great-great grandfather, which someone else in the family obtained from the National Archives and shared with her. He was captured and taken prisoner in Kentucky in 1862 but released the same day, and he was also wounded in battle near Atlanta in August 1864. There's a personal connection for me in the handwriting of ancestors so I was thrilled to find the signatures of John W. Kitterman and his wife, Sarah Ellen Smith Kitterman, on the affidavits they filed on their respective applications for benefits from this service.
While it's not an original photo, I also found a copy of a picture of John and Sarah. True to the point I was making about organization or lack thereof, It was in a different file but still it was there. I'm guessing this picture could well have been taken not too long after the Civil War.
On another branch of Wayne's tree I was trying to determine if it was worth keeping a fistful of pages on the genealogy of James G. Blaine who had an interesting political career which included being a candidate for President. Family lore has it that he was a nephew of one of the men in Wayne's Blaine line but the reference as to whom is vague. I didn't prove or disprove that but I did discover that Wayne's 5th great grandfather, Michael Blaine, fought in the Revolutionary War. I had little more than his name but thanks to a DAR record that documents Wayne's direct line, I can fill in a lot of holes about him and his son as well as their wives and possibly more. I'm still looking on James.
My pile is now down to a few skinny folders that can't be more than half an inch high at most so the end is in sight. I've added a little information to the tree, found a few photos and other documents and uncovered a couple of things I had no Idea existed. But then I guess that's why I'm doing this. It's true what they say, you know. There is gold in them thar hills, only in this case it's them thar files.