I’m blogging a day early as I will be out of town giving a lecture tomorrow. Yep, back in person. With a Mask. Hooray!!
I’m reflecting today on what should have been simple research tasks locally that turned out to be anything but. I’m avoiding using specific names and places as I don’t want to cause further problems; I do think you need to be reminded, however, on how to get over, under, around, and through to discover your research goals.
My two research goals were: 1. Find the name of an individual who lived on a street in an unincorporated area of a county in the late 1990s. 2. Find living members of a pioneer family who once held the first bounty land in the area in the mid-1850s.
Here’s the backstory – in the late 1990’s I met a neighbor who told me a horrific tale about a local family. The tale has haunted me since and I was determined to now research it fully. Problem was, I couldn’t remember the neighbor’s name. I was hoping to discover that and see how that individual was connected to the event. That neighbor had told me the name of the family who had experienced the event and claimed they were descended from the first pioneer family in that location. A quick internet search showed me that was correct. Their last names are common, however, so finding a living family member in an area that had grown exponentially over the years wouldn’t be quick. The neighbor was elderly so I didn’t think I would be able to find her, 27 years after we had met.
Now think about my goals and how you would quickly and ACCURATELY reach them. My thought for goal 1 was to locate City Directories. I first checked the public library, in person, for the area where the person had resided. They had no directories. I then went in person to the historical society who happens to be located within a block of where the individual I was seeking lived. They don’t have directories, either.
I also checked with the society about the pioneer family. One of the members knew of the goal 2 family and of the event that I was researching. Since it was the holidays it was suggested that we meet again in January.
As genealogists, we all know that names and places change over time. The location of the event occurred on an island that has since split in half and changed names and geographically, locations, as it has moved apart. The portion of the island where the event occurred has migrated north and is located across from the unincorporated area I visited. The unincorporated area was once incorporated but then unincorporated, thus changing its name several times. The bounty land was located today in the unincorporated area, too, but a city to the south now claims that the family was their first city inhabitants. Although the area is now well-populated, the city to the north of the incorporated area was at the time of the event, the largest city. Today, the largest city is the county seat located to the south of the city claiming the settler as their town founder.
I called the library for the city that claimed the pioneer family and was told they had no city directories for the unincorporated area. I checked the larger city to the north, they didn’t have the city directories, either. I looked online for the county seat’s library holdings and they did not have the city directories for the unincorporated area.
At the end of last month, I reconnected with the unincorporated historical society and was told they had looked but were unable to locate any members of the pioneering family remaining in the area. I had found some descendants through online family trees but they were not local and had no knowledge of the event. They also had no knowledge of any family member ever living on the street my neighbor lived on.
Meanwhile, I used newspapers and books to learn more about the tragedy. I found numerous accounts in the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times. Tampa is in a neighboring county but had been the county where the event had occurred just a few years previously. St. Petersburg was a growing city well south of the event but was trying to become the regional powerhouse paper at the time. Neither newspaper exists today; they have combined and are now called the Tampa Bay Times.
When the event occurred there were many small local newspapers but the remaining issues are not available online. I put in requests with two other historical societies who have been known to have some issues. Nada.
I wrote the article with the information I had found. Like all stories, both newspaper accounts and the neighbor’s version of events vary.
Thursday, on a whim, I decided to stop at the city that claimed the pioneer’s library to check for myself that they didn’t have the City Directories. Imagine what I discovered. The information I was looking for was in a 1998 directory listed under the city that is the county seat. The clip is shown above.
As soon as I saw the page I quickly recognized the neighbor’s name. Internet research then unveiled that the neighbor’s husband had lived next door to the family in the 1940 US Federal census. The road both families lived on was the name of the pioneer and was the homestead land. I then looked for obituaries and discovered that descendants had left the area. Just tie this up and put a bow on it!
After the library visit, I decided to stop by that city’s historical society to see if they had any accounts of the event. I’m sad to say that the two folks on duty had no knowledge of local history. I was given the name of someone who supposedly knew all about the town’s past. I sent an email which was promptly responded to with complete misinformation. I knew it was wrong as I had already checked property records, published journals of a neighbor to the family who had been involved in the tragedy and census records.
I thanked the individual and shared the information I had found. Never got a response as I likely ticked the person off. That wasn’t my intention; I believe it’s important to find the documents, analyze them in comparison to everything found and then write up the findings for future folks so that history is not forgotten or rewritten by whatever the culture of the day believes.
So, my dear readers, the lessons learned are as follows:
- You have to do boots on the ground research. Everything you’ve been unable to physically check out yourself during the pandemic you will need to verify in person as soon as you are able.
- “Authorities” are not unless they can prove to you how they came to their conclusion. Don’t rely on what was told to you by an expert without evidence.
- Widen your net and expand your geographic area to locate information. This was my first experience with researching an event on a land mass that had physically moved and I guess, with climate change, it won’t be my last.
- Don’t give up! Somewhere is the information you seek. Persistence pays off.
- Make sure you write up your findings for future generations.