A good genealogist needs to be curious, the greater, the better.
Basically to develop a family tree, there are several things needed for each individual: name; birth date and location; death date and location; spouse’s name, marriage date and location; and parents’ name.
To learn and document these basic facts involves researching birth certificates, headstones, newspapers and legal files. While family hand-me-down stories are most interesting, true genealogy requires documentation. This means lots of trips to courthouses, churches, libraries and cemeteries.
This collected information is written on pages of paper and assembled in a notebook.
Computers and software programs have tremendously enhanced the tedious tasks of compiling the research data. This not only reduces storage space, but it greatly assists in locating and retrieving the information.
Perhaps an even greater aid in genealogy is the internet. Now available, thanks to the incredible internet, are vital records of birth, death and marriage.
My cousin Jean Ann (Oatman) Butturff was the first person to begin collecting our family history. She accomplished this task the old way, before computers and Internet. She purchased commercial binders which included printed forms and file dividers. Each family had its individual binder.
When I started doing genealogy in 1980, I used a software program “Brother’s Keeper,” on 5 1/2-inch floppy. I imputed Jean Ann’s basic Oatman Family genealogy, which required about 10 hours. Her information, even with flaws, saved me immeasurable time and got me started in the fascinating world of genealogy. For that, I will always be indebted to Jean Ann, the daughter of my dad’s twin brother.
Sadly on June 14, 1995, Jean Ann died. Several years later, thanks to relatives, I was given all of her original genealogy binders, all 12 of them, which takes 6 feet of shelf space to store. At the time, I was also given a box of papers and photographs.
This week, 25 years later, I finally went through that box. Its items had little value other than to take future space in the local landfill. However, I did find 16 photographs that Jean Ann had taken of headstones. They were from two local Ohio cemeteries and one from Soldier, Kansas. They all had the family name of Hunt.
My great-grandfather, John Wilson Oatman (1849-1935) had married Susanna Hunt (1854-1901) on July 2, 1874, in Putnam County. However, Jean Ann’s family genealogy files did not list Susanna’s parents.
After looking at the headstone photos, it was obvious she was attempting to find a connection to the Hunt family by searching cemeteries.
Hunt is a fairly common surname; only six of the 16 photos are my relatives. But eight of the Hunt headstones from a local cemetery were not relatives, including the two from Kansas. Our parents were born in northeast Kansas, near Soldier, Kansas.
Since Jean Ann didn’t have the resources of the Internet, it was apparent that she was using headstones to locate Susanna’s parents.
Twenty years ago, my cousin Chuck and I went to the courthouse in Ottawa. There we found documents listing Susanna’s parents were Armstead Mason Hunt (1823-1875) and Sarah Good (1827-1871). Sadly, Jean Ann in her diligence had been unable to uncover this fact.
While she and I stood at the gravesite of our great-grandfather John Wilson Oatman, we did not at the time notice Armstead Mason Hunt was buried in the grave in the next row to the west.
Even more ironic is that Jean Ann died in the house her father had built, which unbeknownst to her was directly across the road from the farm that was once owned and by our great-great grandfather Armstead Mason Hunt and where he died on Oct. 5, 1875, 120 years before.
Larry L. Oatman is a writer and lives in Lima.