NERGC? What’s a NERGC?

Using the Tools of Today & Tomorrow to Understand the Past

“Using the Tools of Today & Tomorrow to Understand the Past”

The New England Regional Genealogical Consortium produces a conference every other year. Each NERGC conference is held in a city somewhere in New England. Past conferences have been in Hartford, Connecticut, Manchester, New Hampshire, Providence, Rhode Island, and this year, Springfield, Massachusetts. The event will kick off on 26 April 2017 with a specialty day devoted to Librarians, Professionals, Genealogical Society Management and Technology. During the following three days, you’ll have a chance to hear and learn from 70 genealogists of every level and in every aspect of genealogy and genealogical research. NERGC organizers have devoted quite a bit of time and space to DNA, a “hot topic” in today’s genealogy world.

The MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield is the venue. Hotel accommodations are available within a block. Other than presentations, this year’s conference includes several workshops, banquets and a “private” tour of the archives at the Museum of Springfield History.

Our opening speaker is Mary Tedesco, a co-host of the PBS program, Genealogy Road Show. Speaking several times during the conference are 3 featured speakers, Thomas MacEntee, Warren Bittner and a third, another co-host of Genealogy Road Show, Kenyatta D Berry.

NERGC is supported by 23 genealogical from societies around New England, all of whom will be represented at the event. Volunteers from each will be busy making sure your experience is optimal. Stop and visit each of them in the Exhibit Hall and perhaps you can meet with a society near where you live.

Also in the Exhibit Hall, you’ll see a wide variety of vendors of genealogy products: Books, CD’s, old maps, clothing, and other genealogy-oriented products. Scheduled are genealogy companies such as Ancestry.com, Evidentia Software, FindMyPast and Geni.com to name a few.NERGC is worth a look! If you can’t make Springfield this year, the 2019 conference is scheduled for a return trip to Manchester, New Hampshire.

Missed RootsTech?

RootsTech is the largest genealogical conference in the world. In 2017, more than 30,000 genealogists of all stripes attended what has been described as a phenomenal event. Their website describes the event: “RootsTech is a global family history event where people of all ages learn to discover, share and celebrate their family connections across generations through technology. At RootsTech, there is something for everyone, no matter your experience in family history or your skill level in technology.”

But, of course, most of us missed it for a variety of reasons. Well, there’s good news!

RootsTech has put up most of the presentations that anyone can view. BUT!! It’s only for a limited time.  I’ve searched around the site and there’s no indication as to how they define “limited time” so my advice is to check out the website and view what you can while you can. You won’t regret it as the conference was chock full of presentations by the best in the business. As far as subjects are concerned…best to check out the website!

Click here RootTech to access the home page and read about the conference itself and plans for RootsTech 2018 and RootsTech 2019 in the FAQ’s section accessible from the menu in the upper right-hand corner. Or just click here: Frequently Asked Questions.

And since we’re talking about genealogy conferences, don’t forget about NERGC 2017 being held this year in Springfield, Massachusett from 26 April to 29 2017. Wednesday the 26th  is “Library and Teacher’s Day with a track on Technology. Thursday through Saturday is the main event with 130 presentations, workshops, lunches and banquets.  NERGC takes place in venues around New England on the odd numbered years. Organized by the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium, the event is quite a bit smaller than RootsTech with a usual attendance of approximately 1,000. However, with 70 speakers, there is no shortage of quality presenters and with 130 presentations, no shortage of subjects covered.

Interested? Early bird registration ends on 28 February 2017!

 

Family Tree Maker® – Goodbye Ancestry – Hello MacKiev

In 1998, I was wandering around Circuit City, a company that went out of business maybe 7 years ago or more. I really don’t remember what I was looking for. Stereos, cell phones, DVD’s, whatever. I had recently bought a desktop computer and eventually I walked down the software aisle.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had family history in mind. By “back of my mind” I mean a subconscious, little-explored avocation. It began in 1969 when I received a letter from someone who turned out to be a second cousin.

Now, by way of explanation, my maternal lines extend to the Mayflower and dozens of others who arrived during the Great Migration, settling in Plymouth Colony and, later, Massachusetts Bay Colony and finally, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I’ve since discovered some very surprising ancestors that I’ve written about over the years. It’s from this side, I researched one of my 18 or so Revolutionary War Patriot ancestors and was able to join the Sons of the American Revolution.

My paternal lines, on the other hand, had all settled in the American Southeast: Virginia/West Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. And that’s where the letter came from. The writer had typewritten what I know now is a descendant chart beginning with an ancestor of mine who was born in 1849. I was so impressed with this information that I now knew an ancestor who was born over 120 years before the letter was written. So impressed, that I put away and didn’t open it again until around 1998, a few months before my foray into the software department at Circuit City.

You should know that I was brought up in an environment of “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” At the time, I wasn’t particularly interested in anything family related. Until the moment the Family Tree Maker practically jumped off the shelf. It was the spark that lit up my desire, or rather my need to find out if “what you don’t know” included family. Who were they? Who am I?  Exactly how did I connect with someone born so long ago in 1849? That was my father’s side. Obviously, there must be a few folks I never knew or heard of on my mother’s side. So, I was off to the races.

In 1998, I began what has become my profession. Speaking, teaching, consulting, family research and literally anything to do with genealogy. And now DNA has entered the equation. With FTM eventually becoming an Ancestry.com property, it became a convenience to me since I was already an Ancestry subscriber.

Having branched out into client work, I usually would use FTM as one of the tools to keep my research in order. And as far as my own family, my continuing genealogical discoveries created a tree that just became increasingly bigger as I continued.

FTM was updated and upgraded over the years. I was always interested in having the “latest” whenever possible. Sometimes I’d jump in as early as possible and other times I’d wait a month or so as I had learned that getting the bugs out was an important part of software development. The integration with Ancestry that allowed full two-way synchronization was an amazing breakthrough for me as I had become accustomed to updated one and then, separately updating the other.  Wow, technology!

When MacKiev got into the picture, I read what some people were posting on Facebook and other social media. Some were in a state of sheer panic while others, like myself, took a wait and see attitude. It always seemed to me that FTM had so many adherents that it was hardly likely that it would just sail off over the horizon never to be seen again. Somebody was bound to take over the reins.

And so it happened. FTM didn’t dissolve at the end of 2016 as some had predicted. As a matter of fact, as 2016 was melting into 2017, rather than the whole thing falling apart, the news simply got better. I was reluctant to try to teach myself the ins and outs of Legacy or RootsMagic or any of the other programs that are on the market. Keeping my focus on FTM was a more acceptable way to go.

Now it gets interesting. When I received the link to the upgrade, I felt I was relatively safe. If a major defugalty came along, there certainly are alternatives. The download and installation processes were a smooth ride which allowed me to focus on some family research. There’s always an ancestor lurking that can be proven and added to the “big” file. That file now has 43,893 individuals and a proportionate amount of media. That’s a lot to lose!

Pedigree Chart of Abigail Chapin Wheelock. Her husband, Paul Wheelock is a half-first cousin of President John Adams. Note the number of individuals: 43,893. Click to enlarge.

In December of 2015, when Ancestry announced that they were going to discontinue FTM altogether, the leading family history software — just bury it in the backyard. Many were panicked. Two months later on February 2nd, Ancestry announced that they’d changed their minds and would instead sell this wonderful old brand to SoftwareMacKiev. And as the developer of the Mac versions of FTM for the six years before that, “MacKiev was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to take the wheel,” said Jack Minsky, President of Software MacKiev. They stepped forward the very next day. ” Lots of articles were written on alternatives and there was lots of handwringing from FTM faithful on what to do,” said Minsky.

Now during the waning days of December 2016, I began to experience some difficulty booting up the laptop, a relatively new Dell Inspiron running Windows 10 with 1T hybrid hard drive, 8G of ram and no outrageous peripherals. It had always run flawlessly with all the data I have stored which takes up less than half of the capacity. That problem went away until the day after New Years Day. All I could get was the image that displays on startup. Without boring you with all the details of 5 marathon sessions with Premium Support, I can summarize it by simply saying that after a few stop-gap measures, I was forced to undertake a thorough, clean factory re-install. Fortunately, I’ve been running cloud backups for several years. I’ve used Carbonite® and more recently BackBlaze® on all our computers here. I also maintain a redundant backup on an external 1.5T Seagate hard drive. So other than the process of dragging myself through all of this, it should have been a simple although lengthy operation.

The next day, the download was complete, the restore was complete and all that was left was to put everything away where it belonged and reinstall some applications. That part of the process included FTM 2014.1 which had been running flawlessly. In the meantime, I was made aware of an update to the upgrade. Update? OK…I’m in. Before the big meltdown, I had done some work in the “big” file with the upgrade but not with the update. I thought nothing of it. I should mention here that I reinstalled FTM 2014.1 from the thumb drive that I purchased just in case what just happened, happened!

But when I tried to open the “big” file, I got an error message. I tried to open several of the other family trees and they opened with no problem. I communicated with technical support through their chat application and had 2 differing solutions, neither of which worked.  Wallowing in my frustration, I put this project aside and went to read and respond to emails and check for messages on Facebook. Facebook, by the way, with over 10,000 genealogically oriented pages, has become an important part of my on-line research efforts. I noticed that the Family Tree Maker® Users Facebook page had some folks discussing the pros and cons of the upgrade. I’ll admit, I was a bit frustrated as I fired off my problem offering it to anyone who happened to be paying attention to that page.

To my initial surprise, one of the people paying attention was Jack Minsky, the president of Software MacKiev. He took the time to listen to the whole series of events and where I was at that point. Then, in no time, he nailed it! I had upgraded to 2014.1 then installed the update after which I worked on my personal file, the “big” one. Then the crash. Then the restore. Then I began re-installing software. My first re-install was the FTM 2014.1 program from the thumb drive. What could be easier? Then, to test it, I tried to open my own file. Nope! Wasn’t gonna happen. What Jack suspected that I had opened that file with the updated upgrade (does that make sense?) and the thumb drive installed the upgrade but not the update. He knew that the missing update was the problem. He sent me a link for the update as I couldn’t find it in any of the hundreds of emails I had collected by this time. I uninstalled the original thumb drive version (build 497?) then reinstalled it. The last step was to go to the update link (build 501?) and reinstall that.

Lo and behold! I’m very happy to report that everything is running as smooth as glass. I mentioned to Jack a few weeks ago, that someday we should get together in Boston the next time I’m out there or near there. This time I offered to buy the drinks!

Thank you, Jack Minsky! I don’t know when you sleep as I’ve communicated with you at all times of the day and night.  It’s encouraging to see that although we all have to get accustomed to a slightly different way to communicate with support technicians, in the end, it all seems to work out. When does the president of a company get that close to the little people and pitch in to help? Congratulations, Jack Minsky! You did good!  You’ve earned the trust of many in the FTM community with your pro-active approach. Now, what are you going to do for us next?

My message to any FTM user? Try it, you’ll like it!

 

Ancestry Defugalty??

Defugalty isn’t even a word unless somehow I manage to get it into our 21st-century American lexicon. Merriam-Webster is right here in Springfield, Massachusetts. I could stop in for a visit and offer them first dibs!

Now for the defugalty, maybe a few defugalties.  It’s an interesting interaction I had with the friendly folks at Ancestry.com tech support. I’ve always had good luck with them. They answer within a reasonable amount of time and are consistent with their friendly, knowledgeable assistance. Until yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, they were responsive but I managed to stump them.

It began with my Chapin family project. Someone asked to join my “Descendants of Deacon Samuel Chapin” Facebook page and I always check to make sure they are, in fact, a descendant of the Good Deacon.

chapin-deacon-samuel

Deacon Samuel Chapin (1598-1675) 9th Great Grandfather of Dave Robison

When I tried to double check whether the Deacon was my own 8th or 9th great grandfather, I discovered, much to my surprise, that he was a 6th cousin 4 times removed of the wife of…..and on and on.

Curious to see how that happened literally overnight, I checked my FTM database and there he was correctly indicated as the 9th great grandfather as he should be. What happened between the last sync and the thousands of sync’s I had done in the past.

Ancestry.com, I found out, doesn’t have a category for “divorced” as FTM does. In a tree that I’ve had running for 16 or 17 years, suddenly I could only indicate “other.” Since I’ve been a member since 31 Dec 1899 according to my profile (really…check yours out, too!) I can’t believe that I missed this. So, I changed the status of my first wife from whom I was divorced in the mid-90’s to “Other.” Then the relationships that had been correct for the past 16 or 17 years suddenly fell into place

Two things: 1) Ancestry doesn’t know why the relationships suddenly went berserk and 2) the tech support person who was assisting agreed completely that there should be a “Divorced” option in the relationship drop-down menu. After all, I told her, it’s not a new concept! She said she’d put it into customer feedback/suggestions or something like that… We’ll see what happens. At least I know that I am still the 9th great grandson of Deacon Samuel Chapin (1598-1675) and I can continue to be a member of my own Facebook page!

Facebook Genealogy

Train Station, Evergreen, ALIn nearly every class or lecture I conduct on genealogy research techniques and strategies, I ask the group, “Who here is on Facebook?” The reaction ranges from a raised hand to snickers to an adamant “NO” here and there. Then I explain that there’s more to Facebook than reporting the BLT you may have had for lunch or whatever mundane activity  you’re involved with.

And here’s why I encourage everyone with an interest in family history research to take a long hard look at Facebook (FB) and where it can take you. If you want to tell your friends that you just saw a great movie or your favorite TV show, I have no problem with that at all. All I’m pointing out here is that there’s more to on-line research than Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org.

I’m here to tell you that there are 10,029 genealogically and historically oriented FB pages in the United States listed on 288 pages with an index. That, according to Katherine R. Willson, is a list that grows constantly! Her website at SocialMediaGenealogy.com contains a link to a PDF file that you   are welcome to download and keep. The direct link to that file is here. But I urge you to take a look at her site and take in all of the information you can that she provides.

So that takes care of the US. But many of us do a significant amount of research in Canada. For that list, we turn to Gail Dever and her site, Genealogy à la Carte. This link will take you to the page where she talks about her work on the list. I encourage you to surf around her site, click on some of the links under “Archives.” The direct link to the page with the PDF is here. Scroll down a bit to find the link to the “Facebook for Canadian Genealogy which was last updated June 2016. She doesn’t list the FB links by number, but there are 26 pages of them!

In either of these files, just pick a subject, perhaps a surname or a hometown. Use CTL+F to open a box where you type in “Smith” without the quotation marks, for example. In the US list, “Smith” gets 48 hits. In other words, there are 48 FB pages that have something to do with Smith. Or just use Katherine’s index.

The same strategy of using CTL+F can be used in the Canadian document. For that matter, CTL+F works in just about any document or web page. Gail’s Canadian list has large groups of page sorted by Province. So you can scroll through or use the CTL+ strategy.

Double Helix - Red and Blue with BandsHere’s how FB has worked for me. I have relatives all over the country. My paternal ancestor arrived in the early 1700’s, a Scots-Irish immigrant. The Scots-Irish element is proven through Y-DNA matches with folks still in Europe. My maternal ancestors include at least one Mayflower ancestor (John Howland) and dozens of post-Mayflower arrivals. In 1621, William Bassett arrived and began the line that includes me, his 9th great grandson.  Many “Great Migration” ancestors arrived after that including Deacon Samuel Chapin, my 8th great grandfather, who first established himself in Roxbury, Massachusetts, then followed William Pynchon to help settle what would become Springfield, Massachusetts. I opened an FB page titled “Descendants of Deacon Samuel Chapin (1598-1675)” expecting a couple of dozen people asking to join. We now have a little over 125 descendants who have all contributed their specific line from the Deacon to themselves. This has provided me with enough data to complete, or nearly complete, a one-name study of the Chapin line. Since the information began to flow, I have confirmed my relationship to Amelia Earhart, President William Howard Taft, Johnny Appleseed, Harry Chapin, Marion Morrison a/k/a John Wayne and dozens of other individuals who have been in the public eye.

One of the other  FB pages is titled “Find-A-Grave Genealogy Discussion” for which I had moderate expectations. Today there are nearly 7,000 members who ask and answer questions, tell their Find-A-Grave stories and in general, provide a great deal of help to other researchers. On that site, I have 4 co-administrators to keep up with it all!

I have a few more pages, most involving genealogical or historical research. And I belong to about 40 others. Nearly all of these pages have proven helpful. They provide information I’m looking for and information I’d like to share while allowing me the opportunity to meet hundreds of like-minded people with whom I collaborate.

Facebook isn’t the only game in town. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others can be effective tools to assist you in your hunt for those elusive relatives.

So, are you on Facebook? Instagram? Pinterest? Twitter? If you are, that’s great but follow all the privacy and security recommendations. If you’re not, this could be a great time to get started.

Don’t forget to stop in at my Old Bones Genealogy of New England website. Background, services, lists of classes/lectures and a curious link called “Useful Documents.” Click it then scroll down a bit to the link that will take you to my DropBox folder where there are hundreds of forms, documents, and other useful things.

Use the QR code to the right to get to Old Bones Genealogy of New England:

Old Bones Genealogy of New England

Old Bones Genealogy of New England

The Sons of the American Revolution – Induction

After 15 plus years of working on and off on an application to join the SAR, I happened across a registrar from the DAR. We were at a taping of the PBS program “Genealogy Road Show” in Providence, Rhode Island. My true motivation in attending the taping was to meet with one of the hosts, Kenyatta Berry, and ask that she sign on as featured speaker for the New England Regional Genealogy Consortium’s 2017 conference in Springfield, Massachussetts.  The good news is I meet with her and she graciously accepted the invitation. Thank you Kenyatta!

The DAR member’s name is Kathy Kaldis and after speaking with her for a few minutes, she offered to complete the work that I had started and stopped so many times. But, I can’t join the DAR for obvious reasons so Kathy put together a successful application for my daughter’s induction into the DAR. If you know how a legacy society works, if my daughter is a proven descendant of a Revolutionary War Patriot, than I also qualify.

The problem for me initially is my family, believe it or not. I have at least 22 age appropriate direct ancestors who may have served. The problem is digging up (no pun intended) enough proof of the lineage and the patriot’s service. I had been able to partly prove 18 of the 22. Kathy and I found one, Timothy Blodgett (1740-1831), who is a direct ancestor and enough documentation was available to prove the relationship. Timothy answered the Lexington call, was a minuteman and participated in the battle at Lexington. Years later he had moved to Deerfield Massachusetts where he and his family are buried. You can find the memorial at Find-A-Grave and at Billion Graves.

The point of all this is to talk about the induction. I will be formally inducted on 22 October 2016 in Quincy Massachusetts at a day long event that will include a grave marking ceremony in the Hancock Cemetery marking the grave of Thomas Necomb. Then we’ll visit the crypts of 2 presidents, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams. We’ll also be touring the Adams Mansion thanks to the National Park Service. Lunch at noon and finally the induction ceremony itself. Should be a great day and I have to admit that I’m proud to have been accepted into an organization that carries with it a heritage dating back to the Revolutionary War, almost 250 years ago!

Saved in El Salvador – A Brave Adoption Story – A Brave DNA Story

Double Helix - Red and Blue with BandsOne of the many people I’ve met while mentoring researchers at the Chicopee Library’s Genealogy Department is a 76 year old woman who has never married but has an adopted daughter. Taking on a 10 year old daughter while single is in and of itself a large challenge. But that’s just the surface of the story which I plan to write about over the next few weeks. About 35 years ago, this woman flew to El Salvador by herself to finalize the adoption and take her daughter home. Now, the daughter is interested in a DNA test to determine if any siblings or other family members got out safely. For historical perspective, just a few weeks after they came back to the States, several Catholic nuns were murdered and left by the roadside. Not a fun place to be. So the story will take a while to cover as she won’t be sending in her sample for a couple more weeks and then she’ll have to wait for results.

I mentioned to her that AncestryDNA might be the best place to start. This is not a case of research first then use DNA to verify the paperwork. This is starting from dead ZERO. We have no information to go by. Anything she can find will be a blessing to her. Hopefully, she’ll order this evening from www.dna.ancestry.com. I hope there’s a sale going  on!

I hope she has more patience than I do!

Stay tuned!

Ages of Males at Death

Sounds morbid, I know, but that’s what genealogists deal with all the time. We study more dead people than living. So thanks to Randy Seaver (author of Genea-Musings) for bringing this up, but he proposed charting the ages at death of 4 or 5 generations. I could go back quite a bit farther, but here’s a quick 5-generation chart. I might take the lost back a few more generations, but the “unknowns” will definitely outnumber the “knowns” by the 6th or 7th generation. I have a few of my ancestral lines (proven…not guessed or harvested from other public, online trees) back to the 12th and 13th great grandfathers. That’s 14 or 15 generations! Keep in mind that if you could identify ALL of your 13th great grandparents (15 generations) you’d have a list of 16,384 individuals just at that generation. That’s husbands and wives but no siblings! If you collected every name to your 16th great grandparents, the total number of individuals including you would be 524,287! And again, no siblings.

By the way, Randy and I are distant cousins….very distant but related nonetheless.

Here’s what I offer so far:

Dave Robison’s Male Ancestors’ “Age at Death”: 

Father Henry Dunn Robison 78
     
Paternal Grandfather Cecil Lee Robison 61
Maternal Grandfather Clement Alexis Dickson 67
     
Paternal Great Grandfather Erskin Coleman Robison 63
Paternal Great Grandfather Henry Wright Dunn 45 (Car/Train Collision)
Maternal Great Grandfather Daniel Alexander Dickson 72
Maternal Great Grandfather Edward Harmon Bassett 83
     
Paternal 2nd Great Grandfather Samuel Coleman Robison 64
Paternal 2nd Great Grandfather James Pinkney Peace 74
Paternal 2nd Great Grandfather William Ira Dunn 72
Paternal 2nd Great Grandfather Samuel Joseph Robertson 73
Maternal 2nd Great Grandfather James Dickson/Dixon 75
Maternal 2nd Great Grandfather James Meagher Jr 72
Maternal 2nd Great Grandfather Ralph Harmon Bassett 37 (Diphtheria epidemic)
Maternal 2nd Great Grandfather Joseph Baber Tuggey Sr 76
     
Paternal 3rd Great Grandfather Green Coleman Robinson 61
Paternal 3rd Great Grandfather James Thomas Hardin 21 (Confederate POW Camp)
Paternal 3rd Great Grandfather William Joshua Butcher Peace 66
Paternal 3rd Great Grandfather James M B Temple Unknown
Paternal 3rd Great Grandfather William T Dunn 63
Paternal 3rd Great Grandfather John Wright Sr 63
Paternal 3rd Great Grandfather Sampson Robertson 54
Paternal 3rd Great Grandfather Elza Richard Donaldson 72
Maternal 3rd Great Grandfather Unknown Unknown
Maternal 3rd Great Grandfather Unknown Unknown
Maternal 3rd Great Grandfather James Meagher Sr Unknown
Maternal 3rd Great Grandfather Alexander Donnelly Possibly 30
Maternal 3rd Great Grandfather Ephraim Lane Bassett 88
Maternal 3rd Great Grandfather Nelson Blodgett 77
Maternal 3rd Great Grandfather Thomas Tuggey 72
Maternal 3rd Great Grandfather Alfred Bailey 79
     
Average Excluding unknown 65.1
Average Excluding war, epidemic, accident 68.9
     

 Try your own list…it could be very interesting!

What do you do when you find hundreds of living relatives? Part 3

Cortland New York was transformed into Evergreen Alabama for 2 days last week. Aunt Cissy brought so many pictures, family artifacts and stories that she had me saying “ya’ll” like a pro way before lunch time!

Henry Dunn Robison ca1927 in Evergreen Alabama

Henry Dunn Robison ca1927 in Evergreen Alabama

But to me, the visit was far more than pictures and documents, all of which are in themselves treasures seeking a caretaker. So much is lost when their value is not recognized. “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” is an adage that comes to mind to underscore an important lesson. Their value increases exponentially when a family member who knows or knew the people in the photos, or the story behind the events perhaps because they were there at the time, or are able to pass along the story of family treasures left for subsequent generations can put “meat on the bones,” so to speak.

So what is there beyond the tangible? Let’s begin with the stitching together of bits and pieces of stories overheard in childhood when the background of those stories are met with “What you don’t know won’t hurt you!” Really? The reality is what you don’t know might drive you crazy! Or it may lead you to assumptions that are so far beyond the truth, a very warped picture of your own family emerges. What’s the real story behind the story?

For some, this family culture in which my sister and I grew up may be hard to imagine. We were denied access to a rich part of our family’s story, its history, its traditions, the real people who comprised where we came from. As a child, the things of children are enough to fill the days. But as we grew and matured, questions inevitably crept into our minds. Why did he or she do this or that? Why did they, collectively, act the way they did good or bad?

I would have to say that it is impossible to put it all together. It’s far too late to experience the past and be an active part of it. Compare it to reading about the Revolutionary War. It happened, we know that as a fact. But what was it like? What was the culture at the time? Who were the people involved and what were they like? All we can do is listen to the stories and try to be a part of it.

Now I’m learning about the lives of the characters I had only heard about, or more specifically “overheard” about if there is such a term.

I should point out that I’ve met with other members of my father’s long lost family. I’ve written about Aunt Sarah earlier. She had been my first contact and the source of nearly everything else I wanted to know. Or rather, everything else I didn’t know I wanted to know until I accidently found her. From there, I met another Sissy. Mary Elizabeth Robison Derr is a cousin, the daughter of Herbert “Uncle Hub” Robison my grandfather’s brother. Uncle Hub was a businessman in Evergreen Alabama and was once its Mayor. She was tremendously helpful with family stories about life in Evergreen where my father lived off and on before he enlisted in the US Navy.

The 2003 Robinson/Robison Family Reunion was quite an event. About 300 or so members of my extended family attended. It was held near Elkmont, Limestone County, Alabama. It took me quite some time to sort out who everyone was and how we were all connected. After all, my 4th great grandfather, Hezekiah, had 12 children, 11 boys and 1 girl. At least 10 survived to adulthood and 9 of whom married and had families of their own. The long and the short of it is this: After nearly 16 years of researching both maternal and paternal ancestors, and with the help of Aunt Sarah, Sissy Derr, David Sanders (a second cousin who started all of this!), Tom Moore, and many others, I’ve managed to put together basic genealogical data on 978 descendants of my paternal great grandfather, Hezekiah, with details on roughly half of those.

Diane Robison Lillie - Cissy Robison Hunter - Dave Robison

Diane Robison Lillie – Cissy Robison Hunter – Dave Robison

The latest treasure trove has come from someone who was closer to my father than anyone I’ve ever met, Cissy Robison Hunter. I’d tell you her birth name but she would not appreciate it! Your welcome Aunt Cissy!

Finally, my sister and I do not have words to thank all of the family members who have contributed to the story of us. But most especially, Aunt Cissy who came north to visit, hug, discuss, share and enrich our lives that much more.

 

 

What do you do when you find hundreds of living relatives Part 2

It was Friday evening about 8:30 pm. Karen and I pulled into my sister’s driveway in Cortland, New York. She greeted us warmly with hugs and kisses, but I kept looking over her shoulder to get a look at the woman I came here to see. Apparently having nodded off after her long flight from Alabama, Aunt Cissy looked perfectly comfortable but not so much that I wasn’t willing to go over and wake her up!

By this time, my brother-in-law, Ray, had come out of the house to watch the big event. Karen and I walked slowly toward Aunt Cissy followed by Diane and Ray as he came down the steps to the back yard. Aunt Cissy wasn’t really sleeping.  She was hoping to give me a bit of a scare. It worked! She leaped up in a big “Surprise!” moment…

Diane Robison Lillie - Cissy Robison Hunter - Dave Robison

Diane Robison Lillie – Cissy Robison Hunter – Dave Robison

When I finally got my arms around her, I said to everyone that I felt as though I was hugging Aunt Cissy, my grandfather Cecil Lee Robison, his parents Erskin and Linnie Otto Peace Robison, their parents Samuel and Mary Hardin Robison, their parents Green Coleman and Eliza Ann Francis Rochelle Robinson and lastly, Green’s parents, Hezekiah and Tabitha Grantham Robinson. Hezekiah’s father might have been Jonathan Robertson a mid-1700’s Scots-Irish immigrant. But that, so far, has yet to be proven. What a crew!

 

My aunt is the daughter of my paternal grandfather and his second wife. That means she is my half-aunt. But that’s just a technicality. To Diane and me, she is a full-fledged aunt!

Cissy was no disappointment! She came loaded with stories, photographs and documents along with her excitement and genuine happiness over finally getting to meet Diane and me. She also brought 2 crocheted Christmas decorations, hand-made 5 X 12 wall hangings that have the word “NOEL” set crocheted into them.

Onto to Cissy’s story, blended with what I know based on the few stories I heard as a child or more recent genealogical research.

Cissy knew my father, Henry Dunn, but he was at least 15 years her senior. By the time she was born, Henry was living back in Evergreen with his mother, Mary Virginia, and his overbearing grandmother, Gilma Robertson Dunn. Gilma was widowed in 1918 when her highly successful businessman husband, Henry Wright Dunn, was driving out of town and heading up the hill on his way to pick up a nurse he had hired to work in his household. His car stalled on the hill and he rolled backwards and into the oncoming L&N train heading through town. He died 2 days later and his gravestone is marked, “Death Loves a Shining Star.” He had been a Ford and Buick dealer (a mega dealer in the early 20th century!), a hardware dealer and the owner of extensive rental properties in and around Evergreen. These stories I had learned through my own research, trips to Alabama, newspaper articles, cemetery visits, vital records and other family records that were made available to me. Henry Dunn had traveled up to Anniston from time to time to visit his father and step-mother. The visits were very short and long on antipathy.

Gilma Robertson Dunn  (1873-1954)

Gilma Robertson Dunn (1873-1954)

Back in Evergreen, Gilma had long ago managed to have my father’s birth records destroyed as she was no fan of the man her daughter had married and it seemed as though she didn’t want Cecil’s name to be associated with her grandson, Henry Dunn. Perhaps she was hoping to marry off her daughter to another man and have that man adopt Henry. Whatever the motivation, this turned out to have been a convenient decision on her part for her own nefarious purposes. Not only was Henry Dunn sent from one aunt and uncle to another, he was sent off to a boarding school in Mississippi, back to his father in Anniston and wherever else they could put him. Amazingly, the 1930 US Population Schedule shows 5-year-old

Henry’s parents, Cecil Lee and Mary Virginia, living on one side of town while Henry was in the household of 3 single African-American domestics on the other side of town. Fast forward to December 7th 1941. My grandparents were divorced with Cecil remarried and Mary living in Evergreen either alone or with my father whenever that was convenient for the family. But what were they to do with 15-year-old Henry? To Gilma, that was easy. She had a son who was a Lieutenant Commander in the Army Air Corps. Gilma had the connections to obtain an affidavit claiming the Henry was 2 years older than he really was. Voila, “17-year-old” Henry Dunn Robison joined the US Navy, enlisting in early January of 1942, 4 weeks after the Japanese attack.

 

Aunt Cissy knew my father. She was frightened by him given his age and height. He was over 6 feet tall, even as a teenager. He was also a much different person than Cissy’s 4 brothers. The dynamic in that household was far different than anything that my father ever experienced. So I can only imagine how “pleasant” Henry Dunn’s infrequent visits to his father and step-mother would have been.

 

My grandfather, Cecil Lee Robison, and his 7 siblings. Cecil Lee is in the upper right  hand corner.

My grandfather, Cecil Lee Robison, and his 7 siblings. Cecil Lee is in the upper right hand corner.

Henry Dunn’s father, Cecil Lee Robison, was also a tall man. He was a successful businessman in Evergreen working as an accountant and had been a deacon of his church. In other words, a well-respected citizen of his community. However, his home life was less than the typical 1940’s or 1950’s home life. His relationship with his family was not particularly warm and cozy. However, he was a loyal and faithful father and husband who, along with Hilda Mae, his wife, raised 5 children who were respected in their own right: a mayor, a teacher, a State Fire Marshall,

an independent business owner, an early DNA researcher… All quite successful.

There are quite a few more details I’d like to share. I’m sure you’ll want to hear about Uncle Michael, the early 1960’s DNA researcher at Duke University.

So as much as I’ve tried to put this whole amazing story into 2 parts, I’ve got to stretch it out with at least one more installment and maybe two.

Stay tuned!