a tree-rific journey into family history

Archive for the month “February, 2013”

The Agony and Mystique of Unknown Photographs: awesome old pictures included!

Pictures are one of the most exciting and sentimental parts of family history.  An old photograph or sketch of an ancestor can bring to life their time period and their humanity. Unfortunately, many of these treasured documents fail to tell us who we are looking at. Although I appreciate the mysteriousness of an unknown or unidentified picture, I would much rather know how I am connected to the subject. The most obvious hint comes from the photo’s source. You can gather some clues about the potential identity if you know who the photo once belonged to. In older photos, the names of the photographers and their city may be printed on the back. You may even think you recognize features that relate to known images. Unfortunately, none of these are absolute or anything more than educated guesses. In genealogy, we try to base our conclusions on more than just good guesses.

Below are samples from two batches of unknown photos. The first batch came from my great-great grandmother, Pearle Feeney Woods Holman (1879-1975). When she passed at 95 years of age, she left behind about 60 wonderful old family photos. The newest pictures appear to be the 1930s. The older items went back to the old daguerreotype prints of the 1800s. The only labels were for her father and for the family dog. Within a few years of her death, her only child and her remaining sisters passed away. By the time I began doing family tree research, there was no one left to identify these relatives. A couple of photos involving young girls were printed in Seattle which suggests they are of her sister’s family. The rest are a mystery. I assume the unknown pictures belong to either her family or her husband’s. Based on their parents’ names, these pictures are likely from the Feeney, Holman, Landess, and Woods families of Lincoln County, Tennessee. I sent copies to a genealogy society in the area, but no one was able to identify my people.

The second group of photographs recently came to me from my wife’s third cousin via his daughter in law on Simply put, this man’s great grandmother and my wife’s great grandfather were siblings. Unfortunately, their branch left rural Conway County, Arkansas for the bright lights of Kansas City some 70 or so years ago. The twenty or so unidentified pictures came down through his mother, Cora Lee Govan Hayes (1926-1986). He seems certain the pictures are from his mother’s Arkansas roots. Her grandparents belonged to the Brockman, Clinkscale, Govan, and Tyus families of Center Ridge, Arkansas. Although there are some older people left in the community who remember Cora Govan’s parents and grandparents, their eyes and minds are not what they used to be. What a great reminder of the importance of labeling old photographs…

Maybe someday we will know the identities of these family members!

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Local Genealogy Societies Are Still Useful in Internet Age: my experiences at the Conway County Genealogical Society

Long before the World Wide Web, family historians developed genealogy societies to network and collaborate with other local researchers and hobbyists. Like the actual resources, these groups often formed based on county and state boundaries. The organizations collected data, published books, operated research libraries, distributed newsletters, and sharpened the skills of their members. The local genealogy clubs were experts on family histories in their area.

As technology advanced, family history records became widely available online. Social networking sites and genealogy sites made connecting, learning, and strategizing more accessible than ever before. Local genealogy organizations may seem antiquated, but they are as important as ever in the Internet Age. As more and more people seek out their roots, these local experts are vital in gathering and distributing information.

When I first began my family tree research, I discovered both sides of my wife’s family had lived in Conway County, Arkansas for 130 years. Although we do not live there, I soon found myself spending time at the local courthouse and their genealogy library. The Conway County Genealogy Library is operated by volunteers from the Conway County Genealogical Society (CCGS) and is part of a local museum in the downtown train depot. The Depot Museum is operated by the Conway County Historical Preservation Association (CCHPA). After one meeting, I became a member of the Conway County Genealogical Society, and later served as secretary and now president for 2013.

The Conway County Genealogical Society has our library and meetings in the Depot Museum. This picture is from our website (, but if you visit the website, please remember we are all volunteers.

The Conway County Genealogical Society has our library and meetings in the Depot Museum. This picture is from our website (, but if you visit the website, please remember we are all volunteers.

The CCGS holds monthly meetings, and each meeting features a program. Program topics often include guest speakers, research methods, local history, and the popular show-and-tell. There is also an annual potluck. Our organization publishes books on local cemeteries, Civil War veterans, and various research topics.  We also produce a monthly newsletter with the CCHPA. In August, the CCGS hosts an annual Ancestor Fair where local researchers help people get started on their family trees. The Ancestor Fair also includes book sales, door prizes, and various exhibits.

Sometimes local researchers have access to information that you just won't find online.

Sometimes local researchers have access to information that you just won’t find online.

In addition to opportunities to work on local projects, the organization provides a chance for like-minded genealogists to come together and amuse one another with endless family history banter. That’s probably the best part.

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