While my wife was at work yesterday evening, I was sitting on the couch with my laptop when a commercial for Ancestry.com came up on the television. It was advertising a 14-day free trial, which piqued my curiosity. I had always wanted to try to trace my genealogy, but figured my rural southern roots would make that difficult or even impossible. My grandfather’s sister had spent much of her adult life tracing his side of the family (this was prior to the days of Ancestry.com) so I figured I could at least start there and see if I could replicate some of what she did.
The first thing I found when typing in my grandfather’s name was a US Federal Census from 1940. I opened it up, and was amazed that this was an actual scanned document with the names of my grandfather, his sisters, and his parents in original handwriting. Back in 1940, they would actually go door-to-door to collect this information by hand. I realized that the person who wrote this data down might have been sitting in my grandfather’s kitchen or living room, with my two-year old grandfather crawling around the house. It’s a weird thought, but oddly fascinating to me.
Tracing further up the blood line, I found my grandfather’s grandparents, except this time there was a picture attached to the name of my great-great grandmother. Immediately, I recognized the woman. This exact portrait has been sitting in my grandparents’ spare bedroom ever since I can remember. Theodocia Ann Virginia Blackstone – that’s a mouthful of a name! It’s also interesting that at some point in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, they dropped the “e” off the end of the name and made it “Blackston.”
I spent the better part of the night tracing up the blood line to see how far I could get. Unfortunately, once you get into the 1700’s and earlier, you see fewer and fewer official supporting documents, so you’re relying on the accuracy of data put together by other distant relatives whose family tree crosses with yours. I traced up my grandfather’s family to England (which it was known that the Blackstone’s did originate in England). Along the way, I found some neat tidbits. There were Civil War soldiers, soldiers in both World Wars, the Revolutionary war, and even an ancestor who died at sea on a ship heading to England in the 1600’s.
Then it Got Very Interesting…
I decided to trace up my grandmother’s side of the family and was actually able to get all the way up to my great-great-great-great grandmother and grandfather with full supporting US Federal Census data proving the connection. This was fairly simple since that side of the family has been in the same area in Mississippi at least since the early 1800’s. The interesting thing about this individual, Edward DeWitt Edwards Sr., is that he is apparently the subject of local folklore because he and his son, Luther Edwards, were killed in a gunfight on his plantation in 1861. Edward DeWitt Edwards Sr. was a judge, and originally owned all the land that my small hometown of Eupora, Mississippi currently sits. He had 12 children who he parceled out his land to over the years as they became adults and married. One of his children, Edward DeWitt Edwards Jr. (his eldest son) died unexpectedly due to an illness. The incident that resulted in Judge Edwards and his son Luther’s death was over the inheritance of his deceased son’s land. I was able to find a very detailed and elaborate story of how this went about online: http://thatedwardsbunch.tripod.com/
The detailed story there is consistent with all the other renditions of the story I’ve read elsewhere (some attached to Judge Edwards’ profile on Ancestor.com from local newspapers), but I’m sure the story has been unintentionally altered over the years as it is passed down from generation to generation. But the fact does remain that the majority of these folks are buried in the Edwards Springs cemetery, so I find it fascinating to be able to trace the line from myself all the way up to Judge Edwards, and it’s even more fascinating to read some of the folklore about my ancestors (whether potentially dramatized or not).
My next step is to dig a little deeper and see how much more I can find. Looking online, there is actually a book at Mississippi State University about Judge Edward and his descendants, so thankfully somebody has done a lot of the legwork already. Hopefully I can find a way to get my hands on this book to learn a little bit more about who he was and what he was about.
I was pretty amazed at the wealth of information that’s out there to help people trace their genealogy. At the very least, a site/service like Ancestry.com can at least give you a good base to start your own independent research.
If, by chance, somebody stumbles onto this blog entry and has information/advice that can help me, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks!