Climbing Family Trees: More Than Just Names by Colleen Peters

Climbing Family Trees

More great stories, poems, and helpful hints about genealogy and searching for your family's roots from the twin authors of "Climbing Family Trees: Whispers In The Leaves"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

More Than Just Names by Colleen Peters

“More Than Just Names”
Colleen Peters

I had no idea that I would love the whole process of genealogy research so much. At Christmas in 1994, my parents gave to me and my siblings a three-ring binder filled with tidbits of information on our family’s tree. When my youngest son started school the fall of 2003, I decided that I needed a hobby. I found my three-ring binder, blew the dust off of it and began my genealogy journey.

My mother once told me that every family has at least one historian and once you find that person you can get the answers you are looking for. On my dad’s side of the family my uncle is the one who has collected family information. Thanks to the wonder of e-mail, I have had his assistance in all of my queries. In one such e-mail he informed me that my aunt had all of my grandparents’ old photos, so I was soon knocking on her door. We spent a whole afternoon going through and labeling photos. I wrote down all of the names to add to my family tree and enjoyed listening to the stories she remembered about these families.

One story that she heard as a young girl was about an accidental shooting. She remembered that the father of the family had heard animals, probably coyotes, outside of the family cabin and grabbed his rifle to go outside and investigate the livestock. Suddenly, the rifle accidentally fired inside of the cabin, shooting two of his children that were sleeping in bed. I remember thinking how awful that must have been for that family. I tucked that sad family story away and hoped that it wasn’t true.


My computer and I have spent many hours searching and enquiring to find documentation for my family tree. When I felt that I had exhausted my resources on one family line I would just work on another one. There were several discoveries along the way when I felt as if my ancestors were right there, leading me to the one tidbit of information that I needed to solve the unknown.

One evening, I was waiting for my husband in one of the college libraries, when a librarian asked me if I would like some help. I told her what I was working on and she asked me if I had tried a search engine called Altavista.net? I hadn’t and so she advised me to type in the surname, a location and a year to narrow down the possible answers. I typed “Myers Gallatin County MT 1880”. I got many possible matches to my query! I went through the first page, carefully going through each answer looking for anything familiar, and then the second page and so on. Then, to my surprise, on the third page I found a cemetery record that listed several Myers. The most interesting were two children of A. and M. Myers that had died eight days apart. Both of them were girls: Nellie, age 5, and Mary, age 7. At first, I thought something like Small Pox might have been the reason they had died so close to each other, but as you can imagine, the story my aunt had told me about the two innocent children who had been shot accidentally came to my mind.

The Internet is a wonderful tool, but I have learned through my journey that it is the kindness of others that is where the treasures really are. On April 14, 2004, I posted a query on the Internet via Gallatin County MT and got a response from Jeri. Jeri lives in the Bozeman area and voluntarily does research for others. She was so intrigued by my query about the two girls that she began searching right away. Jeri and I spoke with each other almost every day. She found several different items on my Myers family and even a few on my other family lines, but she wasn’t finding any evidence of the children. Jeri even took a road trip with her daughter, who was a photographer, to the cemetery where the girls are buried. They found Nellie’s stone placed flat on the ground because it had broken into two pieces and was not readable anymore. Someone had a new headstone placed next to the old one, identifying whose stone it was. Mary’s stone was also broken and placed flat on the ground, but hers is still readable.

I remember my own children’s reactions when I received the photos of tombstones via e-mail. They weren’t sure how to feel about my interest in the lives of people who died so long ago. The photos somehow made these two little girls more than just names on a family tree. I really wanted to know what had happened to them, and so did Jeri. I remember when she e-mailed me a possible lead: the University in Bozeman had copies of old local newspaper articles stored on microfilm. The name of the Bozeman newspaper in 1887 was “The Avant Courier.” Jeri had warned me that the collection wasn’t complete and that she might not find anything on the girls.

I can still remember the chills that crawled up my back when I read Jeri’s e-mail that she had finally found articles about the girls. Neither one of the articles mentioned the names of the girls, but clearly describes the sad events that came to the children of Allen and Martha Myers. As I read the articles I was filled with the emotion of the loss of the girls and the grief that their family must have felt. This event happened over a hundred years ago and yet I felt it as if it had just happened. These emotions were mixed with the excitement of the discovery that I had validated my aunt’s family story and had found the family it belonged to.

This was a sacred moment for me, one that I shared with a woman whom I have only talked with through my computer. It is hard to explain a bond that is felt between genealogy researchers, but we all seem to have an unspoken understanding of how the other might be feeling because of common experiences. I hope to someday have a copy of a photo of these two children. I know my chances aren’t very good, but I also know that anything is possible with a little kindness from others and a little help from those of the past.

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