Climbing Family Trees: My Fruitful Distraction by David DeFord

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

My Fruitful Distraction by David DeFord

“My Fruitful Distraction”
David DeFord
Omaha, Nebraska
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On my last day of vacation I sped over the back hills of southern Indiana, hoping to unravel a mystery. I needed to find information about my great-great-grandfather and his family. With a common surname like “Jackson” it wasn’t going to be easy. I had tried everything else: the LDS Family History Center, queries to the town newspaper, and letters to the County Clerk. I decided I had to make a personal visit.

I arrived early in the morning before the old limestone courthouse opened, and I planned to stay until it closed that evening. This was the only day I could spare. As I sat in my parked car on the sleepy town square, I prayed that I would find all I needed about Columbus Jackson and his wife, Nettie. I prayed that I could work alone and not be distracted by other genealogists. After all, they often waste valuable time talking endlessly about their own research. A distraction would slow me down. My time was short. I needed to hurry!

I waited impatiently at the huge courthouse doors until a worker finally unlocked them at 8:00am sharp. An attendant directed me to a dark basement room that held the archives. Huge ledger books, filled with records of past generations, sat heavily on dusty shelves. I started my search immediately. Two hours passed in quiet bliss. Columbus still evaded me, camouflaged among tens of thousands of his neighbors, but I was becoming familiar with the records. Happily, no distractions kept me from my search.

After three hours, I heard the clomping of feet descending the wooden stairs. Here came my first distraction—a silver-haired lady, carrying an armload of files. She smiled broadly, obviously pleased to have companionship in the dark chamber. My opportunity for finding Columbus Jackson had ended, I thought. I smiled in her direction, but avoided eye contact. We worked in silence for a few minutes until she asked, “What’s a young man like you doing in an old person’s pastime like genealogy?” I winced inside, knowing that my work was done.

“Well, I’m looking for anything I can find about Columbus Jackson, my great-great-grandfather,” I reluctantly replied. “Lum?!” She got excited. “Why, he used to live right across the road from us! He used to throw big barbeques and invite all of the neighbors. He’d make ice cream and break open watermelons from his huge garden. He was the nicest man I ever knew.” She became more animated. “He’s buried up the hill. Here, let me show you on your map. He died in 1952—near Christmas. Let’s see if we can find him in the death records here.” She did. “His wife, Nettie, was such a sweet woman, and she was so beautiful! She had long, thick hair that she rolled into a tight bun. Now they were probably married in the 1880s. Let’s take a look.”

In an hour this wonderful lady, who had known my great-great-grandparents personally, showed me where they lay in the cemetery, found their death and marriage records, listed for me all of their children, and told me stories that made them come alive to me. All afternoon she filled my notebook and my heart with beautiful stories of my family—not just their names and vitals, but tales of rich lives lived well. I had prayed to find some information without distractions. I found the information I needed and more. I found family, people who lived and loved, ate and served ice cream, and who spread their love to their neighbors. I thank God for my silver-haired fruitful distraction!


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