Friday, December 7, 2012

HOW I BECAME A GENEALOGIST

Emzaella Mabel (Channing) Laird & her pet tortoise
Randsburg, California, about 1926


My genealogy work began in 1978 when I stumbled upon an old mining town named Randsburg during one of my treasure hunting trips in the Mojave Desert.  Driving into town, I spotted a sign indicating that there were 50 residents in this tiny, dusty town that still boasted the remnants of wooden boardwalks in front of the old clapboard buildings.  I stopped in at "Two Finger Jacks" and purchased some antique books, mostly small, hard bound poetry and etiquette books that were heavily decorated with faded gold scroll work and reeked of the Gilded Age, miner's sweat and Mojave dust.

Photo by: Charles White


Gold was discovered in the Randsburg area in about 1895, and the town still reminded me of that era, though I knew nothing about the history of Randsburg when I first wandered through it.   During a visit to the truly tiny "museum" located in a small space inside a building on the wooden boardwalk I saw photos of thousands of miner's tents pitched precariously up the side of the hill above town.  At one time, there were 2,000 people living in this little burg, laboring small claims and/or working the Yellow Aster Mine at the end of the street.

Before leaving, I stopped by the General Store and sat at the antique soda fountain, built in 1904, and enjoyed an ice cream.  It was summer in the Mojave and super hot!





When I got home, I hurriedly called my Grandmother who had mentioned that she had been raised in the Mojave Desert, at least for part of her childhood.  "Grammy," I said excitedly, "I just found this tiny little gold mining town called RANDSBURG!" 

"Randsberg?" she replied, "I used to LIVE in Randsburg."

That's when she began to tell me her life story, which rivaled any Lifetime Channel movie for romance, pathos, tragedy, and drama.  Grammy's mother died when Grammy was just 2 years old.  Her sister was only 8 months old.  My great grandfather, a miner, prospector and speculator, left the girls with an aunt in Denver for a few years, but after he married his second wife, he brought the girls out to live with him and his new wife in Randsburg.  My grandmother had spent about 14 years in beautiful, green Colorado.  Her introduction to the Mojave Desert was shocking.


My Grammy and her sister
~ Randsburg, about 1926 ~

I learned that Grammy was made to help her step-mother at the Rand Hotel, where the step-mother was manager.  Indeed, this is probably part of the reason my great grandfather sent for his girls: they were old enough to begin working.  I learned a lot of things.  Grammy had a pet tortoise (picture above.)  An "ice box" was a metal box over which a burlap bag was wrapped.  Drops of water fell from above, wetting the burlap and cooling the interior and its contents.

After speaking to my Grammy, I soon returned to Randsburg and interviewed Mrs. Wilson, who had lived there more than 50 years.  She knew my grandmother and her sister when they were teenagers and remembered them.  She also remembered Jack Laird, who was to become my grandfather.  She told me that he was very handsome and the best dancer at the Grange Hall dances.


John "Jack" Edwin Laird
My grandfather and Lease Holder at the Yellow Aster Mine
Randsburg, California


Genealogy research in those days had to be done old school style.  Broad use of the Internet would not be possible for more than ten years, and ancestry.com would not launch until the late 1990's.  Foot work was involved.  Interviews, on-site research, copying old books, scouring dusty old records and letters, and examining roll upon roll of original documents at the Sacramento State Library and other locations made the work tedious, time-consuming, and slow.  Much of the family linked information that is now available on Ancestry.com was originally researched by old-school genealogists like me. 

One of my distant cousins who was introduced to ancestors he never heard of by accessing my family tree, dismissed my contribution by saying, "Genealogy is easy.  Anybody can do it.  All the information is on Ancestry.com!"  As much as I love finding distant cousins for me and for my clients, I make no guarantees about liking all of them.  There are jerks everywhere.  Remember that when a long-lost cousin turns up.  They could easily wreak havoc with your other family relationships.  That has happened more than once to me, but it hasn't dampened my ardor for the research.  It has just made me more cautious.

Over time, I took advantage of growing technologies, researched every ancestor possible, and eventually learned that I was descended from numerous kings, colonials, saints and pioneers (the name of my database on Rootsweb and elsewhere.)  After researching as far BACK in time as possible, I then moved FORWARD in an attempt to find and link up with cousins, many of whom join me on my Facebook page.  Not everyone is interested in their genealogy, however, so you should be prepared for a lukewarm, or even a cold reception from many people.

I have been very lucky to make friends with some wonderful cousins from various lines in my family.  I have found long-lost family members for others and have been responsible for countless reunions.  It is my joy to bring a wider sense of family to the world, for we all must realize that family is more than just the American nuclear family of mom and pop and their kids.

You will find biographies of some of the most interesting ancestors I have found over the last 34 years on the memorials I manage on the FIND A GRAVE website.  I have written about some of my saintly ancestors on my other blog, DIARY OF AN ACCIDENTAL HERMIT  If you find some enjoyment or other value in my writing, please consider donating to my effort so that i can pay for my monthly Internet charges!  If you have a family mystery you would like help unraveling by a professional, you can purchase blocks of time at the BUY NOW button, above.

In the meantime, God Bless and happy researching!

Copyright (c) 2012, Silver Rose Parnell
All rights reserved.