Discoveries about the family can be wonderful

Published 7:55 am Wednesday, December 1, 2004

By By LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
I thought I would stop to take the time to give you a little bit of information on the job of looking up the family tree.
There have many times when people have asked me how to go about finding their ancestors. Another favorite question that is often asked is "are you through yet?" The answer to the last question is "you never get through." Just as soon as you find something a few generations in the past, someone else has had a new baby or else has died. Information is constantly changing. The trick is to keep the present information as current as possible while still rummaging around in the past. Another big problem is the constant running into a brick wall so far as information is concerned. It can drive you crazy when you reach a dead end situation with a particular family. I have found the best thing to do is to drop that line and go on to another one. I am convinced that the little piece of information I am looking for is out there somewhere and someday I will find it. In the meantime, it is very important to stay focused and not give up. It takes a lot of patience to do genealogy and if you think it's going to go fast and furious, you will probably be very disappointed.
Some years back I discovered that I had a Branch family line. My great grandmother's name was Anna Rebecca Branch. No one around knew much about the family and in doing research it became apparent why there were no Branches still living in the area. It turns out that the only children of my great, great grandparents, John W. Branch and Emily (Emma) Hook, to survive were all daughters. All the sons they had died young. Thus the Branch surname passed into obscurity in that part of Alabama. There were three daughters who lived to marry and have families of their own.
When I began to gather information I talked to a cousin who lived in Panama City, Fla., and was given a letter that had been sent to his father before his death. The letter was about 12 years old and I had little hope it would be answered, but I took the chance. I received an answer and found that the writer was a professional. My biggest surprise was to find that I had more information than he did. The moral of this story is that it is just as easy for an amateur to gather information as it is for a professional and a lot more fun.
This particular family line has been so very interesting to me. I have found that the Branch family was from England, coming to America in the 1600s to settle in Virginia. In England they can be traced back to several well known persons such as Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, and many other notables. In fact, there is speculation that one of the ancestors worked at the foundry in England where "Big Ben" was built. There is much interesting material about this family online and in publications in Virginia.
During a time when it was fairly unusual for most people to obtain an education, it became quite clear that education was important in this family. In a letter written in 1846, John W. Branch wrote in a beautiful handwriting, asking the government for bounty land and pension due him for his service in the Mexican War. He was a young man at the time, which was before his marriage.
In another letter in 1884, John wrote to the government again, asking for an increase in his pension. At the time he was receiving $8 a month and wanted an increase because of his health. At that time his handwriting was shaky. It is heartbreaking to read. It also points out the material that is available when you are doing research. Both of those letters were in a packet of material obtained from Washington, D.C.
Most people believe you have to travel far and wide to be able to get material like this. Although I have done some traveling since then, at that time I did all my research through the mail. You can do it, too. Don't let distance stop you.