Monday, July 8, 2013

Seeking the Past in the Present

So I’ve restarted a hobby, which is not a surprise for those who know me. I like to be well-rounded and change things up sometimes.

Well anyway onto this renewed pastime. I’ve always had an avid interest in history, especially my family heritage, so this recent “undertaking” involves genealogy. And I found out that it is quite overwhelming. With the Internet as a tool, there are so many directions to go.

I started with my living relatives and I’d advise anyone starting genealogy to go to relatives first to glean all the information you can. And make sure you write down even the littlest tidbits. You never know when it will come in handy.

My great-grandmother (right) in 1929
I have one set of grandparents living, so I obviously went to them first to gather what they know about their ancestors. “Listing the family tree” is not my grandfather’s favorite activity, so he was not exactly thrilled with all the questions and bringing up a bunch of memories at once.

But mostly he knew he has given me our family tree several times since I was a kid for school projects and I have misplaced the info every time. I promised this time I wouldn’t lose it. I contacted a great aunt for information as well as talking to my parents, uncles, aunts and cousins.

I’ve only been back on the genealogy trek for the past two months and thanks to the help of more Internet research and several genealogists I’ve met via the Internet and in my surrounding area I have found a lot of helpful information.

When all this began though I discovered a very helpful Web site right off the bat that has been a major tool so far for finding out dates and information about relatives, It’s free to sign up, so I did. Yes… I am a member of Interesting, I know. J There are probably not many people in their 20s who set out to construct their family trees, but I love a good mystery and I’m a research nerd, so I’d say the shoe fits pretty nicely.

My g-g-g grandfather's grave
Looking on the site, I was pleasantly surprised to quickly come across a photo of my great-great-great grandfather’s tombstone in Alabama. It was just really neat to see and to even know who he was, when a few weeks before I had no idea who he was until a relative told me.

Now I know where he lived and died, whom he married and whom his children were as well as where his son (my great-great grandfather) is buried. I’ve also found distant cousins and have contacted the people who posted their tombstone photos and information. I’ve started emailing a few of them to share genealogy information and ask for their info, which has been great. There have been some great responses and knowledgeable people to send info and give advice.

But not only can you discover your own family graves on the site though, you can assist other genealogy seekers in finding their ancestors’ graves. As a site member, I accessed the volunteer photo task page to see if there were any photos needed in this area. There were quite a few, so I thought I’d try my hand at tombstone photography and after my first postings, a woman sent me a message to thank me and tell me it means a lot to have the pictures, especially since they are her mother’s immediate family members and her mother had just recently passed away. Though I’ve never been a fan of visiting graveyards and apparently have a phobia of accidentally walking over them, I’ve visited dozens now and I know I’ll be in many others in the future.

For still amateur genealogists like me, we need advice for starting out, so I spoke with a friend who had done genealogy for years. She advised that the first step is to interview family members and gather all the information you can about your ancestors from them, even guesses about locations, death and birth dates, etc. She said an estimate can lead to a much needed lead.
My g-g-g grandfather (seated center) with his family
She also said information can then be looked up at parish/county courthouses and libraries as well as Internet sites such as, or, to name a few. Several libraries in each state offer access to these Internet sites, which usually have a membership fee but is free for anyone to use at the library. To organize the information, a family tree can be constructed either by paper or digital and offers free access to create a digital family tree after registering a username. It’s easy to do and a great way to always have your family tree info online when you need it.

I am enjoying the hunt for family history and through the digging, I knew I was bound to hit a few seemingly dead ends as well as finding the skeletons in the closet sort of thing and my family’s no exception. As family legends go, two of my great-great grandfathers lost a lot of money and their land through gambling, another was a drunkard and yet another tale tells of my great-great grandmother on another side who accidentally was shot and killed by her own husband. Talk about those skeletons and the closet… whoa. But it’s history. My history. What can I say.

There have also been good things too like hearing about my great grandfathers and their strong faith in Jesus Christ and service as preachers. I actually got a copy of my great-grandparents’ Christian testimonies of their salvation, which was published in a 1947 church newsletter. My great-grandpa was saved at a tent revival near his home after my great-grandmother and great uncle were saved and begged him each day to go with them until he finally agreed. He was called to be a preacher not long after he was saved. That’s the kind of family history I want to hear to inspire and encourage me.

Being a historical novelist, you can only imagine the loads of information I've stored away for book ideas and scenes. Genealogy is just another form of research for me and it's a fun one. You never know what will turn up.

At my family history quest’s beginning, my uncle had informed me that I may want to reconsider it, because I might find a branch of my family tree I wish wasn’t there. Despite his being right to an extent, I can’t change my history whether I want to or not…cause after all, it’s all in the family.

Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a historical novelist currently seeking representation. Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, photography, historical re-enactment and singing.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( and blog ( You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Goodreads.


  1. Oh boy! Another gravestone nerd. It's wonderful to find a marker for a relative, but I find wandering through an historic graveyard and reading the epithets a great weay to spend an afternoon. One thing I've noticed is that many first generation immigrants emphasize their place of origin, even going so far as to list country, county, town and parents.
    Glad you've found a legitimate excuse to walk among the tombstones. :-)

    1. Hi Alice! It seems I'm in good company then! :) I have been enjoying the grave troving. That is interesting about the immigrants graves.

  2. A great source of information and assistance for genealogical information is your local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter. Or if there isn't one near, the National Society DAR has an extensive library in Washington, DC (as well as state libraries in many states).

    1. Thanks for the tip, Judith! I'll have to check them out! :)

  3. Morgan, fascinating post :) I started resarching my family history last year and found the resources on very helpful. I'm currently stuck trying to locate my great grandmother's parents and siblngs in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately her birth certificate and baptism record doesn't name her parents. She was born in Antrim in the early 1880's. I'd love to hear from anyone who has tips on researching 1880's genealogy in Northern Ireland.

  4. Very cool post, Morgan. Gravestones can tell the most interesting stories, for sure.