Journey of a Genealogist #2: My first steps as a genealogist



By Barry J. Ewell

Episode 2, entitled My First Steps as Genealogist of the Series Journey of Genealogist where Barry J. Ewell shares a few of his personal experiences as a genealogists.
After Mom’s passing, I received some of her personal affects.  I remember finding photos, articles, brochures from a trip, past checks and receipts, and so forth in bottoms of drawers, tops of closets, and every place imaginable.  I put those items in a sack, brought them home and forgot about them. Because of the experiences I had with my mother following her death, I had this longing to know more, but I just wasn’t ready.  I think most of my hesitation had to do with not knowing how to begin.

This longing to begin just kept growing and growing till just had to start. Mind you, I just didn’t wake up one morning and decide I wanted to be a genealogist, search court records, fly 1,500 miles to search out a graveyard in the middle of Kansas, have a file collection of color coordinated folders filled with photos, photocopies, life histories and artifacts.

I did it because of the love I had for my Mother and wanting to know who she was. Upon her death, I felt a longing to know more about her.  What did I know about Mom, not much, she didn’t like to talk about who she was.  In a quick outline, She was a divorced, single mom, worked graveyard at the Horseshoe Club in Las Vegas for 30-plus years, supported 3 children without subsistence from anyone, liked movies, John Wayne was the best, enjoyed going home each summer to Spanish Fork, Utah, liked nice clothes, took us to McDonalds and bowling at the Showboat Hotel on Monday nights, attended church when she could, came to my football games, always in the upper left part of the bleachers.

When I was ready to start my research I rediscovered the sack I had put away and spread the contents out on the kitchen table.  I made two spreadsheets to help me sort through the material.  The spreadsheets helped me organize the early phases of my research.  I was able to#1:

  •  Begin building a mental picture of activities/experiences by time periods.
  •  Identify persons who might have insights and artifacts relating to my Mother’s life.
  •  Identify topics and questions I wanted to discuss with different individuals.
  •  Identify gaps for which I did not have information.
  •  Identify areas where I could conduct background research to help tell the story.

Once I completed the sack, I reviewed other artifacts gathered such as our family photo album, items in shoe boxes, etc.

Within one spreadsheet I captured the following information#1:
What do you have? Describe what you have. What clues or questions do you have? (Inscriptions, persons in picture, etc.) Are any further actions needed?

In the second spread sheet, created a list of the persons I wanted to make contact with.
Who is the person? What is their relationship? Address, telephone, and email address Notes for follow-up

With information in hand, I was able to build a list of questions I wanted to learn more about.  I started with a tape recorder and a list of ten people that knew my Mom.  One by one I visited each person and interviewed them about their experiences with her.   I uncovered through their eyes, who my Mom was to them.  Some knew her as teenager, some as a sister, some as an adult, some as a child, all knew her as a dear and beloved individual.  I uncovered pictures, news articles, correspondence, genealogy, yearbooks, mementos, and best of all stories of who was my mother.   I grew to have such a great love for her, her family, and my heritage.  That began my quest to become a genealogist.  For the next five years, all I did for the next six years was conduct oral histories on both my mom and dad’s side and regather the record that was strewn the various family members.

As found artifacts and records, I placed them in one central location which for me was plastic box.  Everything I found about my parents went in one folder and everything you find about grandparents went in another.