Finding Our History

Post copyright 2015 by Doris McCraw


In a recent conversation with my brother, the topic of family history came up. We’ve talked a bit about our shared history before, but this time it went deeper. Perhaps it is the passage of time, loss of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that makes one want to save or know what make us who we are. I’ve been the family archivist for much of my life, and I do admit, the research part is right up my alley. So this post is about not only my history, but finding your own.

I usually start with memories. I’ve shared some in past posts, so if I’ve told this story before, bear with me. I was fortunate to know my paternal great grandparents. My great-grandfather was from Germany, and passed away when I was about seven. I remember standing outside of our house looking toward the church where his services took place. My mother would not allow me to attend, saying I was too young. She was probably correct, but  a future conversations with the woman who help raise her put it all in perspective. You see my maternal grandmother passed away when my mother was seven. There were six children, my mother being the oldest girl. At her mother’s service she saw her two younger sisters trying to wake their mother up at the service. Pretty traumatic so her decision to exclude me from the great grandfathers service made sense.

Oliver Cornelius Crear
Headstone of authors great-grandparents

Stories of my maternal grandfather get quite interesting. He was either loved or hated by his family. Those stories are too lengthy to include here, but I do know he was basically raised by his sisters and spoiled terribly. He grew up in Kentucky, the western part, if stories are correct. At the age of five he was outside when a thunderstorm hit and he took shelter in a hollowed out tree. That tree was struck by lightning, and his right leg was bent as a result of that lightning strike. He spent years working for the railroad, a job he always wanted and loved. My mother always said I inherited my grandfathers BS degree. He could talk for hours on any subject and enjoyed doing so. (I’m not sure if I have the BS degree to the extent he did, but I do try.)

Gracie A. <i>Putney</i> Wheeler
Headstone of authors grandmother

Next is ‘Ancestry’ and other published material, locating the nuts and bolts of the past. A book, “Families of Hancock County, Illinois” told the story of my great grandmothers father. He was born Jan 16, 1846 in Virginia and moved to Illinois and settles near Denver, IL. in 1874.,_Illinois  He was a farmer for a while them moved to Carthage, IL.,_Illinois He was one of the founders of the Marine Trust Company and was president of the Harmony Mutual Insurance Company at the time of his death in 1939.

Ancestry also allowed me to find my paternal grandfathers parents. They were also from Virginia, but moved to Illinois for a short time before returning to their native state. My grandfather was the only one who remained in the midwest. Some members of the family are still in that area.

My last stop is ‘Newspaper Archive’. Oh what a treasure trove that is, if you are willing to work at it. For fun I typed my name into the search engine. The stories that I found, well let’s just say, I don’t remember doing most the things they wrote about. Most of them were the vocal events I was part of. I do remember singing a lot, just not at all the places the article stated.

So now it’s your turn to find your history. It can be a fun and rewarding journey. There are many additional remembrances and pieces of families I have yet to find. One thing for sure, the memories are worth it. Some of the skills I’ve learned from this research have helped in the current projects I am working on. So to all who read this, happy journeys.

home for his heart angela raines

also available as an ebook on Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Doris Gardner-McCraw/Angela Raines
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women’s History

Author Page:
Photo and Poem:


24 thoughts on “Finding Our History

  1. My cousin John Snyder is the genealogist of the family. His late father and John are the main suppliers of family photos, although some came from my maternal grandmother’s photo albums. On my dad’s side, my Aunt Gloria, who’s 88, supplied the photos and stories of dad and other family members I featured in recent short stories. I put together a slide show of many of dad’s fathers at his memorial service. I’m amazed that we have so many photos that are more than 100 years old. It helps that John Snyder’s family included a photography business.


    1. You are lucky. When our family home burned, the first thing my mother went for were the photographs. There weren’t many, but they are precious. Families have so many stories, but we don’t always appreciate them until much later. Doris


  2. I’m a late child of parents who were the youngest in their families. As a result I never knew my grandparents and only met a couple of my aunts (and no uncles). There was some negative stuff between the families so my mom rarely talked about them. I keep bugging my (much) older sister to write down the family history she remembers, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’d really like to know more about my parents when they were young. Her daughter has done some genealogy research and I need to get together with her.
    One of these days I might join Ancestry and see if they have anything. It’s neat that you can find out so much.


    1. Kate,
      Don’t discount “Newspaper Archives”. They have a lot of news from various papers around the world, and I’ve found a lot of personal information there. Groups or organizations they belonged to. Meetings or events they attended or took part in.

      I wish you well. Ancestry does help, but more and more ‘historic’ information is making its way onto the web. The other option I’ve had some luck with is Google Books. You never know. Doris


    1. You are welcome. It is a gift to have known our grand and great-grandparents. My grandfather lived into his mid-nineties, so to have both live to such a great age, priceless. Doris


  3. I did a lot of family research when Family Tree Maker was around. You bought the program and they had an extensive history bank to draw from and connect with other family members. I spent 6 years doing that. When I came back to do some more, I find that it is now Ancestry, and it is very expensive (I think), so I guess I will get no farther than I already have. I’m glad I did it when I did. I got back to the 1600’s on my husband and my history both, with a few gaps here and there. My Grandpa on my Mom’s side got killed when she was 2, and my Grandma (whom I remember very well), died when I was 12. My grandparents on my Dad’s side lived a lot longer. My kids knew their great-grandpa, and my kids, kids met my grandmother. She gave me some family history stuff, but she didn’t have much and by the time I asked her she was starting to get confused on details. I have 1 great grandson, and a great granddauther on the way, and another great grandbaby on the way. These children have a great-great grandmother that is still alive on their granddad’s side of the family. They have several great-great grandparents. This is timely since I just told my sister-in-law I would drag out my big family tree book and give her some information. Again too bad Family Tree Maker is no longer around, I could just share it online with her. Thanks Doris, and thanks for the photos. Cher’ley


    1. Cher’ley, what a wonderful gift you and your family have. It is also frustrating when programs you work with cease to exists. I am fortunate that our local library has access to many online geneology sites, for free. All you need is a library card. It has done wonders for all my research, for which I am eternally grateful.

      Here is to the stories we tell and the people who hear them. Doris


      1. Cher’ley, check with your local library. If they have a geneology section or public computers, they may have the programs already accessable to their patrons. Google books of course is easy to access and you just type in the name you’re looking for. You may have to dig, but the prize is worth it. Doris


  4. Family history can be quite fascinating. Unfortunately I know very little about my family history beyond my grandparents. Going back further into the family history is on my someday list. Fortunately once it gets to the top of my list, I do have a few family members that have done a bit of research.


    1. S. J., it is a trip worth taking, at least it was for me. Since my father died early and I lost my mother about three years ago, the need to keep the stories alive has become very important to me. The elders are fast leaving and I’m playing catch up. Doris


  5. Doris, how amazing to see what you’ve written; I was considering writing a post about family history because I recently started mine. My neighbor has been a BIG help as she has been working on her lineage (and that of her husband) for many years, and she pointed me in many directions, enabling me to find A LOT, which I’ve shared with my parents and plan to share with cousins who are also interested. I’ll be getting back to those searches when I return from my trip. Maybe I can weave some thoughts about this into my letter for April’s blog … if I can find a way to tie into the letter “X”! LOL I’ve certainly made some great discoveries, and it’s been fun to share those with family. Thanks for sharing your history with us.


    1. I have always found the stories we have in our families are worth remembering, finding and sharing. I am thrilled that you have started on that journey and will enjoy reading what you find. Happy hunting. Doris


  6. Love the post Doris. My aunt spent years researching our family and had every bit of history she could find, including our roots in Europe, coming by boat to America, and settling in the east before migrating to Michigan. Her research reads like a book and it is very interesting to know the people who make up my paternal family. No one has ever researched my maternal side of the family and it’s something I’d like to research. I spent a long time researching for my husband Ralph, and it was exciting to know he is part Chippewa. He was so happy to have found his roots, and somewhere he felt he really belonged!


    1. I think it is the stories and the unknown connections that keep us going. I would love to hear what you find on the maternal side of you family. So many stories, and so important. It is the true story of the journey of civiliztion. The people who were there doing the small things. They are our heroes. Doris


  7. Great post, Doris! What wonderful memories you have–poignant, amusing, and interesting. I never knew my great-grandparents. I only really knew my maternal grandmother. All I really remember about my maternal grandfather is his illness/dying. I was three. My paternal grandparents had already passed when I was born. I have heard stories of great-grandparents though. And I really should capture some of those in writing.


    1. Stephanie, thank you. When I did the ‘Newspaper Archive’ on myself, it triggered so many memories, and so many I knew I’d lost. Sometimes I feel like time is against me, but if I persist, some will be remembered and written down. Hope you have as fun a journey as I am. Doris


  8. Interesting post. My sister did geneology for years and has a huge collection of information. Unfortunately she now resides in a nursing home and is unable to do it anymore. I am now the keeper of many bags and cases of info. I hope someday to delve into it. Also, one branch of family (Ostranders) researched back to the 1620’s here in the US and published a thick hard cover book that is really interesting. And another branch had family (Disney) reunions every year for a while so got to meet cousins we didn’t know about. It was great fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, you were gifted with some amazing stories and information, Neva. I sometimes think we only pay attention to the ‘big’ events that created history, but the ‘little’ stories are so special. In many ways, I think the desire to connect to our stories is why memoirs are so fascinating and popular. Doris


  9. Wow, Doris, that’s a lot of work, girl. I feel really lazy now. I know most of what I know about my family from word of mouth and my grandfather’s trunk. I do have a history of the MacNiell clan. My oldest sister was all into genealogy and had all kinds of papers and charts about it. I thought you gave some very interesting ideas for researching family histories in this blog. It sounds like a real investigative endeavor. Maybe that’s what makes it so interesting–like finding some astonishing person in your family from way back when that did something heroic or dangerous or totally illegal. Enjoyed it, Doris.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sarah. I will say, on my mothers side, there may be a few ‘interesting’ characters from back in the Civil War days. I do know I had an uncle who was on one of the first nuclear or predecessor of,subs. He’d gone into the Navy at 17 and when he left the service became a police officer in Oakland, CA.

      I sometimes think my brain is wired for research. I do so enjoy the process and thinking outside the box for finding information. Doris


  10. Ancestry is a bit of an obsession with me as well, Doris, though I’ve not been able to delve recently due to other priorities. I use and it is expensive but once the records are located there it’s possible to make extended family contacts that you probably wouldn’t make by other methods. I found a lot of ‘howlers’ in my past and they are definitely the stuff of books to come in the future. In fact, I’ve already outlined and started a family saga. It’s a fictionalised family, not my own background, but I got some of the plot ideas for it from my own ancestry.


    1. Oh Nancy, the family saga sounds fabulous. “Newpaper Archive” also covers the world. They have digitized issued from all over back to 1759, if you ever want to check that one out. Some interesting events you can find.

      I will say, once you get started it can be addictive and I wish you well on this upcoming saga. Yeah! Doris


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