Branches and Twigs: Our Family Tree

Teresa Martin Klaiber

Introduction to our very first family tree is usually when mother shows us the baby book resplendent with a tiny lock of hair.  The family tree appears on page two, following the birth announcement our parents thought so clever.

The ebb and flow of the practice of tracing family trees, aka genealogy, has a history of its own.  Genealogy, as a hobby, was all the craze during peace time of the 1880s when many vanity county histories and family genealogies were written. These were mostly based on oral stories passed along, with a few scattered notices of land records and wills. 

Over time, genealogy has become much more technical.  Federal, state and county records have become more accessible.  There are college courses, degrees and certifications for the serious genealogist.  The wonderful thing about our family history is the ability for all of us to start with information we have at home and in our attics.  Little clues can be as simple as a monogram on silverware, embroidery stitches, a quilt, and of course, baby albums.

Not sure how to get started?  Our area is blessed with two wonderful, jam- packed genealogy reference rooms.  The Greenup County Library Genealogy & Local History Room is free to use and open to the public during regular operating hours.  A local history librarian is usually on hand to answer questions.  The Boyd County Library houses the largest genealogy collection in Eastern Kentucky and the Tri-State.  Located on the second floor of the main library on Central Avenue, Ashland, Kentucky, you will also find original historical documents, archived for your use.  A genealogy specialist is on hand to guide you, answer questions and make you feel right at home. Both Ironton, in Lawrence County, Ohio, and Portsmouth, in Scioto County, Ohio, also offer wonderful library resources, and the Ohio Genealogical Society has a chapter in every county.

The computer age has dramatically changed the face of genealogy.  Many on-line genealogy sites are available­­–some for pay, some free.  Some have good information, and some have misleading information that is just plain bad.  How do you know if the information is good information or just copied, repeated and possibly even fake?  Good research skills.   The trees people have uploaded can be used as clues but never take the work as bona fide.  Utilize original source records to prove their theories.  Even published extractions can be wrong or misleading.  Go to the original document to verify all your work.

One of the best places to view original court records, without leaving your house and totally free, is Yes, they also have many pedigrees, but be sure to utilize their library catalog to search for specific countries, states and county records.   Original court records have been microfilmed and then digitized for public use.  Boyd County entries offer deed records, court case files, even wills and tax records.  Greenup County, a parent county of Boyd, offers digitized mortgage records and circuit court order books. 

One of the best ways to get in touch with your past, and honor your ancestor, is a visit to local cemeteries.  Carter, Greenup and Boyd County have marked most cemeteries with road signs through a state grant.  Smaller family and community cemeteries are usually surrounded by private lands.  Be sure to ask permission before heading out.  It is for your safety to let someone know where you are.  Most of eastern Kentucky’s small cemeteries lie at the top of hills, with magnificent views at any time of the year.

The latest craze is advertised on television these days.  Ads entice you to discover your ethnicity, the history and culture of where your family came from with a DNA kit.  The more individuals who take a test and are compared by any given company, the more accurate your ethnicity becomes. Before taking a DNA test as a lark to see if you have pure Scottish ancestors, take a deep breath and understand what else your DNA will tell you.  

DNA has confirmed many genealogy brick walls and has been a bonus for experienced researchers who already have a paper trail.  DNA does not lie. Depending on who else has taken samples, it will confirm your closest relative.  Even the most seasoned genealogists have been surprised to find they have half-siblings and other skeletons that rattled behind closed doors for many years.  Be ready to embrace the truth. Our ancestors were not saints.

With the combination of official records and DNA, you may discover your ancestors fought for the other side, whatever that side or country may be.  You may discover dukes and pirates. This compiler confirmed, what family believed, that cousins died at Auschwitz.  With family photographs and documents in hand, tears flowed down my face.  I also cried with equal joy when I discovered living relatives in Vienna.

When we start our family tree, we are excited to fill out every blank leaf along the branches. You will soon find that it is the story of each person that is important to family. Don’t break off the bad twig. When writing biographical details, always include the bad along with the good. It is all part of history and your personal journey.