I have read many books on genealogy, and they all say the same thing. Start with yourself and work your way backwards and talk to your family, mainly your oldest living relative. Well, I didn’t do that. When I started this journey over seven years ago, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t talk to my family about what I was doing or how they could help. I never asked them any questions about their lives, our family traditions, or anything. I only talked about it briefly with my father when I told him I wanted to visit the cemetery during a visit to my hometown. The more I read my genealogy books, the more I knew that I had to start talking to people and asking for help. So I decided that the time had come that I would talk to my oldest living relative, my Aunt Bert (Bertha), who lives in Chicago. Once I made up my mind this was going to happen, I started getting my research plan together, to make the most of my time while in Chicago.
My mom agreed to travel with me to Chicago to visit the family. She called my cousin Lindia to discuss our plans once we arrived in Chicago. Lindia graciously allowed us to stay with her family while we were there. She didn’t know beforehand that I was researching our family, but she told me whatever we needed she would help in any way possible. The first thing I wanted to do was talk to Aunt Bert and see any funeral programs and/or obituaries she might have. This would allow me the opportunity to scan them all for my records. Lindia made the arrangements of where and when we would meet and made sure Aunt Bert brought the family documents with her.
I started planning this trip 3 months prior to going in February 2016. Not a lot of time for me to prepare. So before we left for Chicago I got out my genealogy books looking for some good questions to ask Aunt Bert. I called the Newberry Research Center the week before we left and requested the microfilm that I needed. We were going the weekend of President’s Day, so I wanted to make sure they would be open. The person I spoke with assured me they would have regular hours on Saturday but would be closed on that Monday.
Once in Chicago, I must admit I was excited and nervous at the same time. My mother and I had talked to Lindia several times leading up to the trip. I was so thankful that Lindia had arranged everything for me, but this was the first time I hadn’t been in complete control of my plans. When Lindia and her husband picked us up from the airport on Friday afternoon, she explained that the plan was to go to the research center on Saturday morning, and we would meet up with family on Sunday. We spent the rest of Friday evening hanging around the house catching up and relaxing from our trip.
On Saturday morning, we made our way to the research center. I went inside to discover the research room was closed. One of the workers at the center told me they were closed for the holiday. I told the man I called and requested some microfilm to review and was told you would be open. He said, “Oh, that’s what those are out for. I was wondering.” I stared at him with a stern look on my face and explained that I was from out of town. It was obvious I had talked with someone at this center or they wouldn’t have left out the exact boxes of microfilm that I wanted to see. The man, again, stated his apologies, but assured me even if I had gotten the wrong information that the research room was closed. I was crushed, and there was nothing for me to do but to leave. So I left and told everyone what happened when I got back to the car. I felt so bad. Usually when things don’t go the way my research is planned, it only impacts me. But this time there were other people involved. I felt like I had wasted their time. Did they think I was unorganized? Would they think this is what genealogy research is like? But, everyone was very understanding and didn’t blame me for wasting their time. If anything, they were just as upset as I was about me not getting to review the newspapers, which made me feel better. When we left the research center, stopped for Garrett’s popcorn, so that helped improve my mood a lot. Although my plans at the Newberry Center didn’t go as planned, our day ended with us continuing to make memories at my cousin’s high-spirited college basketball game, then dinner with the family.
On Sunday we went to church and afterwards went to visit my Aunt Jackie. She was able to complete a group sheet of her family for my records. She also had a photo of her grandmother that I was able to scan for my records. We then went to meet with Aunt Bert’s. Once there, I decided instead of asking a lot of questions, that I would just let her talk about growing up in Grays, Arkansas. She told us when and why she moved to Chicago and how she met her husband. One thing I did get to ask was if she remembered my great-grandfather, Oscar Wright (her grandfather). There are no photos of him, and she’s the only living relative that saw and knew him personally. She described what he looked like and what kind of man he was. She also described what it was like living during the 30s and 40s in rural Arkansas. I was able to get some great information from Aunt Bert about our family. I’m not sure why my mother never told me, but it took a trip to Chicago for me to find out my mother lived with her grandmother for the first four years of her life because her mother had tuberculosis and was put in a sanatorium. It showed me just how important talking to my relatives is and the information that can be discovered when you do. And since I am a collector of funeral programs, I was able to see and scan funeral programs including those for my grandmother’s siblings.
My son still talks about our trip to Chicago. He really enjoyed spending time with cousins Lindia and Darrin. When planning this trip I was so focused on getting Aunt Bert’s memories of her youth that I didn’t think about the memories my mom, son and I would make while there. Since Lindia lives in the suburbs of Chicago, we spent a lot of time going in and out of the city. It was during that time riding in their truck that we were able to talk, laugh, share memories and laugh some more. That weekend, three generations of Wrights traveled to learn about our family and made some new memories along the way. I’m learning that this journey isn’t just for me, it’s for my family too. And this is why my journey continues…….