29 August 2013

Thankful Thursday - Putting the FAMILY in Genealogy and Family History

While I was away on my trip last week, I was both a Genealogist AND a Family Historian. I'm beginning to embrace that there is a difference between the two, even though they are inextricably linked together (think Accountant and Bookkeeper or Doctor and Physician's Assistant.) They are two distinctly different things. One is not better than the other; they are just different activities with different outcomes. I was alternately a Genealogist inbetween bouts of being a Family Historian sprinkled with a healthy dose of Archivist (and I even momentarily channeled my Financial Management self when discussing a stock market issue with someone.)

The OED defines the word 'genealogy' as "...a line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor...(mass noun) the study and tracing of lines of descent...a plant's or animal's line of evolutionary development from earlier forms." I'd really like for everyone to note that last definition, "a plant's or animal's line of evolutionary development from earlier forms." In my small albeit skewed opinion, I believe that the word 'genealogy', along with its grammatical iterations, implies a pseudo-scientific approach. It is simply the tracing of a line back to its origin. [Insert your Charlemagne reference here].

As I sat in the Allen County Public Library, or in some of the Intermediate/Advanced sessions at FGS, I was at different times both Genealogist and Family Historian. While digging through books of Indices attempting to find any hint of a link between my known ancestors and possible ancestors, I was working as a Genealogist. I was seeking evidence that proves that the man who I know as Tobias Bigler was the son of George M. Beighler. Because if you're a Genealogist, you don't go from Tobias Bigler to Urs Graf without proving the connection. It's not snobbery or elitism or an "I'm smarter than you" thing, it's Genealogy by definition. It's not me taking someone's money to do a job, it's me making sure that I don't spend days, weeks, months or even years, researching a family line that's not mine.

You only have to go back to my "Holy Crap!" moment while I was working on my very first genealogical proof argument for my ProGen group to know that I've experienced first hand that rock-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach moment when you realize you've been researching the wrong line for, oh I don't know, about TEN years. And the evidence was staring me in the face the whole time. Here's the document I used from Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio:

For some still-to-me-unknown-reason, when I originally got this copy of her burial card in 1997, I wanted Sarah's parents to be Patience Tunis and Nehemiah MEEKER. She was, after all, Sarah MEEKER Burrows, as the card indicates. And, I mean, how many Nehemiah and Patience Meekers can there be, right? So, I found Nehemiah & Patience Meeker who had a daughter Sarah born in 1778 and away I went. I found compiled genealogies with all kinds of information about the Meeker family and its history. For YEARS I continued to look at the Meeker line. What's more, Sarah Meeker is nicely typed out on my DAR application as the wife of Stephen Burrows, the son of my American Patriot, Waters Burrows. 

Except there's one tiny, little problem. This Sarah, the one buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio, in Section 54 Lot 93, born on 15 Aug 1778, who died of consumption on 25 Oct 1845 and was first buried in the Presbyterian Family Vault on Elm Street in the City and then interred in Spring Grove on 22 Nov 1850? Yeah, she's actually the daughter of Nehemiah TUNIS, Sr. and Patience Camp and her name is Sarah Meeker Tunis. She married Stephen Burrows on 26 Sept 1797 and they settled in Ohio sometime before one of their children, Nehemiah Tunis Burrows, was born there on 13 May 1817. 

How do I know all this? Because as a Genealogist, I locate evidence to prove the vital information about a person. I locate evidence to prove the person existed and then no longer existed. In some cases, the individual connected with another individual and new individuals were created. I document everything I learn, carefully, to ensure that anyone else who reads my documentation knows where I found the evidence I used to prove my case. We don't live in a vacuum, so if new evidence surfaces that changes my case, I accept that, alter my documentation and go on. 

As a Family Historian, however, I seek the story of Sarah, who was also known as Sally. I want to know how it was she survived moving so far away from her family into what was dangerous country at a time there was virtually nothing there. In her lifetime, the place she died changed from a camp called Losantiville into a thriving City. It was so large, frankly, that only a few short years after her death, they had to disinter her body, and the body of many of her family members to move them to the new Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum to make way for a park. Yup, that's right, Cincinnati's Washington Park is where one of the two original cemeteries was located.

Sarah's husband, Stephen Burrows, was a founding member of many of Cincinnati's institutions including the Fire Department, its first lending institution, a number of Fraternal organizations, the Lane Seminary, and a number of others. Their life appears to be full of interesting firsts for Cincinnati, and although he must have been a very prominent citizen (at one point he was an Alderman) I'm puzzled by the fact his name doesn't have more cadre. With everything that he did, you'd think his name would be among those of the other founding families of Cincinnati. But it's not.

It is the Family Historian in me that asks the question, "Why?" It's the Family Historian in me that wants to know what they wore and how they got all the way to Cincinnati when there were no real roads. Did they go by river? How? How did they do it? 

Genealogy is about the When. When an individual was born and died. That's what a Genealogist seeks out: the evidence of the When. That is not to say that a Family Historian doesn't seek the when as well; a Bookkeeper ensures that the Debits and Credits always equal zero. However, Family Historians seek the stories of the Who and How and Why their family came and went, lived and died, shared joys and sorrows. Family Historians want to know the human side of our genetic connections. Genealogists are there, in all of us, to ensure that we are careful in our research; that we verify the When. So we can embrace the right family (even though some of us will embrace pretty much ANY family.) Heh.


  1. Laura,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/08/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-august-30.html

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Laura, Do you descend from Sarah and Steven's son, John McDowell's Burrows and Sarah Gamage? I also descend from Nehemiah and Patience Tunis, through Julia Ann Tunis, Nehemiah's other daughter.

  3. Langdon, apologies for the delay in responding! I'm directly descended from Stephen and Sarah Burrows' daughter, Maria Tunis Burrows (m. Robert Chambers Greene). At least 3 of the Tunis children went to Ohio, including Maria, her brother Jabez and sister (your ancestor) Julia.


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