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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Digging into other people's pasts

Recently I helped two friends do some beginning genealogy research online for their families.  You know, sitting around your living room and the subject of family history comes up so what do you do?  It seems my friends look at me and ask if I can look something up for them.  Even better, the two families are completely different!  Yes, that means my genealogy brain muscles are getting a good workout.

Andrea has deep roots in Alabama and Louisiana.  Specifically she was interested in learning what happened to her great-grandfather who was an Envoy to Honduras (John Ewing) in the 1910s.  As well as anything else we could figure out about her family.

She was one of those easy research cases.  There were lots of documents out there and tons of Google hits. Find-a-grave came in very handy too.  Over the course of 5 hours we traced, with documents, her ancestry back 5 generations to the early 1700s.  I was pleased, she was ecstatic.  Best of all, since she is getting her Masters in Library Science she is all about the source citations.  That is a win!

Passport Application for John Ewing
The biggest squeal of the day was when we found her great grandfather’s passport application.  This is when she discovered his father’s name (James Lindsay Ewing) and that he was from Scotland.  That was the break we needed as it lead to discovering her family history as cotton merchants.

Michael, on the other hand, had very little information on his family and just wanted to know what I could find.  I think that he was even surprised that using the internet I was able to get back to his great-grandparents on his mother’s side.  To make this even more of a challenge, there is the good possibility of research into slave records. Nothing like knowing there are large big brick walls in the future!

His family is from Maryland, as far back as he knows and I have been able to determine.  He was able to give me his parents’ names and the names of his maternal grandparents.  Most estimated birth dates and what death dates he knew.  That first night with him I was able to locate his father’s obituary online.  From it I determined his father’s name but not much else. Michael went home with a homework assignment to ask questions and find documents. 

Obituary for
Carrie Kent Young
The next week I did more poking around on my own to see what other leads I could find before making a trip with him to Maryland.  My biggest breakthrough so far was finding the obituary for his maternal grandmother.  In it was a listing of children, great-grandchildren, and even her parents.  With this information I was able to find census records for her and her parents in Baltimore.  Slowly, very slowly, it is all coming together.

I have to admit that this has been a new and interesting exercise for me, dabbling into another person’s family history.  It is not like when I research my own family and I can look at a family group and know if it is close or not at all.  I really have to call on everything I know and comb through records for every scrap of information I can get.

They have asked me to keep looking for information for them.  I am very excited to be looking into other family histories and help my friends at the same time.  This is going to be so much fun!


  1. Great work! I love other people's families as much as my own. I think it is the thrill of the hunt that appeals to me. And the whole linking people to people (which is probably also why I like finding distant cousins!)

    In fact I was actually wondering about those Ewings -- there are bunches of them in my husband's maternal lines (you know, all those Scots Presbyterians that ended up in Tennessee and Kentucky and North Carolina). Not the same family here (although Scotland might be another story ..... !)

    1. Yeah, give me a puzzle and I am happy. Someone else's puzzle is just as fun as mine.

      You and Andrea should talk. We did find he was from Edinburgh though. Oh no...another cousin in our midst?

  2. This sounds like a lot of fun, and you are helping people as well! We have no Ewings in our tree, but we do have many Scots names.

    I love your cartoon -- I'm going to show it to my husband.