22 Mar

Finding Family Secrets

March 12 was Genealogy Day begun by Christ Church in Ireland in Ireland in 2013.  In celebration of the day, I offer a brief story of the sources I used in my own roots journey.  Not all genealogy sources are on-line.  Going on location, seeing actual gravesites and including others in your search such as museum and library staff or members of historical societies, can also lead to special assistance, new leads and the encouragement from those who love history and genealogy.  I hope that this story might inspire you to begin a search or look at alternative sources to help you put the pieces of your family puzzle together. 

Finding Family - 2

In the early years of my adult life balancing my roles as mother, spouse and professional, I didn’t have time to think about my ancestors or my family heritage.  I was too busy coping with carpool, making dinner or meeting the demands of my boss.  However, as I attended family gatherings and funerals when my parents or their siblings died, I began to hear interesting family myths and stories that intrigued me.   Others around me began pursuing their own family roots.  One of my aunts encouraged me to find information about her father, my grandfather, Harvey Depew Scott.  And my genealogical journey began.

Finding Family - 3It began at the National Archives in Washington, DC where I found thick files of correspondence, government forms and personal letters about my grandfather.  The National Archives is a treasure trove of fascinating information about veterans who have served in our armed forces as well as immigrants who arrived at the US borders from countries around the world seeking a better life. It is an excellent place to begin your own genealogy search.   I knew the surprising fact that my grandfather fought in the Civil War and my aunt had given me the data about his enlistment in the Union Army under a different name, John Howard Scott.  This enabled me to request the files and to be able to read through each valuable piece of information.

What I learned from those files, confirmed the whispered family secrets about John Howard Scott who changed his name to Harvey Depew Scott.  I learned where and when he was born, lived and died.  I now had enough information to search for more information about him and his ancestry.    Over the next several years, I traveled to many states in search of answers to my questions about his family of origin.  In Indiana where he was born, I visited the county courthouse and the local public library.  I learned about his father’s death when he was four and that his mother died in a poor house.  I found remote rural cemeteries where his uncle was buried; in the library, I discovered his uncle was a riverboat captain on the Mississippi River.  But I found nothing about how or when John Howard’s parents came to Indiana, nor could I find any information about his grandparents.

Now I was hooked.  Doing the research in family history is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  As I found one piece of data, it would suggest other connections and often raise more questions.  I was on the search to find more pieces toFinding Family - 4 fit into the puzzle.  I combed through the US Census Data, traveled to other states where John Howard and later Harvey Depew lived.  I visited historical museums and requested help from local historical societies.  I even made copies of the whole file at the National Archives so I could review every detail.

I joined to see if anyone else might be researching the same family, hoping to find new information.  There were some other potential connections to John Howard Scott’s family but without documentation.  I have learned to beware of the validity of postings of family relationships based on family stories but without documentation.  So alas, I was not able to find documentation, confirmation or information to answer my questions.

My genealogical journey has been fascinating.  I wrote a detailed series of blogs about what I found called “Journey to Fiction”.  As that title suggests, I decided that I could best write the story as fiction, with the opportunity to be creative with the missing information.  I hope to publish the book, “Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: A Family Story” later this year. Have you searched for family history in your family?  What have you found?  What has been your experience doing genealogy?



  • Hello Bev.

    I saw you are writing a novel from information from your grandparents.

    I know that it will be very interesting.

    I wrote a Journal for my children and grandchildren. I started in the mid 1800’s when my great grandparents arrived in America. The research I did was so exciting and found alot of other relatives I never knew….
    My great grandparents also lived in a sod house on the plains. I wish I could have known them.

    Good luck on your novel. Thanks for writing it as the past should not be forgotten.


  • Ron,
    I agree the past should not be forgotten. I am fascinated by my family’s history. Your children will appreciate your Journal. Thanks for your good wishes.


  • (posted by request of Mark A. Hetts)
    Hi Bev – I’ve been enjoying your posts.

    As for family secrets and my personal ancestry, I abandoned my family, aunts,uncles, cousins, after my parents died. I know I have a few well-known ancestors, and on my mothers side, some very wealthy industrialists before the family lost just about everything in the ’29 Crash, leaving my mother’s grandmother the mansion and about a million dollars that she blew through in about a year and died penniless at 59 (the median death age on that side of the family – my mother died less than a month after her 60th birthday!). I enjoy reading about your search, but I honestly don’t want to know about the previous generation or earlier, as I don’t care for any of my living relatives, other than my still living sister and brother. The three of us have all gotten past the magic 60 year mark, and for me, I feel I am living on borrowed time already at 66! I have one very annoying second-cousin who started sending me weekly updates on her search for her ancestors,some of whom were mine, and it got so tedious reading snippets of all these people I never heard of or wanted to, so I finally asked her to please stop sending them!

    I’m pretty content with the various “family stories” I have, some of which are surely true to one extent or another,but otherwise, I want nothing to do with these people! I’ve become a grumpy old man, as planned!
    Mark A. Hetts, San Francisco, writer and former syndicated columnist

So, what do you think?

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