by Mike Peters
In the business world, we are often told that "who you know" is more important than "what you know." Networking is a most important concept in genealogy. According to Webster, a network is an extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support.
My network consists of many people. They research different counties and different states. One cousin, Cathy, lives overseas in Luxembourg. Lynne Steger and Susan Richmond, live just across town. I have never met anyone in my vast network. I know them only by E-mail, instant messaging, pictures or snail mail. But we have become family, cousins and friends bound together by a common thread. We are all committed to the hunt. We constantly search courthouses, libraries, graveyards and websites for more ammo.
My network started with Cousin Gracie Stover. We met when my wife posted a query on the GenForum page asking about my Stover heritage. Gracie is my closest online relative, first cousin to my father. She is the pusher that got me addicted to this adult game of hide 'n seek we call genealogy. She cast her line out. The bait was oral legend, pictures and a sense of family. I yanked the bobber under. I was hooked. Haven't let loose yet! Hope I never do! Gracie gave out a lot more information than she received. She has become the big sister I never had, very supportive and protective of Michael.
When I craved more information, Gracie introduced me to Nyla Creed DePauk Nyla may know more about Raleigh County families than anyone on the planet. She is very giving with her information, information she calls "clues" until adequate documentation can be found. Nyla was quick to reinforce something that Gracie had instilled in me, something that most of us learned in kindergarten. Always share your information. In one of her E-mails Nyla said, "Remember, share all the genealogy you can. It will come back a thousand times more. The more you give, the more you'll receive."
I learned to use Rootsweb's mailing lists which increased the size of my network to include researchers from Jackson, Kanawha, Mason, Mercer, Monroe, Fayette, Boone, Putnam, Greenbrier and Wyoming Counties of West Virginia. There were also ones from Botetourt, Craig, Franklin and Roanoke, Counties of Virginia.
In Wyoming County, I met W. Darrell Miller. He should write a book. If he does, I'll buy a copy. He is very witty, clever and humorous. When my Uncle Lloyd Peters died, I received many E-mails of condolence. Each was very special to me. His reply was one paragraph, short and to the point. In the subject line was the title "Lucky." In it he wrote, "My brother has a boy with resemblances to Lloyd's nephew. I am sure he, like I, felt like a lucky uncle." Those two sentences tell you a lot about W. Darrell Miller. He has offered to give me a tour of Wyoming County whenever I decide to come visit. I hope to take him up on his offer in the near future.
I soon became aware of Nyla's many contacts. When I had a question about my Dickens line, Nyla introduced me to Kirk Dickens, Dickens family historian and author of "The Descendants of Ephraim Dickens (Jr) and Thomas Dickens, Brothers of Raleigh County West Virginia." His book is one of the most thorough and well written genealogical books I have ever read. Paul R. Blankenship's "The History and Genealogy of the Cooke Family of Wyoming County, West Virginia" is another.)
When I wanted to know more about my Peters line, Nyla introduced me to Otis Scott, a Peters cousin and Franklin County, Virginia, researcher. Otis is to Franklin County what Nyla is to Raleigh. He may know more about Franklin County, Virginia, families than any other person on the planet. Otis, Paula Kelley Ward and I are among a group of Peters researchers trying to find the parents of Zachariah Peters, who married Kesiah Lively in Amherst County, Virginia, on 18 November 1794. Otis and I both collect guns. I am partial to the bolt action military rifles used in WW2 and Korea. He used to do some gunsmithing.
When there were questions about my McMillian ancestry, Nyla introduced me to Julius Emmett Spradling, III. Most of us know him as Tim. I talk to Tim almost daily. We discuss politics and sports. Tim may be Duke basketball's number one fan. Tim Spradling is the only person, proven to date, with whom I share ancestry on both sides of my family. Quite an accomplishment when you consider that my parents grew up in different ends of the state. Tim and I are related through the Clays and the McMillians on my father's side. We are Huffman cousins on my mother's side. How we discovered our Huffman connection illustrates the importance of networking in genealogy.
After a couple of E-mails, I soon realized that Tim, like myself, was a researcher of the Huffman line. My great grandmother was a Huffman. Through census records, I had traced her line back to John Stuart Huffman, my ggg grandfather. Tim had his Huffman group back to Charles McClung Huffman, his gg grandfather. We thought John and Charles could be related. They were close in age and resided in the same county during the same time period. Maybe they were cousins. We put our McMillian research on hold.
We were relentless. We posted every day. We worked late into the evening and got up early in the morning. Information came slow, but it was steady. Bit by bit! Piece by piece! Many people assisted with lookups and information. There was Merry Anne Pierson, Daniel Olds, Jan Corkrean, Bill Johnson, Marilyn Vadakin and others. Circumstantial evidence begin to pile up. We were desperate for a break.
Jim Wise had done a lookup for me re: my Barnharts In his E-mail he closed with, "If there is any other assistance I can give from here in Jackson County feel free to ask."
There was my window of opportunity. I asked Jim Wise if he could search the Jackson County courthouse and library in Ripley for a will, a deed, for any document that would mention our Huffmans and possibly give us a lead on their ancestry. Jim's generous offer was the gust of wind that started the dominoes falling. It was the rain that started the erosion of our roadblock.
True to his word, Jim Wise searched Jackson County. He found a document that listed children of Thomas Huffman and Margaret Lemon Huffman. My John Stuart Huffman and Tim's Charles McClung Huffman were their sons. Tim's gg grandfather was brother to my ggg grandfather. By this time, we knew that Thomas Huffman was descended from John Huffman, an original immigrant to Virginia's Germanna Colony in 1713. We also knew that this line was well documented back to the 1300s in Europe. We had hit the "mother lode."
Tim was like a child at Christmas. He was ecstatic and told everyone. He had worked diligently for years, searching for his Huffman ancestry. I had been at it for only a few months. But this was a major turning point for me. It was here that I finally understood this thing called genealogy. I found out just how rewarding it was to help someone else connect to their ancestors. Sure it's all about history, where we came from and where we're going. But it's also about the help you get and give along the way. It's about the friendships you make.
Nyla put it this way, "We may never know all we'd like to know about our ancestors, but there are many descendants that we can get to know. It's the people part of genealogy that makes this so rewarding."
Merry Christmas to everyone in my network! I hope your day has been as nice as mine. Christmas started for me at 7:55 this morning with a shake of the bed and two smiling faces over me. One of those smiles is missing her two front teeth. Hurry Daddy! It's Christmas morning! Santa Claus was here! It was one of the best mornings I have ever had.
May your New Year be filled with documentation. May concrete proof replace circumstantial evidence. May we finally get to meet. And may we continue to work together as a family. Without the latter, our successes would be shallow and superficial at best.