Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Benefits of Getting There First

Step by documented step, the generations unfold until the avid researcher marks the clear line linking the living with specific ancestor settlers from that certain state. It’s all about First Families designations. Or Pioneer Family descendants. Whatever it’s called, it is a way for state genealogical societies to recognize those descendants who’ve delved into the research—and documentation—with gusto, and produced the ancestral paper trail for others to follow.

For those first settlers, whoever they were, there were no notions of glory—no idea their descendants of multiple generations in the future would look back and obsess on their every documented move. Those were the hardy, hard-working men and women who risked so much just for some land upon which to eke out their own lives in peace and quiet—and independence. With such a common-sense mindset, what would these pioneers have thought of us in our pampered, electronically-connected world, doggedly pursuing every census line for signs of their whereabouts?

And yet we do.

I’ve just spent a month documenting my own steps to finding just one ancestor I can claim as a pioneer in the state in which he chose to settle. If you’ve been following the trail with me, you have seen that it is not always a path free from pitfalls. In fact, though I started out focusing on one early settler, I ended up pursuing the line of an entirely different family—causing me, basically, twice the research and documentation work as originally expected.

So, I guess the question really is: why do we do it?

After I had concluded my last blog series at the end of September, I outlined some of my goals for finishing out the year, which included this section on my pursuit of First Families of Ohio status. I had mentioned I did this to

·        Draft my readers as accountability partners
·        Lay out the details of the trail for others to use
·        Encourage others to join me on this trail and pursue your own heritage.

Not that I expect everyone reading here to be descended from ancestors who were Ohioans prior to 1821—though if you are, I hope you consider submitting an application to the Ohio Genealogical Society lineage program as well. However, there are other states participating in such programs, too. Some call them “First Families” programs; others are described as “Pioneer Families” programs. Whatever they are called, I hope you will pursue whatever program to which you are eligible.

I first heard of First Families programs through a distant cousin—one whom I had never met face to face, but whom I had contacted through the original Family Tree Maker program. On one of the old FTM disks, I found a family tree which included my maternal grandmother—she being the one who seems to have made it into a number of others’ databases—and I contacted the submitter through the company resources. When we first met each other through letters, he was quick to tell me that the records he had provided were sufficient to qualify me for Florida’s program for descendants of their pioneers.

I’ve since discovered that there are many such programs, not only at the state level, but even at county level as genealogical societies develop programs to recognize their region’s pioneers.

There is even a Cyndi’s List category for First Families programs!

Granted, each program invariably includes a fee for application review and formal designation. While this is the down side for those with personal budgetary limitations, for those who can afford to do so, there are several pluses.

First, you are supporting an organization whose mission is to perpetuate the memory of our ancestors and the history into which their lives were woven.

Second, by providing the documentation in your application, your research gets added to the body of knowledge stored by that genealogical society’s archives—material which then becomes available to the society’s membership, and sometimes also to the general public. The genealogical society becomes the repository for your research results, which then may be found by others—including your own distant (and as yet unknown) relatives.

Third, by receiving such recognition as a descendant of a state pioneer, you may now serve to encourage others to take interest in their own past—as well as our collective past as we examine the impact that the specific individuals that we knew or knew about had on the lives of those in their own communities. People find it interesting to hear that a friend is a descendant of specific individuals, even if the ancestor was not famous. Just being there in 1820—or whenever the program requires—is notable in and of itself. And knowing someone with such a designation transforms you into instant PR for the program and the genealogical society. And don’t we all like it when our favorite hobby—our passion—becomes an endeavor in which other people take interest?

Finally, you are honoring your forebears—those ancestors who have made some incredible sacrifices to move from their comfort zone to a place of uncertainty, all in the hopes of finding a better life for themselves and their descendants.

I see First Families programs as a way to discover, and then honor, the risk-takers who just happen to have been our own ancestors. I hope you will join me in finding ways to extend that honor to those in your own families who—in whatever state—got there first.

Above left: Frederick McCubbin, "The Pioneer," detail from oil on canvas triptych; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus seventy years.


  1. I have been following the same route in searching for the DAR application for my daughter. I have not been able to prove the father of her ancestor Michael Coleman, but I found an ancestor of Michale's wife grandfather,Jacob Saylor.

    You never know where the path will lead you.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    1. You're right, Claudia--there are so many unexpected turns in this research. That is partly what makes genealogy such a perpetual pursuit.

      Though we don't always know what the end result will be for our inquiries, there's one hopeful corollary: what may not be available online now will, at some future point, possibly be accessible. I've found that so often, in running face-first into those frustrating brick walls. When I revisit my trail years later, I'm pleasantly surprised to find the going much smoother, thanks to the expansion of resources. (Or I'll have the opportunity to travel to the specific site in question and find my answer in not-yet-digitized material.)

      I hope, at some time in the future, you will discover that sought-after answer regarding your Michael Coleman's father.

  2. The journey was worth it..and generations to come will talk about you..and how you blazed the trail! :)

    1. Well, if nothing else, that journey was certainly a learning experience. And it is nice to know it's a job now completed.

      Don't know how I'd feel about knowing someone would be talking about me though ;)

  3. There is a quote out there: "The world knows nothing of it's greatest men. I should add women, but that quote was probably made when it was politically correct to just say men. Thanks to technology, and people like you, these pioneers can be found and given the credit they so much deserve.

    1. Grant, when I think of the crumbling headstones I've seen in visiting old cemeteries--and then realizing the dates on those stones were only from the 1800s--it certainly does call attention to how fleeting our memorials are. There is just so much out there we may never discover, only because it has disintegrated in the face of Time.

  4. Hi, I've just been reading up the list of your blogs about finding a First Family ancestor. Being from England this is a concept I hadn't run into before. But it's fascinating. I have some 'sideways' ancestors (what I mean is not in the direct line of course) who emigrated to America, but the earliest I've found so far were in 1854 and 1855. You have made me wonder if there may be even earlier emigrants - but then I will hit similar problems to you, the paucity of records prior to 1837/1841 and of course from this end no family stories about brave pioneers, just families with gaps in them going forward.
    Thanks, I've really enjoyed reading your tales!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Historian! Glad you enjoyed your visit.

      I think it would be fascinating to explore the possibilities that might fill in the blanks in your "families with gaps in them going forward." If you know for sure that these family members emigrated to the U.S.--or even to Canada--there are certainly a good number of online resources that can help piece together the stories now.

      Of course, that is if you are interested in researching descendants as well as ancestors. Since you've taken a good look around here on this blog, you've probably noticed that I'm an advocate of that approach, too. It certainly would be interesting to discover the adventures your emigrant (distant) relatives encountered--and possibly gain a few distant cousins in the process.

      While there is indeed a paucity of records from that time period, there are a few ways around that fact, as you'll observe through my research contortions.

      Best wishes on your ongoing research--and your own blogging efforts, which I enjoyed observing in an online visit today!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...