Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Passing It Along...

When it comes to everyday activities, I spend a lot of my time, working in my home office. I guess you could say I don’t get out much. So when it comes to getting together with friends for coffee, you don’t have to ask me twice.

One of the friends I meet with on a regular basis is someone I’ve known from two prior jobs, years ago—when I transferred from one agency to another, this friend was not far behind. Though neither of us now works for that office, we have managed to keep in touch over the years.

Recently, this friend has fallen in love with genealogy. That is not surprising. I’ve found that there are two types of significant life events that are likely to attract people to the pursuit of their own family history. One is the birth of a child—or, sometimes, a grandchild. The other is retirement.

In this friend’s case, the life event prompting her to pursue her roots was the latter: retirement. Able to take an early retirement, my friend is now free to travel to the far-flung locations where her ancestors had once settled. In sports-car-speak, you could say she accelerated from zero to sixty in mere seconds—in other words, she was one of those fortunate researchers whose forebears were significant enough to be documented in published history. Within a year, she was researching ancestors from the 1600s.

If you are envious of such a position, don’t be. Wait until I finish the rest of her story. You see, there’s a reason the prompt that led her to genealogical research was the final of my scenarios: she has no grandchildren, because she has no children. She is the last leaf on her branch.

For people like that, the enthusiasm over genealogical discoveries is overshadowed by the melancholy realization that there may be no one to whom she can, someday, pass along all her hard work. Despite the joy of the chase, the exhilaration of learning about significant ancestors, there comes that dull thud of the hollow realization that there is no one to pass along that heritage to.

When we meet for coffee and discuss our latest genealogical conquests, I keep consoling my friend with hopeful thoughts like, “Someone will come along who will be interested.” When I say that, it almost has the ring of faith more than fact. How am I to know what will happen in her future? And yet, that feeling comes out pretty strongly.

For my friend’s sake, let’s not talk about those many stories of impatient family members tossing out boxes and boxes of hard-won research conquests after a genealogist’s demise. In my defense, from time to time, I have heard stories of family history researchers who have found ways to pass along their work to a distant family relative—narrowly escaping a death-bed photo-finish.

Yesterday, while plugging along in the tedium of examining the descendants of my Taliaferro roots—I told you I am zealously combing through the entire line in search of the nexus with my mystery adopted cousin—I found a passage that can serve as encouragement for those in my friend’s position.

Right now, I’m following the line of descent of Dr. John Taliaferro, younger brother of my fifth great grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro. Among other resources, I’ve been using a genealogy published by Willie Catherine Ivey, Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. John Taliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro.

Do you ever look at someone’s published family tree—whether in an old book such as this one, or online in a place like—and wonder where the writer falls within all those many branches? I do. So, of course, in reading Ms. Ivey’s book, I wondered if I would find her connection.

By the time I made it to page forty one of her narrative, I had found her surname. Her line of descent had gone from Dr. John through his son Richard Taliaferro to Mary Hardin Taliaferro Lingo to Richard Taliaferro Lingo to William Slaughter Lingo to Elizabeth Lucinda Lingo, Willie Catherine Ivey’s mother. All in the space of nearly two hundred years between Dr. John’s birth and the publication of Ms. Ivey’s book.

The author’s mother had married a man by name of Henry Jones Ivey, a resident of Tennille, Georgia. Together, the couple had five daughters.

It was the narrative the author wrote about the eldest of the Ivey children that gifted me with support for my conviction that childless researchers may well find others from a younger generation to take up their quest. Of the Iveys’ eldest daughter, Mary Lillian Ivey Davis, was written:
Several years before the death of Mrs. Davis, she began tracing her family history, and had she lived, it was her intention to compile a sketch of the descendants of Dr. John Taliaferro. Since her death, numerous records have been added to those she collected and have been incorporated into this sketch.

Of course, there is a time for every purpose—even the purpose of finding someone who can carry on your quest to document your family’s roots and history. Whether you are a researcher with many children of your own—or none at all—you will some day be faced with the dilemma of what to do with your countless hours of tireless research. While it is always imperative to make contingency plans in the event no one steps up to inherit your researcher’s mantle, I can’t help but share the faith that somehow, some way, there will be someone who will eventually express an interest in taking over where your work leaves off. Otherwise, I would not have had the Ivey genealogy of the Taliaferro family to consult—it turned out to be a sequentially-developed joint work of family members. I can’t help but believe that will someday be the case for my friend as well.


  1. This is a beautifully written entry!

    It hits home for me too - I'm the last leaf on my own branch - I've nephews and a niece (time will tell if they have any interest) but I'm encouraged by my great-uncle Franklin Mousley - he too was the last leaf in his branch. He gave his research to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania where I found it, 50-60 years later in the box he packed. He donated some of his "works" to the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who incorporated it into "Family Search". It's not lost.

    1. I thought about you when I was writing this, Iggy. You have some significant history in your own family's story. Some of those repositories selected by your relatives couldn't have been a better choice--places with staff equipped to properly store and preserve the material in a location which draws others seeking the same information. These are the kinds of stories that need to be passed along through the generations. I know you must have been delighted to find your great uncle's material.


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