Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The (Research) Path Less Traveled

 

With the advent of genea-super-powers like Ancestry.com, those of us curious about our family's history have become spoiled. All we need do is enter a first name and surname (maiden name for women, please), and include the most rudimentary of additional information—vague notions about dates or locations might be helpful—and voil√†! Open sesame, and a world of possibilities emerges for the lucky researcher.

In the process, we become beguiled to shed our ability to keep searching despite drawing a blank. We learn to turn a blind eye to the many other online resources available to us—and no, I'm not talking about MyHeritage or FindMyPast—or even to lose the knack of asking pertinent questions when we do encounter a viable, but incomplete, source of information on our ancestor. With Genealogy Easy Street, we've abandoned the research path less traveled.

With that, I've determined that not being able to make any progress on my search for King Stockton may be a blessing in disguise. It did, after all, prime me for taking a week-long course on researching African American family history, which I'll begin this coming Monday at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. But it also reminds me to access other means of searching for online information.

Take newspapers, for instance. We have at our fingertips—at least for those willing to spring for subscriptions, or even to search for those free resources still out there—myriad archived newspapers, which are not only available, but searchable. That is the key to accelerating our search progress—much preferable to those pre-Internet days of scrolling through microfilms of decades-old newspapers which might or might not contain the ancestor's name we were seeking.

For King Stockton's kid next door who grew up and did well, James Dean, I took a look at newspaper resources at both GenealogyBank and NewspaperArchive.com. In this case, apparently their two collections agreed on the few entries I was able to locate. There, in The Palatka News, out of Palatka, Florida, a modest insertion in the December 18, 1914, edition noted that James Dean would be giving the featured "Emancipation Day oration" there in that city on the upcoming New Year's Day.

However, as I suspected, on that very New Year's Day, the same paper reported:

The parties having this celebration in hand had secured the services of James Dean...one of the most brilliant orators in Florida to deliver the oration, but he died last week....

The article went on to reflect on Judge Dean's virtues and abilities, hinting at the possibility that the event's January program must have included a formal tribute on the man's passing just days prior.

The same theme was picked up in The Tampa Morning Tribune a few days later, in the "Christian Endeavor" column on the women's page:

As a shadow passing over the sun to some came news in the gladsome holidays of the passing away of Rev. James Dean, once efficient citizenship superintendent of the Colored State Union. Perhaps the best tribute that could be paid him, or anybody, were the words of one of his Endeavor coworkers, "He was one of the best friends I had in all the world.

Though such discoveries in newspapers won't provide us that prized mother's maiden name, or even give us dates or location of death, they do provide grist for the "mill" which has been trained to churn out questions—questions that lead to more searches for information. Just seeking further details on the Christian Endeavor organization and the Colored State Union helps paint a picture of the types of causes held uppermost in importance to this man.

As we continue, tomorrow, with some other less-used research resources, we'll also delve into that very skill: the ability to lift information from one resource to fuel questions for further inquiry when researching those enigmatic ancestors. 

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