Saturday, January 21, 2023

An Ode to the History of Paperwork


Genealogists of prior decades may have felt like they were drowning in a sea of paperwork, but it is to that paperwork we owe a great debt. Think about it: if it weren't for the long history of governmental and religious offices documenting the minute details of our ancestors' lives, how would we have known anything about those people lurking in our own bloodlines? 

It's to this history of paperwork that I want to tip my hat today. My inspiration—of late, at least—has been the endnotes in Cathi Clore Frost's thoroughly documented book, The Broyles Family: The First Four Generations. There, every significant move which was made by the children of my fifth great-grandparents, Adam and Mary Broyles, has helped that author and genealogist trace the life arc and whereabouts of those distant Broyles relatives. And every step was, in some way, connected to paperwork.

How else would we have known about them? Think about it: before the now widely accessible 1850 census—and these folks predated that revealing government document by half a century—the types of documents we could use to learn about our ancestors' lives were vastly different than those we use for our more recent relatives. This type of research requires poring over tax and property records, wills, and—with hopes that these were accurate—personal records kept in journals or the family Bible. Thus, we can celebrate the good fortune to discover that someone has already passed this way—and has taken care to record every step along that research pathway.

When I notice that the Broyles Family book includes a reference to an old history of Johnson County, Missouri, for instance, I can retrace those tracks to find the book, myself. It would have taken me long hours of research on my own to discover that Adam Broyles' daughter Anne and her husband Hugh Brown moved from the Broyles neighborhood in northeastern Tennessee to that Missouri location. But Cathi Clore Frost quotes a passage concerning Hugh Brown and his obvious F.A.N. Club (Friends, Associates, and Neighbors) who all went on a hunting expedition to Missouri and came back with 260 gallons of wild honey. Small wonder they eventually made the decision to move out west. (That passage, it turns out, was itself lifted from an earlier account published in the 1881 History of Johnson County, Missouri.)

That same approach—following the footnotes—will likely help as I begin the search next week for descendants of another Broyles child, Adam's son Joshua, and his wife-without-maiden-name, Elizabeth. Apparently they, too, became part of the F.A.N. Club migrating west to Missouri from Tennessee. And they, too, became founders of a Broyles line of descent yielding me some DNA matches, as well.  

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