This blog post is entirely my opinion, and I mean no disrespect to southerners. I love the south, and the people who make it a great place. I have spent all my adult life here in the south, but I come from a long line of yankees, and all of my research until recently has been in the north (mostly Ohio). Records have been plentiful, and easy to access, and I didn't realize how fortunate I was! I am now working on my husband's and my daughter-in-law's southern genealogies, and it is a totally different story! Here is a list of suggestions I would have loved to give people in the past to make research easier. The names I use are made up (or mostly so), but I am sure all of you who have southern roots can understand where I am coming from
- When you name your child, a first, middle and last name is sufficient. It is hard enough to trace a Mary Smith, but it is even harder when you name your beautiful little rosy cheeked darlin' Mary Ann Nancy Elizabeth Smith, and then can't decide whether to call her Maryann, Mary, Annie, Nanny, Polly, Betsy, Eliza, Nancy, Bitty, or many of the other names she used over the years. You will have more babies, so save of the names for future sugars and don't pile all the names on one little bouncing baby! On the same note, When you have five names and you grow up, please try to use the same name all the time.
- It is okay to use a nickname, but on important documents, please use the name you were given at birth. I know you have been called Bubba or Junior since you were knee high to a grasshopper, but looking for one specific Bubba or Junior in a sea of Bubbas and Juniors is enough to make a person want to scream! If Bubba or Junior is the name you were given at birth, then add a middle initial to make you stand out from the crowd.
- The census takers are your friends. They are not out to hurt you (and they aren't revenuers looking for that still you have hidden in the back forty). It's okay to let them count you. You don't have to hide. Years from now when your ancestors are trying to find you on the census it will drive them nuts when you just disappear off the face of the earth for 10 or 20 years. How are they supposed to know that you never left that same piece of farmland that has been in your family for a hundred years?
- Even if you can't read or write, please, please, PLEASE!!! learn how old you and your children are! I understand that if you have been out working in the fields all day you may be tired and forgetful, but giving the census taker the first number that comes to mind for your age just isn't cutting it! Finding that your birth date is somewhere between 1790 and 1820 is just too wide a margin to track anyone down. At least try to get it within a five year radius!
- Census takers, this one is for you. Please learn how to write neatly! Nice handwriting is an art form, please learn it. People all over the US will later thank you for it! I know you spell things like they sound, and southern people have a proud heritage of naming their children names that no one has ever heard of before, but at least TRY to be somewhere in the ballpark! How you got Twillman from Swithin, I will never know! Or maybe that was just your poor handwriting again. I don't know, but work on both spelling and handwriting and you will make many, many people very happy in the future.
- Lastly, please try to remember where you were born. I know that state boundaries changed, but at least try to give a state in the general area. If one census says you were born in Texas and another says Georgia, I get totally confused.
I am sure there is more advice I could give to those past ancestors, but since I have just begun southern research these few things are the ones that I have had to deal with the most. I know you will find instances of these in other areas of the country also, but the good old south seems to be consistent.
Happy Southern hunting!