For years I have been digging in dead people’s business (aka dabbling in genealogy). I just want to know stuff! This all started when I was a little girl. I am the youngest of six children, and I was born eight years after the other five. What that means is that when they were teenagers…I was not. By the time I was in 4th grade, you could say I was an only child. I spent a lot of time around adults. Nearly all of my cousins were the age of my siblings. When aunts and uncles came to visit, I was usually the only kiddo in the house. A lot of my time was spent listening to stories about the family. I mainly listened because when I was a kid, you were seen and not heard… Nearly all the people in the stories were faceless to me, with the exception of my paternal grandmother, Ethel. She died when I was four, but I remember her so well. She kept me during the day while Mama & Daddy worked. Both my paternal grandfathers passed away shortly before I was born. My maternal grandmother passed away when my mother was ten years old. I just wanted to feel connected to all these people, so my ears perked up when the stories were told. I committed names and events to memory. I armed myself with questions, lots of questions.
Fast forward to today… I still have lots of questions. I also have lots of answers. Since the late 1980’s I’ve been chasing the folklore and have been fortunate enough to add supporting facts. I started by writing down everything I could remember of those “listening sessions” from my childhood. I bought myself some genealogy software and entered my list of names. It looked good. I felt great. It wasn’t enough.
Nothing was available for online searches. Having no clue what to expect, I armed myself with pen & paper and headed to the genealogy center at the local library. I walked into a room filled with racks and racks of records on microfilm rolls. A nice lady from the library helped me locate the rolls that would be “of interest” to me. She showed me how to load the film onto a microfilm reader. Using a hand-crank, I started searching page after page of census records. My first objective was to find the name of my great-grandfather, Killis Swanegan, on a census record. Daddy always said his grandfather’s name was “Killis”. I’d heard other pronunciations of it and seen other spellings of it, but if Daddy said it was “K-i-l-l-i-s” that was good enough for me, and I wanted to prove him right! I didn’t find him. I was discouraged. The library lady brought me another roll to view. I didn’t find him on that roll either, but…I found other names that were familiar from my “listening” days. I’d heard of an “Uncle Albert Jones”, who was an uncle to Daddy’s grandmother. In a household nearby I found George and Harriett Miller, who were the parents of my Grandma Ethel. I was so excited! To me, it was like striking gold! It was time for the library to close. My eyes were tired from not blinking for fear I would miss a name on the screen. My neck was sore from holding my head at an awkward angle. (I’m short.) The library lady, despite being friendly and helpful, was giving me the stink-eye. She was ready to go home. I would have to find Killis on another day.