By Carlos N. Olvera
Many years ago, there was an old saying “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your children are?” It was meant to focus parents on their children’s safety. And that, to many, is what family is all about. At a Dana Point Chamber mixer, I introduced myself to an individual as a family researcher, a genealogist. The gentleman was very interested and related that his mother passed away a few years back, but he did not know much of his grandparents, not even where they were from. From a genealogist’s point of view, we are all related, eventually.
If you look at the average family of four, a generation of 20 years, and the number of people on the earth, the extrapolation back is about 50,000 years. The United States has a census taken every 10 years, the first being in 1790. Each decade more and different questions were asked. In the 1880 census, it was asked in which state your parents were born. Over the years, genealogists have created volumes of census indexes of the heads of households for each family. In 2001 the first computer database, searchable by every name, every state and even by age, was created. So even with a scrap of family information you could instantly find two more generations.
With the advent of the Internet, genealogy has become one of the largest hobbies out there. There are both paid and free websites that will help you put your family tree together. People are always happy to help point me in a new direction for sources. So they ask if I know of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. You really aren’t a genealogist until you have spent hours or even days there with your head in a microfilm reading machine or reading through old county history books. It is the largest genealogical library in the world.
Humans have always been interested in record keeping. From carvings in caves, to writing on old parchment paper, man has recorded his history from the beginning. In my library, many books date back to the late 1800s and include scraps of information from my early ancestors through modern times. More recent family history, such as that of my grandchildren, is recorded on Facebook. The information is out there and available from a variety of sources; it is just a matter of knowing where to look.
One day, after having had little luck during a 10-year-long search for information about my family, I went to the library. For some reason a large newly published book, sitting on a shelf much higher than where my search was focused, caught my eye. I picked up the book and looked in the index. I found my great-great-grandfather and his three brothers listed there. The referenced pages included Adams County, Illinois, court records from 1840 documenting a land dispute between the brothers. It was a breakthrough and I feel that I was somehow guided to pick up that book that day and to look at the index.
The best place to get started is at www.cyndislist.com. The site contains an index of over 300,000 links that have searchable data or “how to” lessons on genealogical research.
I have been working on my family genealogy since about 1965 and after all of this time I am still inspired by “the thrill of the hunt.”
Family elders can be a good source of information. But when I asked my mother questions, she in turn, would ask her dad. Then my grandpa would say, “If I knew I would be having a grandson asking all these questions, I would have paid more attention myself.”
To date, my search has taken me back about nine generations on several lines. In my experience, all this research led to an interest in maps and migrations paths. As your research progresses, you may find yourself becoming an “expert” in at least one historic war—for me that is the Civil War Battle of Shiloh.
You will likely also find information you never thought you would uncover. I discovered that my wife Georgelean’s family tree and my family tree are connected together by a third tree through two marriages. But most important to me as a historian, I found that the sons of my late Dana Point history mentor, Doris I. Walker-Smith, are my fourth cousins, once removed. We go back to my 4th great grandfather Bashara Hull, born in 1774 in Sussex County, New Jersey.
Carlos N. Olvera is a nine-year past president of the Dana Point Historical Society, a commissioner of the OC Historical Commission and a Dana Point city councilman.