I have struggled my whole life to understand the stories of my family history. After a few months of a critical study of my family history it is any wonder I could follow it at all given I was never writing anything down. If I could share just one lesson learned with others about tracing your family roots, it is simply to start writing things down.
I grew up hearing stories about my Grandfather Jack, or was it John, or wait, my Grandmothers marriage certificate says that she married Jack, at least the commemorative certificate does, the official state certificate says she married Jacob. Did I mention that her husband’s name was Aubrey?
So in digging just a little bit I found the names Jack, John, Jacob and Aubrey and it took quite a while for me to unwrap this mystery, and I would have had no success whatsoever had I shrugged it off. Had I not taken the time to write it all down, and collect the records, I could never have figured it all out.
In this case there is a series of events that lead to the confusion and I have not really got to the bottom of it all, but I can tell you that my grandfather Aubrey Goben was born to his I parents Perry Franklin Goben and Rachael Ellen Coffelt on July 5th 1913. I should probably mention that he was a twin and shares that birthday with his identical twin brother Aulton.
I knew little of my grandfather growing up, and in fact some of the stories I heard about him simply are not so nice, but he is part of my family history. I can tell you that your family members are a lot like Forrest Gump describes life, they are indeed like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
What allows me to see all of this information so clearly is that I have taken the time to write down all of the facts I discovered about Aulton, including the story of the time that the 1920’s census taker showed up at the door. Their Mother Rachael didn’t trust the man and the door, and instead of handing out their real names, she made them up borrowing the names from the biblical references to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Maria – a name later anglicized to Mary in the New Testament. It turns out that one or more of the names stuck and from that time they called my Grandfather John.
I was told that later he “shortened” his name to Jack but I have to wonder about that given it is no shorter than John. The Jacob that appears on his marriage record is likely was a bad assumption written down by a clerk because while his name appears as Jacob on the record, he signed his name Jack.
These are mysteries I would have never figured out on my own. After a few months of research I was able to gather a reputation as someone interested in family history, and connect with others who had all of this information. Much of the info I was able to find online via Ancestry.com and other online collections.
The punch line to this story is if you are interested in your family history and you want to understand it better, start to write things down. It is more important that you do that, than you spend money and subscribe to a fancy service. Yes those services are wonderful, but simply writing things down is a great place to start if you have not already taken this simple step.
What shoud you write down? Write down what you know. Start with yourself. Do you know your birthday, write that down? The name of your mother, write that down too. Your father? How about their middle names? What about their birthdays? Do you know who their parents are? Write that down. Their middle names? Eventually you will reach a point when you run out of the things you know about them. How about your sibling? Do you know their birthdays? Are they married? How about their wifes middle names? What about their birthdays.
After you exhaust everything you know going back, look to spread out across your siblings, their spouses and their children. Start to make phone calls and ask questions. Your family will love to share with you everything you want to know in most cases. Make sure you make a record of all of the living people.
Lastly when you are on the phone with others, ask them the most important question, who did we miss?
If you simply start to write down all of this information and keep it in one place, then before you know it you will have a pretty good start on recording your family history. In doing so I guarantee you that you will start to figure out the relationships that seemed like a mystery for years.