I spent a good portion of 2007 and 2008 going through my father’s copious notes on the Darden family history and genealogy, and I found myself organizing his notes and putting them together. My parents had both passed away in the 1990s, and while I had never been particularly interested in my family tree back when my father tried to get me involved, as time passed I developed a yearning to feel close to my father again. My father had always dreamed of writing a book about the Darden family history and genealogy, and I decided to do it for him. That was my motivation to pursue his passion and discover my roots through researching our family history and family tree.
As I worked with my father’s notes on our family history and family tree, I began to also work on my mother’s family history and genealogy. I came up with a family tree for my mother quickly just Googling some family names, but then I found another family tree for the same names… and it wasn’t the same tree! I was shocked! That just shows what an inexperienced genealogy researcher I was. So I also Googled some of my father’s family names, and discovered the same problem: other people had different Darden family trees with some of the same names, and some completely different names. This caused me to begin to research my family tree and family history in earnest. I had learned my first and most important lesson about researching family history – never believe what you find online unless you can back it up with other documentation.
My 96-year-old aunt was still alive at the time, as was my father’s 92-year-old cousin, so I began to ask them questions, record their memories, and copy documents and photos they had. I met distant cousins and long-lost relatives, and assorted kith and kin. In 2007, I attended the family reunion of a branch I never even knew existed! Suddenly, my extended family was much larger!
I discovered web sites like ancestry.com, genealogy.com, and other web sites devoted to discussions of genealogy. I discovered people created Yahoo Groups to discuss their family history, as well as Facebook groups, and other social networks. I also learned how to order state, city and county records.
Then I remembered my father’s vast library, boxed up after his death. I poured through genealogy books and family records, old family diaries and journals. I found photos of relatives from the turn of the century, and letters and postcards from the same period. My father had always said we were kin to President James K. Polk and Sir Francis Drake. I discovered the proof of our kinship to President James K. Polk is clear while our kinship to Sir Francis Drake remains in question. However, while researching our possible connection to Sir Francis Drake, I discovered the long-hunter Drakes are definitely my ancestors. Those long-hunter Drakes helped establish Nashville and Davidson county. Researching became addictive at this point!
I talked to relatives, went through photo albums, wrote letters, and always returned to my father’s notes as the basis of my own family history and genealogy thesis. My father had spent a good 60 years researching his family tree, starting when his own mother got him interested when he was a young boy. I found notes his mother made at the turn of the century, and a family tree he and his father had been working on before his father passed away in 1955.
One of the high points was finally tracking down a photo and some records for my mother’s favorite brother, Billy Ransom, who had an epileptic seizure when he was young and drowned in a shallow creek on the family farm in 1942. For some reason, there were no photos left of Billy, nor did anyone remember when he died. Sadly his memory died with my mother until I tracked down the alumni association of the school he attended – long closed – and was able to get his photo and a few records and piece a little of his story together.
Researching my family tree and spending so many hours immersed in my father’s records made me feel very close to him in a tangible way, and I also learned much about my grandparents and their predecessors on both sides of the family. When I was done, I had a book of over 200 pages of anecdotes, documents and photographs which I was able to share with other family members in 2007. Now I am completely rewriting it: updating it, editing it, reformatting the family trees, and adding more records, hoping to have it ready for publication in another year or two. Right now the working title is: The Ransoms of Ransom Place and the Dardens of Tick Hill, — a History of the Ransom and Darden Families of Una, Tennessee.
Researching my family tree was one of the most rewarding things I have spent time doing recently. I would encourage anyone reading this to talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles while you still have them, make notes, and record names on the back of family photos. Some day those records will be treasures of immense value to someone in your family who discovers the joy of researching their family history and genealogy.