As I put the final touches on my presentation for the AASIG meeting, I was preparing my conclusion slide and there were bullet points about handling sensitive information. I felt, though, that something was missing. This presentation was also about the research process. In my efforts to find my grandfather’s family, I searched the same records over and over again because I was looking for what should have been there based on family tradition. I didn’t let the evidence lead my research.
My first mistake in the process was the initial family Bible entry. My grandmother had written that the parents of LC Hill were John Lacy Hill and Rosie Sampson. On the next line she had written her parents as James Wright and Sallie Seals Wright. Notice the difference in the notation? I didn’t until later. I should have questioned the difference in the name of the wife. As I looked over other of my grandmother’s records, a married woman is always written with her maiden and married name. In the case of a cousin born before his mother’s marriage, his mother is listed with only her maiden name and the full name of the father. I didn’t pick up on grandmother’s subtle way of saying that there was not a marriage.
In my census research, I was so caught up in looking for an intact Hill family, that I didn’t look for individuals. Had my initial census search involved an individual rather than a family unit then I wouldn’t have missed the 1900 census showing Rosie Sampson living in the home of John Lacy Hill.
In the end, I of course realized that there were two families of John Lacy Hill one legitimate and one illegitimate. I added to my presentation that researchers must be unbiased in their research and in their conclusions. Yes, some family traditions may be proven inaccurate. However, the truth is far better for future generations than continually perpetuating misconceptions.
I’ve chosen the subject of my talk on September 17, 2011 for the African American Special Interest Group of the Dallas Genealogical Society. I will be speaking about John Lacy Hill and how to delicately handle family secrets.
Our family tradition holds that my grandfather’s father was John Lacy Hill. My grandfather’s SS-5 letter, delayed birth certificate and death certificate affirm this. I also have the death certificates of Granddaddy’s sister and two brothers listing the same set of parents – John Lacy Hill and Rosie Sampson.
Sounds pretty cut and dry, right? Well here’s the thing. John Lacy Hill was married to Ellen Edgar at the time. He and Ellen had several children of their own. And another thing, our family’s surname was recorded as Sampson in the census records and the Educable Children’s Listing.
Breaking the news – I originally shared this information with my dad and my aunts and uncles. They told me that I had to be wrong. They always knew the names of their grandparents. But they admitted that they had never met their grandparents or knew anything about them except their names. They also admitted that they had never met any cousins with the surname – Hill.
Reaching out – Eventually, my dad and aunts and uncles came to believe my version of the two families of John Lacy Hill. Armed with confidence, I went in search of the Hill family. I was looking for the parents of John Lacy and met a researcher who was related to John Lacy. Again, I was told that I was wrong and that I must be looking for another Hill family. I thought, really? It’s been a hundred years, can’t we just look at the evidence?
Going it alone – At this point, I have moved past the “outside” family stigma and am researching my Hill roots. It’s hard to show in a database, but I continue on. I am still searching for other Hill researchers to share information. If you know any with ties to Oktibbeha County in Mississippi, feel free to share with them.