Sometimes one of the hardest parts of family research is the sense of loss.  Of people never known, of stories never heard , of jokes never laughed at, or family lore never learned.   Here is a picture of my fathers brothers and sisters I never had the chance to meet or get to know much as I was growing up. This photo was taken on the day of my father's funeral...
Siblings of Roy D. Terry, l toR: Ada Terry Norwood, Sister  Lola Terry, Brother Claude Terry, Opal Terry, sister.

Wesley Sartin Terry family of Barry Co., Missouri, ca 1932

Wesley Sartin Terry family of Barry Co., Missouri, ca 1912


The Forgotten Americans

One of the  most frustrating obstacles of family research are civic records which established a community mythos of who was important based on how much they could pay to be included in a community history.  In the 1880's communities had become settled and prosperous and so marketing to their sense of civic pride was big business.  The pioneers were not as popular as the prosperous.  Since many pioneers were in many ways non-conformists who sought out new, empty, lands to get away from city life, it is often ironic how their descendants sometimes portrayed them.  

What is unfortunate it that sometimes these histories were incomplete, mistaken, and inaccurate.  It cannot always be said that people lied....but truth did have a habit of  bending on occasion.  Some books were written by skilled 'spin' artists who carefully described their 'subject' in the most flattering tones and words possible: 'he received only the education afforded him by the common schools of his day' can be translated he did not go to school much past the ability to read and write (anywhere from eight to ten years of age in some time periods).  Status conscience descendants more interested in fitting into a new rising middle class of the 1880's than historical accuracy were more than happy to pay for inclusion in these volumes.  The ability to craft your history was appealing and so what if grandfather was run off from Ohio for nearly killing a man, we can smooth that wrinkle over with a phrase such as " the grandfather of our subject was a pioneer who longed to leave the farms of his native Ohio and explore the western lands."

Sometimes, simple and common people, unable or unwilling to pay for their inclusion in such tomes had real stories to tell.  Men who launched out into wild, untamed areas, as soon as they were opened battling harsh elements, isolation, and the dangers of both.  They worked at carving out a tiny space of their own, lost wives and children, but kept on.  They never achieved much in wealth, land, or recognition.  They did,  however, make it possible for the descendants to be able to enjoy a community, achieve some social status, and leave them out of the communal histories they helped to create.

Family researchers can encourage the development of health self-esteem by discovering their ancestors, appreciating their struggles, and celebrating their achievements. We should avoid, however, the tendency to gloss over their faults, minimize their climb from the harsh depths of existence, or place too great an emphasis on material possessions.  Issues of social status, class, economic standing, or education often meant little to the people who carved out a life, established a family, and left their legacy in the DNA each of us carry around as a memento of all who have gone before us.



Ubrecht ca. 1500's
In my husband's line is a fascinating name, Van Scyoc.  That should be easy to research, said I in my naive early years of doing family history research. Ha! The gods are fickle and they proved it with this fascinating name.  A wonderful elderly researcher named Melwood VanScyoc communicated with me and helped me with some information to get started.

He assured me that despite the variety of spellings, all the names represented people who were descendants of the same person who had arrived from Holland to the "New Amsterdam" of the old New York area.  This ancestor came from Ubrecht in the Netherlands in the early 1600's.

Tracking the same family across seven states, I found over sixteen spellings of the name in official documents.  Sometimes middle names were used as first names, officials misspelled names, and left off the "Van" in the last name all together.

A note about official records such as census, deeds, marriage papers, etc.  The custom was for the officer to write the names of the person.  Some were better at spelling, some had more knowledge of one language than another, some sounded it out, some guessed, and some actually asked!  Accented speech, speech impediments, and poor writing skills converge at times to create sheer havoc in records. While present day families may attack much meaning to a specific spelling, a researcher cannot assume all instances of the name in a record were the work of the person involved, that the name was consistently spelled, or that it is the one "correct" spelling.  In one family they had a family Bible kept for generations, but then discovered the person who had begun it was terrible at spelling and had misspelled words all of her life!

SOME variations of this name: VanScyoc, Van Scyoc, Van Seyeo, Van Scyre, Van Schyhock, Shyhock, Syoc, Van Lykowk, Van Schoiak, Van Sayoc, Van Schoiack, Vanscharack, Schoiack, etc.

Moving out of the New Amsterdam area, some went into Pennsylvania and Virginia, some into Ohio, some into Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Oregon, California, Kansas, Arkansas, etc.


For a generation of researcher, it was assumed there was a hard and fast process of courtship, marriage, and then reproduction. It was the Victorian way...

Ancestors may have not been weighted down by this process in the way later generations were.  Especially in certain times: the 1770's-1880's were rich in this fact.   "Ministers" and "Justice's of the Peace" were often slim on the ground.  Local leaders were known to unite a couple because they knew their valley would be cut off for a long, long winter or some religious groups provided their own 'lay ministers' who served the needs of their people.  Some did not seek secular recognitions for marriages at all. Then, when the trails or rivers were passable again, the visiting minister might have many couples to formally marry, some even with toddlers!   Some early records out of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas reveal this type of event, as do records and journals of traveling ministers from Methodist and Baptist traditions.

As a result, a family might have a child born in 1808 but the marriage record located indicates a date of 1812!  There must have been a previous marriage and they all died. Really? Maybe they were just experiencing the reality of life in remote mountain areas or areas with no regular person legally recognized to marry people.

Yes, sometimes nature takes its course and people will be people.   Sometimes, it is our understanding of the proper process that is at fault.  Be open minded and think outside the box we label as what is proper to discover the truth in the family story.


Family history is usually perceived as just that 'a family history' - and family can be very large and broad.  Information is shared with out sources, information is shared without credit, and information is shared simply to solve the mystery each researcher is dedicated to solving.   I spend hours in front of census records, deeds, and other historical data verifying, guessing, and leaping into the dark of a "what the heck!"

Some family lines had full, rich historical data that was freely shared among many offspring, so their information and stories are all the same.  Some hid their information like a forbidden treasure and it is leaked out as if trying to unseat a crooked politician; I have had people want to swear me to secrecy about some aspect of family history that was already common knowledge to anyone able to read a census or pension file!

Our ancestors were not perfect - get over it!  They had 'flings', they had bad marriages, and they enjoyed being human and all that means.  Their achievements or failures are theirs;  there is no reflected glory or reflected blame.  We have to reach their  level of achievement  or seek to do better with our lives than they did with theirs.

So recognize the work of others but also recognize the nature of family history is to share, freely, and then accept whatever we uncover, knowing that we are better, one way or another, for the knowledge.


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