One of the earliest ideas the casting and producing teams for Genealogy Roadshow decided they would like to see was reunions - or, more accurately, unions - with "long lost relatives" people didn't even know they had. My first response was, "I look for dead people . . . I'm not very good at finding the living. What you want is a private eye." And I recommended one. But they insisted that I could do this (at times, the casting team had more faith in us than we had in ourselves, making our successes prove them right and, when we had a lack of results, disappoint us).
On the Nashville show, viewers saw two such "reunions," and I am pleased to be able to share a little on these since they were "my" stories. They were actually two of the first stories I worked on.
The first was "Uncle Fate," the story of a photograph showing a two-year-old White boy in the lap of an older African American gentleman. The identification was clear for the boy, but the gentleman was identified simply as "Uncle Fate." Identifying Fate was no trick and took less than thirty minutes. Since the photo was taken when the child was about age two, and the boy was born in about 1900, that dated the picture as taken somewhere around 1902. In the 1900 Federal Census, "LaFayette Cox" is listed in the family's household. "LaFayette" is often shortened to "Fayette" and, in the South, the slurring of the name would give us the name "Fate." But identification was not enough . . . it was decided (and I have to admit I was excited about the prospect) that we should try to locate living family of LaFayette Cox. I did most of it by doing the simple tracking of his family, first back, then forward. I could identify his offspring and some of the later descendants, eventually leading to the death of one of the relatives in the not too distant past (within the past 20 or so years, as I recall). This was done with the help of a posted family tree on Ancestry.com, but an email to the tree-owner did not get a response. The family had stayed in Knoxville and the surrounding area, so a connection with a genealogist in that area led to the discovery of a newspaper obituary for that recently deceased family member and the listing of his surviving family, including a daughter (identified with her married name and her husband's first name). A Google search led me to the husband, who is an educator in the Northeast U.S. I emailed him and asked for information about his wife. I had a good idea who she was (the person who had posted that tree on Ancestry.com). In this case, all my identifications panned out. She emailed back and was thrilled to have her ancestor identified and his life laid out for her. And, if you watched the Nashville show, you saw the two families united (not "reunited" - these families of two different cultures had never known of the other's existence).
Lesson learned: while on-line family trees often have incorrect information and/or holes in the lines, they can sometimes take us to clues about living family. Contacting the tree creator/poster may take us to a long-lost cousin. Together, the family members can make the tree more well-rooted, with sources cited and holes filled in.
I will write about the second of these union stories in tomorrow's blog.