Questions and context are powerful in search for ancestors

February 22, 2014 

Gary Schwab

DAVID T. FOSTER III — dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

  • Find resources

    You can read our guide on dozens of places to begin your own genealogy search at charlotteobserver.com/kirkpatrick.

The development of this story offers lessons for anyone searching his or her ancestral history.

Historian Jane Starnes found 150-year-old Sharon Presbyterian Church records that revealed a new ancestor to Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick. He had posted a question on a website seeking information; Starnes answered. That set in motion events that would help Jimmie Lee connect with De.

When it appeared that a slave cemetery at Sardis Presbyterian Church had been lost in the woods, we asked a few more questions and found David Blackley, who tends the cemetery. He explained its history and discovered more connections to the Kirkpatricks in the Sardis history records.

Scott Lawing wrote the Observer that in the early 1950s his father helped develop Sherwood Forest, where Jimmie Lee’s great-great-grandfather, Sam, born a slave, owned land. Lawing sent documents that show how the land was divided among Sam’s children after his death in 1929.

All of these pieces of the puzzle came from simply asking questions, including some that might challenge conventional wisdom.

Journalists at the Observer ask questions every day, but I was struck yet again at the power of a question to propel conversations and actions, and to better understand context. Jimmie Lee and De have sorted through some tough conversations because they are asking questions about circumstances. They are applying what they have learned about history to the lives of their ancestors. It’s a key way of getting to know anyone, even relatives who lived in 1860. You’re trying to understand the world as they saw it.

De Kirkpatrick suggested this might be an opportunity to allow Mecklenburg County to learn more about its past. Librarian Jane Johnson agrees. She works in the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, where they are eager to help families start their own genealogy search.

The Carolina Room has an interest in collecting information about some deceased individuals, and local families and businesses. This would include maps, books, photographs, journals, business papers, letters and handwritten vital statistics in family Bibles – as well as information about the Kirkpatrick families, specifically. If you would like to consider donating these types of documents or copies, please contact Jane Johnson at 704-416-0150 or email her at jjohnson@cmlibrary.org.

Also in today’s story we mention Communities In Schools, a nonprofit organization in 43 Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools that helps students with the greatest needs. It partners with agencies, businesses, faith communities and individuals. To learn more or help, contact Communities In Schools at www.cischarlotte.org or 704-335-0601.

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