Web-based genealogy increases local enthusiasm for family history
By Patrick Smith
Anyone familiar with middle Tennessee’s past knows there’s no shortage of history tied to the region.
From the thousands of people who went deep into the coal mines each day, to those who swung the hammers to build the railroad lines crisscrossing the South, to those who fought and died during the Civil War — the area’s identity has been shaped by these events and more.
Now local historical organizations, with the help of broadband, are working to preserve this history for future generations.
Organizations like the Warren County Genealogical Association, Bon Air Mountain Historical Society and Grundy County Historical Society are patching together days gone by and volunteering their time and resources to find the missing pieces of local history and the genealogy of local families. Fueled by tools like Facebook, Ancestry.com and an ample amount of books at libraries, researchers are finding the missing links in family trees and learning about the building blocks of the community.
“People will post a picture on Facebook, asking for help identifying the people in the photo, and it just seems like it goes wild,” says Linda Mackie, president of the Bon Air Mountain Historical Society. “We’re constantly finding someone’s relative or new information about the community. It’s amazing what you can find with the help of technology.”
Cheryl Watson Mingle credits her seventh-grade teacher and a family ancestry homework assignment with sparking her interest in genealogy. She got hooked at an early age and can now trace her lineage, with documentation, back to the Mayflower. She’s spent hours poring over books, traveling the country visiting her ancestors’ gravesites and, with the help of the Internet, she’s traveling the world with a few clicks of her mouse. Mingle, the president of the Warren County Genealogical Association, has developed a deep appreciation for understanding her roots. “You get hooked,” says Mingle. “So much history and genealogy has been destroyed, and we’re doing our best to keep it alive.”
With the help of broadband, the trips that may have previously been required are wiped away. Broadband alleviates the expense, the time and the uncertainty — Mingle explains that many of the next questions one might have after doing some research have already been answered by someone looking up similar information. “Without the Internet, you’d have to go to England, or wherever is necessary, to find the facts,” says Mingle. “The genealogy and history sites have helped greatly.”
For the times when everything falls into place and she finds a long-lost relative, it’s like solving a puzzle. “It’s so awesome when you’ve done years of research and, finally, you find a picture of your great-great-grandfather on the Internet,” says Marion Rhea Speaks, vice president of the WCGA. “It’s almost overwhelming.”
With everything that’s changed because of the Internet, local organizations are still periodically publishing bulletins to catalog the new information they discover.
At the Grundy County Historical Society, they’ve gathered a vast database of records, both paper and digital, with more than 1,600 books in its research library. Each of the local organizations also sees visitors from across the country that have stumbled upon middle Tennessee in hopes of finding their missing relatives.
Sharing history with the community
Much like the historical events that shaped the community, there’s also no shortage of famous people and places from the middle Tennessee area. Locals like Confederate Gen. George Dibrell, bluegrass musician Lester Flatt, baseball hall of fame outfielder Earl Webb and country music star Dottie West all called the South Cumberland area home.
If famous names don’t get you excited, some of the buildings peppered throughout the region just might. Many structures throughout the area can be found on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Sparta Rock House, Falcon Rest Mansion and even the railroad house that today harbors the Bon Air Mountain Historical Society. “The building was donated to the county with the instructions that it be used for a local history museum,” says Mackie. “It’s wonderful to keep its legacy alive for the community.”
There are also a handful of local celebrations to bring the history alive. Two of the most prominent events are the Swiss Festival, hosted by the Grundy County Swiss Historical Society and the Bon Air Mountain History Fair, held at BonDeCroft Elementary School. The history fair also features tours to different points of interest throughout the community. “The coal mining companies operated self-sufficient towns up here,” says Mackie. “It’s important to share this history with the community. The fair has become a very popular event.”
No matter what piques your interest for history — famous people, famous places or just learning a little more about your ancestors — the fun of it all is connecting the dots and piecing the past together. “When I find something new, to me, that’s better than finding gold. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” says Mingle.
Local points of interest
♥ Warren County Genealogical Association
♥ Bon Air Mountain Historical Society
♥ Grundy County Historical Society
♥ Sparta Rock House
♥ The Swiss Festival will be held on July 25 at the Stocker-Stampfli Farm Museum in Gruetli-Laager.
♥ Bon Air History Fair will be held May 3 at the BonDeCroft Elementary School in Sparta.