Young daughters tend to ask a lot of questions. Megan was no different and often asked the, "Why is the sky blue?" type of questions. I always tried to give her the best possible answer. Little did I know she would come home one day and ask a question that I would never be able to completely answer.
When I was very young, my Mom’s sister and family historian, Kathleen Gloria (Culp) Plasky, (Aunt Kiki) had answered my own question about who our ancestors are. Like Megan, my question was an assignment from school.
Aunt Kiki spent a little time doing some research, shared the results with me, and I dutifully wrote down what few generations she found. Unknowingly, my mother saved my assignment for another day.
In my teens, we visited my Dad’s family in Florida. We drove from California and set time aside to visit Greeneville, Tennessee; where my Dad was born. I was excited because I knew little of my dad’s family history and looked forward to seeing where my Dad was from; the land of Davy Crockett.
We arrived in Tennessee on 16 August 1978. It was the night my Grandfather, Melvin Virgil Stills died. I have yet to see the land of Davy Crockett because, in the morning, we left immediately for Florida and the funeral.
Almost immediately upon arrival, my grandmother asked me to be a Pallbearer for my grandfather. I said yes and was teamed with relatives I had never met, including brothers of my grandfather that I never new existed. My curiosity about these strange family members rapidly grew but I only had time for brief conversations. Fortunately, after the funeral, I did manage to ask my grandmother to write me a letter about the family when she got a chance. A few short days later, we returned home to California.
I waited, but the letter never came, and I moved on to other interests. Then, almost 5 years later, I received a letter from my Grandmother, Bertha Naomi (McCoy) Stills.
When her letter arrived, I had long since dropped the whole family history quest, but now my interest peaked again. This time however, computers had just become available to the public, and I owned an IBM PC and a 1200 baud modem. And it connected me to the World Wide Web! My mother retrieved my family tree assignment and I perused my Grandmother’s letter for clues and info and set about hunting down my ancestors. Unfortunately, there was not much to be discovered on the WWW in the early 1980’s and my ancestor quest quickly came to an end…again. Reluctantly, I put away my grandmother’s letter; filed with the short family tree from my aunt, both of which my mother kept.
When Megan came home with that fateful question almost 10 years ago, I immediately went to my Mother’s file and pulled up my Aunt’s family tree and my Grandmother’s family history letter. I looked them over and found them inadequate for answering Megan’s question. I knew I could do better and I went back to the computer to see what I could discover.
This time I found Ancestry.com. To my joy and amazement, I found records and information I never new existed. I discovered my Grandfather’s brothers and sisters. And there, online, was Smith Alexander Stills, my Grandfather’s father!
A story in my Grandmother’s letter said Smith’s parents had died in a wagon accident and he was raised by the Stills. “What, are we not true Stills?” I quizzically thought.
And there, online, was the family tree of Baltzer Culp, my immigrant ancestor, confirming that my Aunt’s short tree showing that the Culp’s were from Germany was correct, but who was this Baltzer? And what was a Hessian soldier?
Megan’s “assignment” was due and I had spent many days organizing our family history. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about my wife’s family. But she was second generation Irish. Easy Peasy, right?
I had Megan call her Papa John and learn what he knew. Papa John was not a family historian but he knew who his parents were and something of his wife’s family. We learned that all of my wife’s grandparents are from Ireland and cracking Ireland is no easy task.
Megan was desperate, our deadline was upon us but I was not done yet, there was more to be discovered, my answer was not complete! Reluctantly, I compiled what we learned and put it into a tree for Megan. She then created a Family History poster to share with her class. I was sad to see it go, I had much more to give her. But, she was happy, turned in her assignment, and moved on to other things of intrest. But I had not given her a complete answer and went back to discover more.
“Who are my ancestors and where do I come from?” is a tricky question, it only leads to more questions. Discovering the next question, however, is the quest of a lifetime.