Genealogy Society offers help tracing family trees

Truthfully, every member of mankind wants to be remembered by those who come after them. To this end, records have been established ranging from cave paintings and to the Internet. Likewise, folks enjoy knowing from whence and whom they came. The major barrier to a seeker of ancestry is not knowing how or where to look for information. In Rockdale County, there is a gracious society available for help in this quest on several levels. Established on Nov. 14, 1993, the Rockdale County Genealogy Society provides a wealth of information on ancestry.

"I missed the initial meeting (of the society). Library Director Debbie Manget was the group's first speaker, and there were 31 people in attendance. After attending the society's second meeting, I caught the 'genealogy pox,'" said society member Jackie Smith. "I have missed only two meetings in its 14-year history. It's easy to catch the genealogy pox."

Jackie Smith is married to retired businessman and World War II veteran Harrison Grady Smith. The couple moved to Conyers in 1971 and raised their three children in this area. Jackie is liaison to Nancy Guinn Memorial Library for the Rockdale Genealogy Society - which means she has used talent, ingenuity and time, lots of time, for over 10 years - to organize information and make it available to any researcher in the Special Collections Room of the library.

The Special Collections Room has resource material on the history of Rockdale County and neighboring counties, as well as for the state of Georgia. The collection contains genealogical publications, including books on how to trace your family tree, migration routes and older census records up to the 1920s. It contains family folders, submitted by many Rockdale County residents; the records and history of local churches; and old editions of newspapers such as the Rockdale Citizen, Atlanta Journal and Constitution and New York Times.

The collection and research materials are supported in part by the Rockdale Genealogical Society and by the Rockdale County Heritage Book Committee. From the sale of the Heritage book, the society has spent more than $8,000 in proceeds on material for the library and public use. The book is still available for $55 in limited supply.

Genealogy, as practiced by ancient Rome, was only to distinguish between the patrician class (those with proven noble ancestry) and plebeians (commoners, mostly farmers and tradesmen). According to historical records, the Romans were the first to give male children two or three names - personal names and the clan or family name. Ancient Egyptians kept records of their pharaohs. Chinese royals today have genealogies that date back 1,000 years. During the Middle Ages in Europe, questions of kinship and descent were important for purposes similar to the Romans and Egyptians - those of political, nobility and land inheritance privileges.

In America, a land of equals in citizenship, ownership rights and pursuit of happiness, there are many more family lines to follow than if this country cared only for royalty. The first genealogical society in the world, The New England Historic Genealogical Society, was founded in 1845 in America. This American society was chartered two full years before a similar society was begun in England. During our Colonial time, churches kept the vital records; later the towns took up the practice.

When the Rockdale County Genealogy Society was forming, members decided not to be incorporated, not to have dues or bylaws and have all meetings open to the public for the benefit of the community. Even though several of the members are professional genealogists, who can make money doing a family's genealogy, their sage advice or direction to help others find their ancestors is a networking gift at every meeting. Society member Gerry Byrd has even taught genealogy research classes to beginners.

Speakers for meetings have been judges, archivists, community leaders, Daughters of the American Revolution, Civil War buffs, Sons of Confederate Veterans, cemetery officials, librarians, preservation experts for photos and documents, historians and authors. All speeches are on related topics. Some examples of topics are Appalachian, Scottish or Cajun migration, music and lifestyle. There is a donation jar at meetings meant simply to offset costs of various speakers, and donations are voluntary.

"Speaker topics are interesting and fun. A recent favorite was a talk titled 'Privial Pursuit.' It addressed the history of privies," said Smith. "The society schedules frequent research trips. We have traveled to archives and libraries in Athens, Augusta, Covington, Elberton, Gainesville, LaGrange, Macon, Marietta, Valdosta, Columbia (S.C.) and more. We meet at the local library and car pool - talking all the way. But, the moment we sign in, the talking stops. Not wanting to waste a moment to search, discover and make copies, we resemble seriously busy beavers, working until we are run out at the facility's closing. It's always a good day; then, we talk all the way home about what we found."

Marion Farmer is the current editor for the group's newsletter titled "Jeans and Genes" on the Internet at http://mtf.home.mindspring.com/newsltr.htm.

The Rockdale County Genealogical Society typically meets on the second Sunday of each month in the downstairs meeting room of the library. But, because the second Sunday in November is Veteran's Day and several members will be taking part in military and veterans' celebrations with other organizations, the next meeting has been bumped to Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. at the library. Program highlights will include a time to remember ancestors with refreshments from their country of origin or a favorite family dish. Martha Brown, a founding member of the society, will be the speaker.

Linda Reynolds is a columnist for the Citizen. She is interested in stories about historical landmarks in Rockdale and Newton counties. If you know of a special story, place or event, e-mail her at linda.reynolds@rockdalecitizen.com or call her at 770-483-7108, ext. 252.