Monday, June 11, 2012

Sharing our Oral History

One of my goals in researching Redden family history is to make our history more than just a set of names and dates.  I want to bring our ancestors to life--to learn how they lived, the struggles they faced, their accomplishments, the facts of their daily lives that in some way influence how we, their descendants, live today.  At the NGS conference in May 2012, I attended one session on how to write a family history that your family will want to read, and another session on creative non-fiction.  These programs have further inspired me to try and learn more about our ancestors as individuals.  One big step in that direction came when my husband, Nick, was able to make contact and have a phone conversation with a Redden gentleman who was a cousin of his father's.  We believe he is probably the oldest living descendent in Richard and Elizan's direct line.  I'm giving his name at this time because we didn't think to ask for his permission to do so, but I still want to pass on some of his stories.

Nick asked this cousin if he ever knew his grandfather (my husband's great-grandfather), Mayo Redden.  Mayo is a bit of a mystery to us because no death record or obituary has ever been located for him.  We know plot #20 was purchased for him in the New Amsterdam, Indiana, cemetery, but cemetery records do not prove he was ever actually buried there.  From piecing together other sources, it appears Mayo died around 1939,  preceding his wife, Sharlottie, in death, but he is not even mentioned in her obituary.  Now with the release of the 1940 census we have another confirmation that Mayo passed around 1939, as his wife is shown as a widow living in Corydon, Indiana with her daughter in 1940.  It was especially exciting to us to learn that this Redden cousin does recall visiting his grandfather new New Amsterdam, Indiana, as a young boy.  He did not have a lot of memories, but he did recall that Mayo was crippled as the result of an accident.  Mayo was a carpenter, and apparently he struck his leg violently with an adze, resulting in the devastating injury.  It was recalled that Mayo's leg would swell up and that liquid would have to be drained from it to bring him relief.  Our cousin also recalled that his grandmother Sharlottie was known to be able to "take the fire out of a burn."  He had no idea how she did this, but apparently Sharlottie had the ability to relieve the pain of a burn and was well-known for this gift.

I hope we will have the privilege to receive email from or speak with other Redden cousins to learn more about our history and to share some of these stories here.

Does our Brick Wall Originate in Kentucky? It seems so.

The internet is a wonderful thing.  Not only does it allow us to do a lot of family history research from wherever we are, it helps links us to others with similar interests.  Since starting this blog I have happily heard from a few other descendants of Richard Redden, and one thing we all have in common is that we've encountered a brick wall when trying to learn the name of Richard's parents and any possible siblings.

Here is what we do know.  From census records, we are fairly certain that Richard was born in Kentucky in 1812 (some records suggest he may have been born in 1814).  We also find that Richard's parents were listed as having been born in Maryland.  If this is true, this means that Richard's grandparents were in the United States by the mid to late 1700s.  The Reddens have been in the U.S. for a very long time! 

One reason it's been difficult to learn more about Richard's early years is because knowing where to locate early Kentucky records can be fairly complicated.  At the NGS conference in Cincinnati early in May of this year, I had the privilege of attending a very helpful session on Researching Kentucky Records given by Mr. Don Rightmyer of the Kentucky Historical Society.  Mr. Rightmyer is the editor of the Kentucky Ancestors magazine and was a wealth of information.  He showed us how the state of Kentucky has evolved over time.  Kentucky was originally a part of colonial Virgina.  In 1776 Kentucky was actually "Kentucky County," Virginia, but by 1780 was divided into three Virginia counties.  It was not until June 1792 that Kentucky became it's own distinct entity, the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  Today, Kentucky consists of 120 different counties.  To do early research, it is important to first determine the name of the county at the time your ancestor lived there.  This can be a real challenge because of how counties have been divided over time.  Once you determine the county name, you then have to find out where any records from the time period are currently housed.  Fortunately, the Kentucky Historical Society has experts on hand to help navigate this maze of information.

So how do you determine the Kentucky county in which your ancestor lived?  It was suggested during the NGS workshop that some of the most likely sources of information will come from tax, land, and military records.  These records are especially important because birth, death, and marriage records from before about 1852 only scantily exist.  Again, Richard was born around 1812.  The vital statistics law in Kentucky did not become effective until 1911.  Although some localities kept records much earlier, many lost their records during the Civil War because courthouses were often set aflame as towns became temporary battle grounds between the union and rebel forces.

Another reason for the brick wall is that the vast majority of records that might help solve our Redden ancestor brick wall do not yet exist on line.  It seems that for now the best course of action is to use on-line resources and the help of Kentucky history experts to try and narrow down where it is that Richard's parents likely lived.  Once this is determined we can decide if an in-person visit is needed or if there are researchers who will be willing to do some of the local research for us.  I also attended a program at the NGS conference on researching Kentucky tax records, and I'll highlight some of what I learned on this subject in a later blog.  Even though the search will be challenging, I left the conference with hope, and actually with a fair bit of confidence, that armed with these new research tools that Richard's elusive history will reveal itself to us yet.