"Meeting other descendants a key to finding family history"

Mary Jane Johnson

Mary Jane Johnson

For Mary Jane Johnson of Orem, Utah, personal contact is often the key to finding lost ancestors.

"I find that I gather more insights and get important little steps done from personal contact," she says. "I'm from Tennessee—I grew up there. I've lived here in Utah about 20 years now. I'm a convert to the Church. I joined the LDS Church at age 16. "I enjoy finding other descendants. I have been able to find other descendants of some of my ancestors. It seems that it's opened up new doors, new worlds, pictures, this and that, that then lead me to go on and do more research."One recent example:

"I have a cousin, and he and I are descended from a common ancestor on our mothers' lines. Anyway, just recently this year, in his grandparents' old trunk that he'd gotten, he found bunches of pictures! He had a whole trunk of these, and when I went to Tennessee, I went over to visit with him and we looked through all the pictures. He put them on a CD for me, most of them. A lot of them did have writing on them" that identified the people in the pictures. Using the census records, she was able to date some of the pictures to around 1900.

"I would never have seen these pictures if I had not talked and communicated with him. It's a good thing they can still be seen and were not completely deteriorated.It's been fun. He's not LDS or anything, but he still enjoys looking at things."Sometimes her searches lead her to find relatives she didn't know, as well as information she needs.

"On findagrave.com I found my great-great-grandfather's grave. I knew it was the right guy from the dates I had because it just had initials on there, B. L. Gregory. It was interesting to me because I knew his daughter and his wife were buried in a different cemetery in another county. I'd always wondered, where was he? Why wasn't he over there where his wife was? His wife was in a family cemetery."

She went to Tennessee, hoping to find the cemetery where B. L. Gregory was buried."I drove up—it wasn't hard to find, and it was by a church. It was his family cemetery. His wife was buried in her family's cemetery, and he was buried in his family cemetery. That's why they were buried in different locations instead of being together. "I noticed around him there were lots more tombstones with the Gregory name on them. The cemetery has been very well kept, and they had a little sign out there, 'Founded 1888.' The church had the pastor's name on a sign, and there was an address, a mailbox there for the church.

"When I went, there wasn't anybody around. So I wrote a letter to the pastor of that church, explaining that I had an ancestor buried there, and I'd noticed other Gregorys there also. And I asked, 'By chance, is anyone in your congregation a descendant of this Gregory family?'

"I got a phone call! And it was a lady, she's around my age, and she said, 'I'm Paulette Whaley, and my great-great-grandfather was a Gregory. My mother was a Gregory before she married my father.' She and her sister still live there in that community. We talked and chatted and found that their great-grandfather was a brother to my great-great-grandfather. It was delightful. I told them I was coming back to Tennessee, and I said, 'I'd love to meet you. I'd love to be able to get together.' They said, 'That would be great.' So we arranged a time, and she and her sister came. They told me about just about every grave in (that cemetery), and how they were related to this B. L. Gregory who was my great-great-grandfather. His parents were also there (in the cemetery). And they told me who the people in all the other graves were related to.

"We had a wonderful visit, and they had some pictures and things they showed me. It helped us both, because some of the information they had was different than some I had. That led me to do some research and find a marriage record for one couple—they had one name for the woman, and I had a different name for the woman. They had Elizabeth. I had Mary. Come to find out, her name was Mary Elizabeth Benton. It was a big step in getting more complete information on that line than what I'd had. And I met two new cousins to be friends and to correspond with!

"I've found that I've had more success when I'm able to find additional descendants of some of my ancestors, who have things from a little different perspective that what I had. As we compare notes, we get things more complete.

"That's what keeps my love of doing family history—the excitement of meeting new people and just finding out new things."

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