Small Town Genealogy by Pepper Phillips

Our small town library has a genealogy room and quite a few years ago, I started doing my husband’s family tree.  Amazingly I traced his lineage back to 1595.  Mine swam over during the Irish potato famine in the 1850’s.

The most amazing thing that I learned during this process, is that most everyone in this small town is related.  It might go back generations and generations, but somewhere the lines are intertwined, either by blood or marriage.

As I grew up all over the United States as a Navy ‘brat’ this was a new thought process for me.  Even though when I was fifteen and my mother and I drove from southern California up to Washington state, I was napping in the back of the station wagon, woke up, looked at the two street town we were passing through, and said, “I’ve been here before.”

Mother said, “No.”  I looked at the map and memorized the name of the small town.  When we got to my grandmother’s house, I asked her about it.  I lived with her one summer, and sure enough, we’d stayed in that little town for a week.  Of course all of the townspeople knew I was a stranger, and I learned to say that I was visiting Aunt Dot, and that Irma was my grandmother.  They would nod, and they knew I was ‘family’.  I was free to roam the town on my own, as there were only two streets, no way I could get lost.  I discovered Uncle Wally, who had a burro that he would lead into the plains with a sack and had a hidden gold mine.  When he needed money, he’d pan the dirt and I watched as gold would magically appear.  He gave me a gold nugget, and I’d pull a carrot out of his garden, wash it, and feed it to the burro.

What a memory!


How far back can you trace your roots?

My book, The Devil Has Dimples, has the premise of my heroine trying to find out the name of her birth father so that she can feel connected.  When I first moved to this small town, the first question everyone would ask me was, “Who’s your daddy?”  I really thought that was odd, but my husband clued me in that they wanted to ‘place’ me by my parentage.  He always told them that I was from California, and their interest in me stopped.  LOL



15 thoughts on “Small Town Genealogy by Pepper Phillips

  1. Wow, how cool that you remembered the town! A great memory for you, too. Sounds like some fun things happened. My cousin is doing a family tree right now, but between you and me I think he’s on the wrong track because generations ago our family name was changed. Interesting either way!


  2. Yes, you have to be careful and go backwards and not leap across generations. My husband is of French descent, and there were major misspelling due to whoever was taking down the information. Where we live, the Roy family states that they are not related, however all my research discounts that view. Then there was the family with the name Gaspard-Normand, and two brothers came down from Canada, one took Gaspard and the other took Normand. So, all Gaspards and Normands are related whether they know it or not. It’s an interesting hobby, I’ve learned a lot of history and facts that I might use in an historical sometime. If I ever find the time! LOL


  3. The way I figure it, we are all boat people, unless we are Native American and they walked here. Actually, my father’s family goes back a very long way. I know who they are and what they did. (My kids could care less.) My mother’s family were newer arrivals as my great-grandmother came over with her parents from Germany in the mid-1800’s.

    Researching is fun. I’ve tried to research my old house but at a certain point, it was passed between women. Based on construction, I have a rough date. But two massive fires in this town also destroyed city records. I’ll probably never know for certain.

    Houses are much like people. The answer to the question where do you live is never an address. It’s always identified by the previous owner. Tom Johnson may have only lived there for five years. He bought it from its previous owners who may have lived there for twenty-five, and it’s present owners have lived there for over twenty, but they live in Tom Johnson’s old house. It’s just the way it is.


  4. Your post brought back memories, Pepper. My mom was a genealogist in Louisiana. All 7 of the books she compiled are in the genealogy collections at major libraries, i.e. NY City Public Library, Mormon Library, etc. It was an all-consuming passion for her, and she helped a great many people research their roots.


  5. I’ve done a lot of research into my family tree. My dad’s parents came from a small Ontario town where everyone was related. They were fifth cousins, I think. On my mother’s side we’re descended from a noble family who had a castle in Somerset, England. It’s on my bucket list to go there and see it!


    • A close friend went to Scotland as she is a direct descendent from a particular clan. She took a copy of her genealogy and a copy of her birth certificate showing the name. Once there, she presented all of it along with her passport. They allowed her private access to the graves, not open to the general public. She was able to complete her tree and see the names of her family’s final resting place. She said it was a very moving experience and they would have never allowed it if she hadn’t brought the proof with her.


  6. Wow, that sounds like something on a list to do. Family word of mouth is that the first settlers from my hubby’s tree had a chateau in Pau, France. I’d need to bring him with me as he speaks French. LOL It’s getting him to agree.


    • Leave him home and go with Mona. She loves to travel, and she speaks French. Your next book will be A Southerner in Paris. LOL Followed by A Cajan in a Chateau. Yeah! Can’t wait to hear how your hero will fare when asking for a glass of sweet tea.


  7. Dear Pepper, knowing where you come from is such an emotional question with such pull for writer and reader. I know it’s important in everything I write. As I was reading your post, I actually squealed. My husband thought I sat on something ;). My paternal grandmother who I wrote about in Second Chances was named Irma and her brother-in-law was great uncle Wally…how’s that for spot on? Great post!


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