Friday, January 6, 2012

Are we "sucking the fun" out of genealogy?

I don't want this blog to become a set of opinion pieces, and have avoided writing such posts in the past, but several somewhat overlapping discussions over the last few weeks on the APG members mailing list and several blogs have me wondering about that decision.  The discussions may be occurring elsewhere too:  I don't use Facebook, Google+ or Twitter much, if at all, for genealogy, although I've tried.  While this blog isn't designed to be opinion oriented, I reserve the right to state my opinion in the occasional post, and this is one of them.

Differences of opinion and differences of perspective on certain topics do not mean people are angry or mad or upset at each other, or that there is "high drama," "frothing at the mouth," "hostility," "turmoil," or "ruffled feathers."  It is normal and natural for people to have differences of opinion.  It would be a horribly boring, backward, and stagnant world if we did not.   Even firmly held and firmly stated opinions aren't a bad thing.  Heck, some of us with firmly held opinions have been known to change our minds, or at least come to understand (after considerable discussion) why others see the issue differently.  Once people understand the different perspectives, they can work together to cooperate on solving problems and reaching mutually agreed upon goals (well, except in the current United States Congress, but I digress).

Some of us even enjoy listening to, learning from, and discussing opposing opinions. It is from such discussions that new ideas, eventual consensus (or at least majority opinion), change and progress comes, although it can be tedious and difficult at times.  Almost nobody actually likes change. 

Clearly (and perhaps even repeatedly) stating an opinion does not mean the person stating that opinion is a snob, trying to dominate the discussion, putting down people who have a different opinion, or trying to force someone else to change.

I think the issues I've seen discussed lately are important, if not critical, topics, at least indirectly, for everyone involved in genealogy, whether a newbie hobbyist, an oldbie hobbyist, a society volunteer, or a professional genealogist.  Among them, in no particular order are: 

*the mission, goals, objectives, and membership policies of the Association of Professional Genealogists
*the continued existence of genealogy societies in general
*the responsibility, if any, for genealogy bloggers who report research results to cite their sources
*the responsibility of all of us to contribute to the field, not just "take"
*how best to communicate with each other in a rapidly changing techno-world
*how to improve the status of genealogy in the academic world
*how best to engage those who do not speak up on blogs, listservs, or other online media

and one that I've not seen specifically discussed, but that I think may be an elephant in the room: 

*generational and cultural differences in how we perceive and approach everything from technology to communication to differences of opinion.

If you don't have an interest in one or more of these topics, fine.  That's your right.  But please don't assume that those of us who are interested, or who enjoy a good debate, are somehow taking the fun out of genealogy. As my friend Harold Henderson commented, please just "avert your eyes." 

This post was not inspired by any particular person, post, comment, topic, or event.  For a variety of opinions on these and related subjects, I would point readers to the following recent blog posts (and the accompanying comments), all by people I admire and consider to be representatives of the future of genealogy.  While I do not always agree with them, and they do not always agree with each other, I'm confident the future of genealogy is bright because of (not in spite of) their firmly held and firmly stated opinions:

Christy Fillerup, "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" Living Ancestors blog, posted 29 Dec 2011 ( ).

Michael Hait, CG, “My last word on GeneaBlogging and the Paradigm Shift,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 6 January 2012 ( ).

Marian Pierre-Louis, "All This Nonsense About Blogging," Marian's Roots and Rambles blog, posted 5 January 2012 ( ).


Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Murder of Isaac B. McCollum

Or was it a "killing?"  The answer to that question may depend upon whether you were a family member, and whether you were on the Union or Confederate side during the Civil War.

Isaac B. McCollum was probably not yet a teenager when his family moved from Greene Co., Tennesseee to Harrison Co., Missouri in the 1850s.[1]   Missouri was a border state which sent men to fight on both sides.  Although Tennessee voted to secede from the Union in 1861, there were many in Greene County who remained loyal to the Union, including Isaac's uncle, William S. McCollum, and several of Isaac's cousins.

Family tradition maintains that during the war, Isaac's father Alexander was taken by northern soldiers to St. Louis and tried "three times as a southern sympathizer, but was never convicted."   Isaac is said to have fought as a Confederate while his brother, William, was a Union soldier.  On 23 Jul 1864, Isaac was "plowing in a field when two Northern men shot and killed him. Neighbors offered to lynch the murderers but his father... said 'No, it would just cause more bloodshed.' On Isaac's tombstone in Harrison Co. it states that he was murdered and lists the names of his murderers."[2]

 An 1888 Harrison County history paints a somewhat different picture:

 "Killing of McCollum. - In July, 1864, George Williams, a returned Federal soldier, attempted to disarm Isaac B. McCollum, a Southern sympathizer, and in the quarrel which ensued the latter was shot and killed.  Williams received a shot in the leg, but was not otherwise injured.  He was indicted for the killing only a few years ago, and after quite an extended and exciting trial, was cleared." [3]

How can we resolve the conflicting elements in this story?  What else do we need to know?  What do we need to confirm?

While it may seem elementary, one must first confirm the date of death.  Death certificates or registers do not exist for this time period in Harrison Co., Missouri, so the best source will be tombstones.  Does Isaac's tombstone really name the people who shot him?  The answer seems to be "Yes."  Multiple transcriptions of Phillebaum Cemetery near Bethany, Missouri provide a death date of 23 Jul 1864 and state "Murdered by G. Williams & T. L. Sullivan." [4]

Next Steps (Research Plan):

  1. Confirm the gravestone inscription, if possible. [In late July, 2011, I attempted to photograph the tombstone, but the cemetery was too overgrown to proceed].
  2. Newspapers are not known to exist for  Harrison Co. for the time of Isaac's death, but it is possible the story may have been reported in other localities such as Daviess Co. or Kansas City.  
  3. Another avenue for verifying the story and determining more details may be Harrison Co. court records.
This simple family story also raises other questions.  Was Isaac a Confederate soldier or sympathizer?  What about his father Alexander?  Did brother William serve in the Union army?  I'll try to deal with these issues in a subsequent post.


[1] Walter Williams, ed, History of Northwest Missouri (Chicago/New York:  Lewis Publishing Co., 1915), Vol 2, p. 698.

[2]  Debby Strong Taylor, "McCollum Family History (1724-1984)" (typescript, Gate City, Virginia:  December, 1984), p. 19.

[3]History of Harrison and Mercer Counties Missouri from the Earliest Time to the Present, (St. Louis and Chicago:  Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1888), pp. 285-286.

[4] Maxine Taraba, Harrison County Missouri Cemetery Records (to 1984), (Decorah, Iowa: Anundsen Publishing Co., 1985).  See also and USGenWeb Project’s “Harrison Co., MO Cemeteries” at, last viewed 9 Jun 2011.

End of the Line Descendants: Sarah Ann (Harrison) Sellers (1850-1921)

We all have "end of the line" ancestors, those great+ grandparents of how-ever-many-generations that we either have not yet traced, or who seem to be our brick walls.  They are the pot of gold we so often seek.

But what about the "end of the line descendants" - the people on our family trees who never married, or if they did, had no children?  They may be identified with a name, birth date, and death date on a family group sheet, but like Rodney Dangerfield used to say, they otherwise seem to "get no respect."  But they were real people, with real lives, real joys, and real sorrows, and they deserve to have their story told.

It isn't unusual for me to find myself piecing together the life of a distant cousin, aunt, or uncle only to have it finally click in my brain:  that person left no descendants.  Who will remember them and tell their story?  Perhaps I'm subconsciously drawn to them because some day, I will join their ranks.

One such distant shirttail relative of mine was Sarah Ann Harrison. While at least ten public trees at Ancestry name Sarah's father, Henry Brooks Harrison, only six record her name.  Of those, only one person (who has two at least partially duplicate trees) has attached any census records, and he identified just three of the six censuses on which she should appear.  One tree names her husband as John Sellers, and none include a source citation for her marriage to Hiram Sellers.  No single Ancestry public tree included her complete date and place of birth, the date and place of her marriage, the name of her husband, and the dates and places of her death and burial, even though most of the information is readily available online.[1]

Although this level of incompleteness is not unusual for many online family trees, it may be especially common for "end of the line" people like Sarah.  So, to set the record straight, Sarah Ann Harrison, the only child of Henry B. Harrison and his first wife Euseba Evans, was born probably on 10 Oct 1850 in Greene Co., Tennessee.[2]  Her parents had married nine months earlier on 19 Jan 1850 in Greene County.[3]  Sarah married at the age of 35, on 1 Nov 1885 in Harrison Co., Missouri, the widower Hiram C. Sellers.[4]  She died on 29 Jun 1921 in Ridgeway, Harrison Co., Missouri and was buried the next day in the Ridgeway Cemetery.[5]

I can't tell Sarah's full story without research in records not available online, but I can easily develop a basic timeline that tells me where geographically to look.  If you have access to, you can see the rest of that outline here.[6]  If you don't, here is what it more or less looks like (you can read this chart, at least on my set-up, by clicking on the image, then right click, View Image, then enlarge):

Unfortunately, when a public tree profile is printed, the links to websites outside Ancestry, like Sarah's burial information at FindAGrave and the Harrison County, Missouri USGenWeb page, are not included.

From the online databases and images that formed the basis of this outline, the bits and pieces of a story for Sarah begin to emerge.  As is often the case, there is conflicting evidence to be resolved, such as whether she was born in 1849 or 1850.  I will demonstrate how to begin to tell a more complete story for Sarah and resolve the conflicts in a subsequent post.

[1] Data based upon a search completed 31 Dec 2011 using the Recent Member Connect and Family Tree Hints feature at
[2] "Missouri Death Certificates," digital images, Missouri State Archives, Missouri Digital Heritage ( : accessed 31 December 2011), death certificate 14635 (1921), Sarah A. Sellers.
[3] "Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002," database and images, ( : accessed 31 December 2011), for Henry B Harrison and Eusebia Evens (1850); citing Tennessee State Library and Archives microfilm, not further identified; from unspecified Greene Co. marriage register, p. 332, marriage 1759.
[4] Harrison Co. Genealogical Society, Harrison County, Missouri Marriage Records (1881-1899) (Bethany, Missouri: n.p., 1988), p. 49; citing Book 1, p. 416.
[5] "Missouri Death Certificates," death certificate 14635 (1921), Sarah A. Sellers.  Also, Phil Stewart, cemetery surveyor, "Henry or Ridgeway Cemetery, Harrison County, MO," database, Harrison County, MO Cemeteries ( : accessed 31 December 2011), for Sarah A. Sellers and ( : accessed 31 December 2011), Find A Grave Memorial# 21747604 for Sarah A. Sellers.
[6] Connie Sheets, "Milligan-McCollum Families of Greene Co. TN and Harrison Co. MO," database, ( : accessed 31 Dec 2011), for Sarah Ann Harrison.