Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Genealogical Treasure: Mom; Sometimes That Name's a Key to Making History Come Alive

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Genealogical Treasure: Mom; Sometimes That Name's a Key to Making History Come Alive

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

On this Mother's Day, all hail your mother's maiden name.

Knowing that tidbit about your mother - and her mother, and your father's mother, and so on - can be the key to unlocking your personal genealogy, identifying ancestors and their ancestors, finding out where they came from, where you came from.

Moms rule.

But their heritage can be difficult to track in cultures such as ours, where the wife typically takes her husband's name and drops her own, said Betty Reed, president of the Southern Genealogist's Exchange Society Inc. on Jacksonville's Westside. The maiden name and all the heritage it holds can easily be lost to the ages.

Moms, she said, "are by far the most elusive ancestor of all the ancestors."

"Consider yourself fortunate to know your mother's maiden name," she said.

The importance of mothers to genealogy led the nonprofit society to create what will be an annual fundraiser - the Virtual Afternoon Tea. At 4 p.m. Sunday, people who donated to the society to see their mother's heritage and photo featured on a special website will celebrate them with family members and, through cyberspace, with each other.

"We were looking for something fun, unique, creative and genealogically related," Reed said. "If your mothers are living, you can take them to the site. 'Look mom, you're a mom among moms.' "

For those people who don't know their mother's heritage - or know some of it and want more - the society can help and its scope extends far beyond Jacksonville.

The all-volunteer nonprofit, which incorporated in 1964, has a library that holds more than 6,000 CDs, microfilm, maps, books, lineage charts and a few research computers. Books are divided by state. Family records are divided by surname, some dating back to the 1600s.

There are records for Duval County and records from all sorts of places all over the world. There are quarterly newsletters issued by other genealogical organizations in the U.S. and a host of other countries. There are files about the 160 Duval cemeteries the society checks out for maintenance needs every year.

And more.

The library is open to the public twice a week and volunteers know how to point you in the right direction online - you're welcome to bring your own laptop - or in its bookshelves and filing cabinets. If all you have is your own name, start with that.

"We teach people how to do their own research," said Jon Ferguson, library manager and former society president.

On a recent afternoon, Richard Dickson visited for the first time. He brought in his handwritten family tree, which he had traced back six generations. Before he left, he had found a potential missing link in the middle of the tree and two older generations further back.

"I could spend a lot of time in here," Dickson said. "I have been interested in this for a long time. ... Now they're going to have give me the key to the place. …

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