Saturday, April 21, 2012

Family History: How to Begin Researching Yours

How to Begin Researching Your Family History
Karen Utter Jennings

Are you interested in finding out more about yourself and your ancestors? Do you wonder about the medical history of your family members? Do you have old family photographs that you can’t identify? Why not start your genealogy journey?

As with all journeys, there is much to discover and learn.  The rewards are never ending.  During my journey, I have found photographs and many other interesting documents and family stories of the main family lines that I am researching. These newfound items of days gone by and bits and pieces of information were added to what I already knew about them. 

So, how do you begin your genealogy journey?  How do you find relatives, amazing facts, pictures, records, and mementos?  Begin by focusing on only one surname.  This is important so you do not get overwhelmed. You may stop at any time with that surname and begin to research another one, but until you get a bit of experience, it may overwhelm you if you try to search for multiple lines at the same time.
Here are the first steps to begin researching your family history: 
1. Decide on one surname to focus your research.  
2. Gather pencil/pen and paper or if you prefer to type, go to the keyboard.
3. Start with yourself and record your information: when and where you were born and your parent’s names.  Next, if you are married, write your marriage information and your spouse’s information.  Be as complete as you can.  If you have children, continue writing each of your children’s information.  If the children are married with children, write that information down as well and continue until you finish each person in your line. When you finish, set this information aside.
4. Next, begin to record the information about your parents, but remember to focus on the surname you chose. Record everything you know about them.  When you finish, set this information aside. 
5. Continue to record the information about your parents’ parents, and so on.  Do this until you cannot go any further because you do not have information on that set of grandparents.
6. After you have worked to produce information, you need to organize it.  Place your work in a folder or if you worked on the keyboard save your work on the computer. 

Genealogists use family group sheets to organize their information.  A family group sheet is an 8 ½ by 11 inch paper that is used to record each family unit and the vital statistics.  The sheets organize your information as a series of family groups.  Family group sheets are user-friendly.

Begin filling out the family group sheet starting at the top.  There are spaces to write in who is preparing the sheet, the date, the relationship to preparer, the family unit number and the ancestral chart number.  Family group sheets are easy to use and self-explanatory in most cases.

Next, fill in the husband’s vital statistics: the day, month along with the year he was born, the city, county, and state/country where he was born.  Included are fields for his occupation, religion, if he was christened, when he was married, died and buried, the cemetery, if he had a will and the cause of his death.   Beneath his information is where you fill in his father’s and mother’s names.

Below the husband’s information will be the wife and her vital statistics and fields for her other information.  Be sure to include the wife’s maiden name if known.  Also, write down the wife’s mother’s maiden name in the appropriate space.

After you have finished the wife’s information, you will start filling in their children’s vitals.  There is space for twelve children. If there are more than twelve children, use another family group sheet. 

Family Group Sheets, as well as other genealogy records can be accessed at these websites for free:,, or

As you search for your family roots, I hope you enjoy the journey. 



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rural Country Correspondents in Southwest Missouri

Country Correspondents in Rural Southwest Missouri
By Karen Utter Jennings
In the good old days when newspapers were young, editors relied on country correspondents to report the news from the rural areas. Country correspondents, also called community correspondents, lived in small communities in our counties and gathered local news of their area for the newspaper. They took their written news to the newspaper office themselves or sent it via someone else making the trip to town.  

Rural life in the hills and hollows was brimming with news of people working, births, deaths, accidents and socializing.  However, getting that news to the newspapers meant using correspondents. There were no telephones and the mail system was not reliable to deliver the mail in a timely manner.  Many times, the mail hack was late due to high water when trying to ford a creek, or while encountering other difficulties.

Many people scoffed at community news, comparing it to gossipy rubbish. At the same time, people clamored to read the latest news reported in their community column. Correspondents were made fun of, but they eventually earned the respect they deserved.  People cared about their neighbors and were hungry for news. As time went by, newspaper subscriptions were a great need in the community.

My late mother-in-law, Veta Jennings, was a correspondent for The Neosho Daily Democrat in 1949 during her senior year at Neosho High School in Neosho, Missouri. She wrote news for the Schmolke Hill Community located north of Neosho. She told us she received a “little bit” of money for each column she wrote. When I asked her what a “little bit” was, she said it was fifty cents.

Veta’s columns are preserved on microfilm at our Neosho, Missouri library and I printed them for her before she passed away. From one of her columns, we learned that in July 1949, her parents, Lawrence and Neoma Fikes, bought a new car. In another column, she told of going to a Saturday night movie in Neosho with her future husband, Leroy Jennings, and a pal of theirs. That added interesting details to our growing Jennings family tree!

Many of the old-time country correspondents wrote weekly columns about their community for 20 years or more.  I have found much of my family information recorded in the Neosho Newspapers on microfilm. James Reed’s transcriptions from his inherited Pineville, Missouri, newspapers are another source where I have found bits and pieces of family information to add to my Utter family history.   

When I search the newspapers on microfilm, I always look for news from Rocky Comfort, Missouri. It is there that I have found social history about my late grandfather, Perry Utter. From the newspapers, I have learned that Perry was involved in the Masonic Lodge at Wheaton Missouri, he led the Methodist Men’s Club at Rocky Comfort Missouri Methodist Church, and he coached his sons’ softball teams when they were on town teams.

I also learned that my great, grandmother, Ollie Brier of Rocky Comfort, sold parakeets for one dollar each and during the summer of 1957, she and her husband, Bill Brier, bought a new yellow Plymouth sedan vehicle. There is so much more that I have learned about my families, all because the country correspondents reported the news of the day.

Of course, using the newspapers on microfilm does eat up time. I have spent hours reading and searching. If you use the newspapers on microfilm, gather a notebook and pen or pencil and have dates available so you can go to that particular date in the newspaper and begin your search, rather than having to search the entire paper. 

As the newspaper industry has advanced, today’s editors differ in opinion about country correspondents.  Remember to search the old newspapers on microfilm for country correspondents’ news of the day when you want to add meat to the bones of your family history. I am thankful to the men and women who reported the news in the little towns of our country.

Modern Woodmen of America Organization

By Karen Utter Jennings

Many of my Utter ancestors are buried at the Owsley Union Cemetery, located south of Longview and north of Powell on 76 Highway in McDonald County, Missouri. One day while there, I noticed a unique headstone for Walter E. Utter, a son of my great, great-grandfather, David Jefferson Utter. Walter died two days before Christmas in 1908 from pneumonia.   

Walter’s headstone is a rectangular smooth piece of gray stone that sets on a large base.  It measures five feet tall. Walter’s date of birth and date of death is on the front of the stone. An inscription reads, “left a wife and five children.” At the top of the rectangle on both sides, are engraved upside-down lilies. Four large engraved stone logs are stacked on top of the headstone.   Beneath the lilies and logs is a large square emblem marked with a shield, an ax, and an aul, with the letters M, W, and A. 

I had no idea what Walter’s headstone represented. But, I noticed other ornate headstones in the cemetery that resembled his. They mark the graves of Jerry H.Clapper and Lee R. Owsley. Owsley’s stone resembles a tree trunk with the same emblem, but his states “Erected by the Woodmen of the World.”  From that, I had the information I needed to do research. 

Joseph Cullen Root started the Modern Woodmen of America around 1883 for honoring the pioneer woodsmen who cleared the land for developing our roads, communities, and building homes. Modern Woodmen of America, also known as the Woodmen of the World, began as a fraternal benefit society that protected families and their financial futures by offering insurance protection. In the early days, certificates provided a death and a monument benefit to its members, furnishing free gravestones when they died. Eventually the elaborate gravestones became obsolete due to the cost of materials and cemetery regulations.    

Originally, all of the Woodmen’s gravestones were to be identical in size and design, but the result varied across the nation as local stonecutters used a wide variety of designs. What evolved are beautiful, elaborate, and precious works of art marking woodmen’s graves. There is the answer to the question of why all of the headstones are different, except for the Society’s emblem. 

Woodmen’s gravestones are scattered across the nation and is a fascination for many people who want to document the elaborate stones found in cemeteries. The USGenWeb Archive Project does have some photos of gravestones in our area, but not of the Owsley Union Cemetery. You can access the website at USGenWeb Project to see the photos.  

Cynthia Ann Utter, my great, great-grandfather’s sister, married Lewis Fulweiler Houser. They lived in the Rocky Comfort, Missouri, area all of their married lives. Lewis Houser is distinguished as being a charter member of the local Modern Woodmen of America in Rocky Comfort. I have a picture of the Rocky Comfort Citizen’s Bank building. Banking was done on the lower level, while the Modern Woodmen met in the upper level of the building.

After finding the interesting Woodmen headstones in cemeteries, I watch find more when I’m out visiting cemeteries. As of this writing, I have seen many Woodmen stones dispersed throughout our Missouri counties. While using the newspapers on microfilm, I watch for meeting notices of any fraternities.  

I am proud to have Modern Woodmen of America in my family. Finding information like this is thrilling for family history researchers. Do you have Modern Woodmen of America ancestors in your family tree?  If you’re not sure, why not do a little research and see what you can find?
I wish you luck in finding your history ~