06 January 2018

The First Time

#52Ancestors 2018-01-06
By Myra Vanderpool Gormley (c)

Like all firsts of life — kiss, love, flight, or whatever, finding my maternal grandma in the census sticks in my memory, because there is nothing like the thrill of the first time.

Having waded into the waters of genealogical research with a minimum of preparation from a few “how-to” books I’d read about the process, I understood that the U.S. censuses were invaluable and that I would need to find my ancestors in those records in order to continue this personal journey into the past. The nearest National Archives was in Seattle and I learned it held all the U.S. censuses — on microfilm Seattle was only 30 miles away, but I worked full time at the newspaper and finding time to pursue my new hobby was a major problem. A co-worker told me that there was a library nearby
— a branch of the famous genealogical library in Salt Lake City — where I could order the census records I needed and go there to read them on microfilm. A perfect solution because that library was only a couple miles from my home. Best of all, it was open evenings and on my day off.

One day on my way home from work I stopped by the Family History Center and explained to the nice gentleman volunteer about my quest. He helped me find the film number I needed and I filled out the form and paid the 85 cents for postage. He assured me someone would call when the film arrived.

At last it arrived and I was raring to go. The library volunteer showed me where the “ordered” film was kept and then took me to a reader and gave me basic instructions on how to thread the film, adjust the magnification and crank the handle forward and backward. It’s easy, I thought. I began to scroll through the names until I found her.
Ida M. Hensley, age 1 — the baby of the family. There were her parents, her two older brothers and her sister — just as grandma had told me. I scribbled all the information about them including ages and states of birth onto the census form, plus the enumeration information, including dwelling, family and page numbers.
It was then I realized my hands were sweaty and I was breathing fast. I was on an endorphin high.

I couldn’t remember which drawer to return the film to, so I had to ask the librarian. I also informed her I wanted to order the 1890 census for that locality.

“The 1890 census was burned,” she told me.

Oh, no. My first obstruction, and I had just begun.

It was lucky for me that my grandma’s memory was so precise because I had not used the Soundex to find her, but had gone directly to the Etowah County, Alabama enumeration. However, like many novices before and since me, I had been so focused on finding grandma that I had not paid any attention to others on that page. If I had, I would have found her grandparents and one of her father’s brothers and his family. That would have saved me time and money because I had to re-order that same census again. I would learn.

After all, it was my first time.

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