Passion, obsession, or addiction? I am not sure, maybe all of these, but within each and every one of us lowly homo sapiens, I am told, are “triggers” , or instinctive behaviors, so perhaps that is my excuse, genealogical pursuit is programmed into my very genes.
For whatever reasons it happens, (most people like to know about where they came from), it happened to me, and the desire to always “know more” became second nature.
When genealogy, and it’s companion, history, witnessed my personal awaking was at a young age. We had a new teacher in the small country school I attended that was herself an Orcutt descendant and she had an Orcutt book, and after she learned there were Orcutt children in the new school she had came to teach at she brought her Orcutt book to school and let us read it. The book was Mrs Helen Judson’s Genealogy of John Orcutt, and although we didn’t know any of the people in the book, or how they might connect with us, I was none the less intrigued by the information about William Orcutt. I committed much of the first part of the book to my memory, and even made some notes, as I had by then determined to write my own book about my Orcutt family. I went home and asked my mother about the names in our huge Family Bible, names I had seen on occasions, but had previously not given much thought to. The names she had went back as far as my grandfather Orcutt’s grandparents. I wrote the names and dates on a piece of paper, and my book had began, but, as perhaps all too typical of boys in the fourth grade, (and with no earthly understanding of how to proceed from there), I set it all aside after just a few days.
Time passes fast when you are busy being a boy, and although still technically a boy, I was very near manhood when next I considered anything about genealogy. I was by that time a junior in high school, and received an assignment in history class to make a chart of my ancestors. I guess most high school students know well enough back to at least their own grandparents, but my chart, thanks to my early study of our Family Bible, went all the way back to my great great grandparents, including the dates they were born and died. After having turned the assignment in the teacher approached me and asked if the information was factual, or simply names and dates I had made up. I assured her that it was all straight out of the Bible. 🙂
My interest in genealogy was again awakened, and I thought about the book I was planning to write, but once again, being still a boy, (albeit on the very threshold of manhood), of course there were many other important things on my mind.
Life moves pretty quick some times, and I finished high school, got married, and had a son all in one year, (not necessarily in that exact order), so the nose was there-after firmly affixed to the grindstone. A couple of years more went by, then one Sunday I drove to visit my grandfather’s grave as it was near the place we were then living. I came back home thinking that I wished I had known him better, (he died when I was 7 years old), and questions I had he surely could have answered, if only they had been asked. I wanted to learn more about him, and his parents, and their parents, and I wanted to know how I connected with William, the first Orcutt. Although I had scantly any more idea how to go about doing that than when I was ten years old, I was none-the-less then fully determined to do it.
It should be kept in mind that this was the late 1970’s, and the internet, family forums, and Face Book groups were not only unheard of, but for most of us quite unimaginable. The only genealogy type forum I personally knew about was a small section in True West magazine titled “Trails Grown Dim”, where people asked other readers help in locating long lost, and often dead relatives. I got pen in hand, formulated a query, promptly sealed and affixed the stamp, and got it off in the mail. My expectation was that I would soon receive a deluge of enlightening mail, and I vowed to myself no matter how many came I would dutifully answer every one.
I gave up checking the mail box twice daily for the deluge I knew was coming after several months of no reply, but then, very near Christmas I got a solitary card in the mail in response from a Mr. Sherwood Orcutt, and inside the card he had jotted a few lines about his Orcutt ancestry, which included a connection to Lucille Ball, but he regretfully had no information about his own Orcutts past several generations, and couldn’t help me there. Years later, via the internet, I met online another Orcutt researcher named Tom Orcutt, from New York, and after initial contact and his telling me about his Orcutts I wrote him back and told him the first Orcutt I ever had contact with, Sherwood Orcutt, was from that same line. It turned out Sherwood was Tom’s uncle. Tom and I became fast friends and fellow researchers along with some others, cousin Julie Edmond Jones, cousin Susan Orcutt Langus, a bright young man named Matthew Getz, and a veritable host of other fellow Orcutt researchers that got down into the trenches wading through actual records to make sense of how we all related.
In 1979 that was all still a long way out.
Sherwood Orcutt’s card to me was not without reward, as in later correspondence he asked me if I had advertised in Everton’s Genealogical Helper. I didn’t even know what that was. It should be pointed out here we had no Library in the small somewhat remote farming town I lived in, and even if we had I doubt I could have gotten off work to go to a Library during it’s open hours.
I wrote Genealogical Helper about running an ad, and they sent me a copy of their latest edition, and the door was opened. I soon learned about the American Genealogical Lending Library, and the fact I could rent microfilm, so I obtained a catalog from them and made my first wish list. The problem was how was I going to be able to view the film? I was advised to find a local library or church that would let me use their equipment. Some of those places would actually get the films for you. Again, this just wasn’t going to work for me in a wheat farming town in Western Oklahoma, so I decided I would buy my own microfilm reader.
Microfilm readers for personal use was not a wholly common thing at that time, and the ones I was able to find for sale were well beyond what I could pay, but still, I kept my eyes open, and sure enough while reading the classified “for sale” in the Oklahoma City Sunday paper I spotted the tiniest ad that read simply “microfilm reading machine for sale”, and a phone number. I called the person and they said they would take $20.00 for the machine, and they thought it might be military surplus, but beyond that knew nothing else about it other than the light lit up when it was plugged in. It was enough for me, as I knew that if it was all there as they had stated, if anything wasn’t working, I could make it work. I became the proud owner of a hand cranked reel to reel reader that looked as if it had been invented in anticipation of there someday being such a thing as microfilm. But, wonders of wonders, it worked fine, and I started to receive microfilm through the mail .
By this time I had also made contact with some other Orcutt genealogist, although none knew anything about my “line”, but, I did receive some general census index for various years and states, and always there was passed along yet another name or two of other “contacts” that might be able to help. I was sort of unloaded this way for a while , (through no fault of the persons I had written), from person to person, until I was given the name of an Orcutt born lady in, of all places, Washington State. Gen Orcutt Tissot, taking mercy on me no doubt, took me under her wing. Advice and guidance was what I was lacking most in, but thanks to Gen suffering through my failures, and encouraging me ever onward, I was able to eventually learn how to find what I was looking for, and to connect with other researchers that were my line.
As has been pointed out, this all preceded home computers and the internet. Aside from driving and inventorying cemeteries, everything I did moved by snail mail. The letters took time, especially as my typewriter was an recycled ancient Underwood someone had once thrown away. Anyone remember White Out? The big deal for most of us back then was the day we got possession of an electric typewriter. I learned to use onion skin paper as it weighed less, thus might not push many paged letters into the dreaded extra postage realm. All of us that exchanged many letters with some particular person could recognize their type writing by what letters were flawed, or didn’t strike the page as hard as the others. Later, something called a word processor was the next big thing, but I was pleased with my electric typewriter I manged to finally obtain, and I stuck with that until we got home computers.
Copies could be obtained by bothering the few people that had access to a copy machine in the local business where they worked, but most couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do over a few pages at a time. In time, remembering my luck with the microfilm reader, I was able to buy one of the old fluid type copiers cheap. It literally stank, and sometimes the pages were finished a bit oily, but it made (mostly) legible copies.
To say progress was plodding at times is an understatement, but then when some information was found and duly exploited for all it was then worth, progress was indeed accomplished, and all the sweeter for the effort, I believe. By the mid 1980’s we had even developed a fairly good little mail network for our line, and everyone of course shared everything they found.
By 1993 I thought I was ready with my Orcutt book, but when the internet came I believed it would be advantageous to wait a bit longer and see what additional information I might be able to add. It was a good call, as I was able to connect with Orcutt cousins who graciously added much more good content.
It was obvious from the start the internet was going to change the very way genealogy was to be accomplished, and thus came the message boards, chat rooms, and genealogy.com, genforum, and Ancestry. The old microfilm reader finally saw it’s last reel, as soon as census records were available online.
Nearly 40 years after I had first gotten the idea for my own Orcutt book I finally published it. Having done the first, and with the access to the internet, more family books followed in the next few years . Perhaps there will be more, at least one more for certain! Publishing the books has not curbed my nature to “know more”, and records and topics abound. Passion, obsession, or addiction? I imagine it’s all.