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Terryl Lynn Whitaker





Who the hell am I?


A Very Personal Story from the Geneojunkie

Genealogy has been my passion for 42 years.
I began my research the "old" way in 1974 when I was only 14 years old, in a cemetery in Talladega ,Alabama.
We had come from Michigan on vacation.
My Grandpa, Wadie Hampton Townsend took me on this trip to see his birthplace and meet his family.
I now know he also wanted to go home one last time.

On one of the first couple of days there, he decided to stop by the cemetery.
"We wandered among the old headstones.
He stopped in front of a very old looking grave.
"Who's that?", I asked.
"My mother.", he said,solemnly. We stood in silence for a minute or two.
"Well who was HER mother?"
He walked a few more steps.I walked along with him, holding his hand.
"This was my grandmother, Maggie Robbs. And this one over here is my grandfather."
I began putting things together in a child s inquisitive mind. "Well....then who was HER mother?", I asked.
My grandpa laughed.
"I don't know, Doll. We will have to ask around some while were here. Maybe somebody will know."
Nobody knew.

This was when I became The Geneojunkie, scribbling notes from the headstones on the back of an old pantyhose package that I had left in the back seat of the rental car.
In the following years, I spent any free time I had traveling to brick and mortar libraries,postal mailing hand written requests for actual certified copies of birth, marriage and death records, one at a time to town clerks and Vital Records repositories across the country.
Does anyone else remember "Postal Reply Coupons" so that you could get records back from around the world? I've copied written text,by hand for hours on end, scribbling notes in my own form of shorthand until I could not hold a pencil any more.Literally.
Paying for copies of book pages and title pages, maps, and pictures
after remembering to stop and get 15.00-20.00 in change for the coin operated copy machines available in the libraries.
Lets not forget the phone calls to absolute strangers, hundreds of miles away, based on some lead you came across. It was "long distance" back then which racked up your phone bill into the stratosphere.
Find-A-Grave?!
I WAS find-a-grave!
I traveled from cemetery to cemetery, on weekends and vacation time. From Salem, Massachusetts to Mississippi, Alabama, Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah,
St. Louis Cemetery no.1 in New Orleans,Old Granary burying ground in Boston, Massachusetts and many small, out of the way, hidden, old burial grounds in between.
I explored, camera in hand, after stopping to buy extra rolls of film, in search of the one burial place, one headstone and one unverifiable date.
Then we had to take the film in to a photo shop or drug store and pay to have the pictures "developed".
( And actually come back several days later to pick them up.)

THAT, my friend, was primary source documentation!

As technology developed and progressed we delighted in digital cameras, cell phones, “The World Wide Web”. America Online connected us to the world of knowledge,family history, and distant family members at the click of a “mouse”.
Anyone else remember posting on the original Rootsweb mailing lists? Or typing in a surname just to see what would come up?

Then in 1996, Ancestry.com changed Genealogy research forever.
Research in your own living room,in sweatpants and slippers, radio on in the background,coffee in hand, dog at your feet.No filling the car with gas,no blisters on our hands and feet, no paying for copies.
A keyboard, mouse and a "save" option instead of papers scattered all over the floor, walls and bulletin boards.
No more plastic 3 ring binders filled with hand written pedigree charts, family group sheets and hand written census forms
Family Tree Maker took care of that part for us.
Ahhhh! The Genealogy Software age!

Now modern science has given us genetic genealogy.
DNA testing for a mere sum of a hundred bucks!
You can get an actual breakdown of your ethnicity ("pie chart!")and connect with your "DNA matches".
It's an online, genetic, scientifically proven family finder.

Consider this a warning, my genealogically addicted comrades. It's all fun and games until you get past the ethnicity results.
They don't warn you that with one click of a mouse, your life can change forever and your carefully researched and sourced family tree can belong to someone else.
The memory you worked so hard to preserve and honor, of those you loved most in the world, can be ripped from your pages.
That 40 years of research, the hard way, the old way, has been made redundant.
And nothing will ever be the same.

You are not you after all.

My Grandpa, Wadie, died the following year in 1977.
I still have that pantyhose package with the childish scribbled names and dates.

And last week, through DNA and one click of a mouse, I discovered that the man I loved most in the entire world, and the one I knew who loved me, was NOT my biological grandfather after all.

Ps. His grandmother, Margaret Susan Irwin’s parents were John P. Irwin and Rebecca Biddle.

A HUGE THANK YOU to RAY TOWNSEND for doing the DNA test with me!  Love you, Cuz!  (Even if were not related.)


Anyone else have a DNA nightmare to share?

Send me an email.Share your story!

DNA Hell







Terryl Whitaker
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