Thursday, March 19, 2009

RESEARCH SURPRISES: Making Them Happen

Below is a photograph I took of a page in the Corel family bible. Before I started into genealogy I knew nothing about my dad's grandmother. My dad was raised in Colorado; his dad's mother lived in Kansas City, Missouri and dad had no recollection of ever seeing her. He did not know that her name was Nancy but was called "Nannie." He did not know that she had two husbands, her first, Francois LaHay, died in 1862 and that their two children died shortly thereafter. He did not know that after five years of widowhood she married James S. Dobbins and they had two sons, Robert and Scott (dad's father). I had to research really hard to find out all this information.

It was all done before the advent of computers. Today I'm going to encourage all genealogy researchers to get out from behind their computers and start some letter-writing or some phoning to see if you can make some surprises happen.

After 7 years of researching I had learned about Nannie Corel and in fact had located some Corel relatives that were still living in Lawrence, Kansas, where the Corel family ended up after they left Virginia, settled for a short while in Kansas City, Missouri and when Kansas opened up to settlement moved over into Douglas County. I only knew these living relatives by letter writing, but in 1990 we had a small "reunion" to meet each other. It was at this reunion that Daphne, one of the descendants of Olivia Corel, Nannie's younger sister, brought the old family bible for all to see.

The names of both Nancy and Olivia appear on the lower portion of the bible page, as they were the two youngest of the large and female-heavy Corel family. It was because in those early days genealogists like me had to write letters to communicate with one another that the bible, with all its important family information, came into my awareness.



My father did not have a picture of his grandmother Nancy. Two other Dobbins descendants of his generation - my dad's older sister Dorothy and their only cousin Percy - didn't have a picture either. How is it that I have a copy of it then?

In first getting acquainted with the Lawrence relatives prior to the reunion, they were very excited about what I had learned about the history of the family. They knew the farmland that they lived on had been the original homeplace of the Corels but they knew nothing about them. As I shared information I was finding in my research, they passed it on to other relatives they knew of. One day I received a letter postmarked from El Paso, Texas. I didn't know a soul there, and couldn't figure out who would be writing me from there. When I opened the envelope and took out the letter, a small, very old photograph fell out, and on the back was written "Nannie Dobbins."

The lady who was writing me was a descendant of Olivia Corel, and Olivia, being the youngest child in the Corel family was the inheritor of all the family memorabilia. Gloria, a great-granddaughter of Olivia, was the current keeper of that memorabilia. Her Lawrence relatives had kept her apprised of my research and she knew that the picture she had my "ancestor" should rightly belong to me. To say I was dumbfounded is an understatement. Her contact with me came via letter, not the internet.


The Corels lived through the "Bloody Kansas" period. Nannie's first husband, Francois "Frank" LaHay was the son of Toussaint LaHay. The LaHays were French Canadians living in St. Genevieve, Missouri. When Kansas opened up and a vote was to be taken to see whether it should be admitted as a free or a slave state, Toussaint and his sons, Francois, Antoine and John, moved to Douglas County as southern supporters. The boys were a part of the border ruffians. Of course there were plenty of northern supporters whose activities often mirrored the mayhem caused by the southerns. Toussaint had built the family a very nice house, and in the course of the difficulty it was burned to the ground by the northerners. During this time Nancy married Frank LaHay and there is a family story about her throwing pans at the "soldiers" when they came to destroy the house.

In the course of my beginning research I had made contact with my dad's cousin Percy Dobbins. He mentioned that Karen, one of his daughters had in her possession a Certificate issued by the Territory (not state) of Kansas to Touissant LaHay in 1859 for reimbursement for damage to the LaHay property. Within a week after making contact with him, I received in the mail a copy of the Certificate, shown above.

I think two things are obvious: getting away from the computer to make some personal contacts is an exceptionally productive way to do research, and you will learn a lot about the times your family lived in when you start getting artifacts from that period of time. These things are all out there and available for the searching. In my now more than 24 years of researching I am still finding that people I haven't known in the past know something about my families, and in fact as often as not have something that I didn't even know existed.

I encourage each of you to keep working just as hard as you can on your research by internet, but take an active role in going after the things that will only be available if you push yourself away from the computer part of the time.

2 comments:

Paula Hawk said...

I love that story! :) I mailed a letter to my dad's cousin after he died, hoping to find some information about his family. I was surprised by an email from another cousin who is also into genealogy. The bonus there was that it was her family that Dad lived with until he was 5! She has some great photos of him when he was young.

Been busy researching - the Puckett's are a doozy of a group. Still haven't heard from Sandy, sent three emails to her now. Have you heard from her? I hope that she is OK.

Oh, and yes, your point was received! :)

Amy said...

Hi, thanks for all the hard research you have done, it filled in some of the history on my family. I am a descendant Charles Henri LaHaye in St.Genevieve, Mo. Toussaint LaHay was Charles son. After reading some of your info. I looked in my family history book I received a few years back st the St.Genevieve JOUR DE FETE they were honoring our family that year (La Hay). And sure enough there Francois E. La Hay and Nancy Corel- WOW. I had no idea about that family cemetery or the dam being built,etc. you gave me a lot of info.
If you should for some reason need any info. on the La Hay's you can e-mail me at alahay74@yaoo.com or 636-627-7258
Amy Lynn Lockhart (La Hay)