Tuesday, April 6, 2010


One of my peculiar little “hobbies” is to create an all-name index for books that do not have them. There is very little more irksome for a genealogist than to find a great book, usually a local history book, that may contain some of your ancestors but because it is not indexed you will never know whether or not they are there. Sometimes I think my mission in life is to find and index these books.

For me, indexing is easy, because a) I am a fast typist, having taken my first typing course in 1947, and b) because I have a wonderful indexing program designed by Kamm Schreiner called Sky Index. And I find indexing interesting because I like people and find it great fun to speculate on these people whose names go through my fingers and my brain. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not called upon to put old families together!

When FamilySearch began its indexing program a few years ago, I participated off and on in between my other projects. Now that most of these projects are out of the way, I’ve picked it up again. The first thing I chose to index was the 1910 North Carolina Federal Census. Why North Carolina? Because my cousin left California and retired to a little coastal town named Swansboro. Two years ago I took a trip there and fell in love with what I saw. We went to the outer banks and I was hooked.

It was also then that she told me about the Midgetts – spelled variously Midgettes or Midgets. They were called “surfmen” and populated the area from Currituck Beach southward down past Cape Hatteras and on down to Cape Lookout and Cape Fear. There is a book by Richard L. Chenery called “Old Coast Guard Stations” and in this book Chenery tells that there were once a total of 29 lifeboat stations built along the North Carolina Coast. “Waters offshore were treacherous and this area was called the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic.’ These stations were all equipped with a beach apparatus which would be hauled to site, a line shot across the mast of a stranded ship and a breeches buoy rigged to remove the passengers and crew. If the ship was stranded too far away to be reached, a pulling boat would be launched into the surf and rowed by the surfmen to the wreck in hopes of removing the survivors and returning them to safety ashore.

To keep eyes to the sea to detect a vessel in distress the Coast Guard (and the Life Saving Service before it) used watch towers and beach patrols, men on foot walking the beach. The stations were approximately seven miles apart so the beach pounders would be able to connect up with each other.”

Now I can hear you asking, what on earth does this have to do with indexing?!

When I index handwritten records, such as censuses produce, I try very very hard to make sure I get the surname right. I put myself in the place of the person using that index. They know what the name should be. The indexer doesn’t have that knowledge and sometimes it is near impossible to come up with the correct name. My Chester Stevens has been indexed in the 1880 Kansas census as “Jheotes Stephens” and no amount of begging and pleading with the powers that be have effected a correction. So when I tackle a difficult name, I’m ready to do my darndest to figure out what it is supposed to be.

I chose North Carolina to index because I know absolutely nothing about the state except for a little bit of history along the coastline that my cousin told me about. And for me, that was a good enough reason. When I pulled the first page up on the computer, it looked like indexing it would be a snap, so I set my fingers flying.

About ten lines down I came to a dead stop. I found a name whose letters intertwined with those above it and it made one big mess out of the surname. I studied it for a bit, traced the letters in the air, and then on the screen, maximized the page to 150%, and all of a sudden a light bulb came on. Sure enough, it was a Midgette! A true North Carolina Midgette. I checked in my Atlas to see where Dare County was – and sure enough it was on the coast. If it had been somewhere near Asheville I would have questioned whether or not this really was “Midgette” but in Dare county, of course it was.

I finished up the page and signed out of the program. Later that evening I began thinking about the Midgetts again. My Swansboro cousin posts photographs from North Carolina cemeteries on Find-a-Grave so a ran a check on that program for Midgetts. If you find a Midgett in a coastal cemetery you’ll probably find that she took the picture.

More on the Midgettes tomorrow.

1 comment:

Sherry Thoman said...

Also Midyett was another spelling...I am a descendant, originally from Snead's Ferry, NC