Genealogy, history and community was celebrated on Saturday at the Lincoln Cultural Center during the second annual “Our Community, Our Heritage” festival sponsored by the Lincoln County Public Library. Throughout the day, individuals attending the festival were able to take part in workshops offered by area experts. They were able to select from topics such as genealogy DNA, how to use maps to trace and illustrate the lives of ancestors and how to preserve family history such as documents and photographs.
Robert Carpenter, a retired Gaston County principal, now working with the Gaston Historical Society gave a presentation on strategies for locating those ancestors who remain elusive. These people are often non-property owners, females, illegitimate births and persons in trouble with the law. His presentation emphasized standard genealogical sources as well as employing court records, newspapers and private collections.
“These people are all here because they love genealogy,” he said. “They’re inquisitive about their ancestors and their past and want to know how to do these searches and what works best. They want to know a little bit more about themselves too. We are who came forth.”
Carpenter became interested in genealogy when he was in the sixth grade and was given the project of making a family tree.
“What I try to teach is that you take the documentation, compare it to what the stories are and try to figure out what the truth is,” he said. “Sometimes you can never get the complete truth but you can get pretty close if you research all the records and analyze it effectively. What I try to say is don’t judge and don’t be surprised at what you might find. If you’re afraid of what you might find, you need to find another hobby. The biggest problem with our ancestors is that they have something in common with us – they’re human. They’ve made mistakes and they had great successes.”
Another presenter, Catawba Valley Community College professor Richard Eller, the historian-in-residence with the Historical Association of Catawba County, detailed his quest of Daniel Shuler, an individual who came to Hickory in 1886 to start a bank. During the next four years, Shuler transformed the town into a burgeoning commercial center of western North Carolina. Then, as quickly as he came, he was gone but his legacy and the house he built, the Harper House, has remained to this day.
“After his bank went bust, he just went to his house and died but a lot of people say that he faked his own death and that shows up in the paper later,” Eller said. “He’s an incredibly intriguing figure that I’ve been able to figure out from old newspapers. This is why newspapers are so important. They truly are the first draft in history.”
Focusing on newspapers and all they offer was Anne Gometz, who was formerly the reference librarian at the Gaston County Public Library. She taught a workshop on using digitized copies of newspapers, finding things that you could “never find before.”
“Newspapers publish everything you wanted to know about your ancestors and maybe some stuff you didn’t want to know, but it’s interesting,” she said. “Reading an old newspaper is the most addictive thing. You sit down and you’re looking for an obituary and before you know it you’re reading all these news articles that have nothing to do with your family. It’s so interesting to read about how people used to live and what was important to them, and the ads are wonderful.”