Finding Grandpa…

After finding the Alford register, mentioned in my last post, I plugged in all the information into my tree on Ancestry. From that point, it was all about trying to locate the records to prove their relationships to each other.  I found census records, social security death indexes, and public records. These are all good records as long as you know who you’re looking for and some details.

During this time, I visited my uncle John who lived in the house that my grandparent’s built before my mother was born (she was older than him).  When my mother passed away in 1988, most of our things were stored in a shed along with some of my grandparent’s things.  I found some neat things from my younger years like toys and some of my grandparent’s things, but it was cut short when a snake came slithering out and touching my foot with its tongue.  I have no clue what kind it was, whether it was venomous or not but I screamed and jumped so high off the ground backward that the dogs ran barking in the opposite direction!

A friend of my uncles was there that day helping with some repairs and as we stood on the back porch, he stated that he had seen a bunch of papers with names on it.  He pointed me in the direction of the area he had seen them long ago.  I looked into the old curio cabinet and viola, there they were.

In my last post, I talked about how my love for cemeteries was passed along to me from my grandparents and mother.  Now I find that the love and curiosity of our family history were passed down to me as well.  There were all kinds of papers; family group sheets, letters from others searching for or updating with information.  Most of the papers had confirmed the ancestors that were found in the Kinfolks book volumes.  My grandparent’s marriage license was in there as well.  It was brittle and torn but still legible.

Letter from James
A letter that was sent to my grandmother along with family group sheets

As I started to plunder, I found a small metal trunk and some suitcases in a side room.  In these were lots of pictures and family things like drawings, family letters, old glasses and etc.  I even found an old Holiday movie camera with film still inside.  I once showed it to someone and they opened it!  Now I’m afraid whatever is in there has been exposed and is no longer good.  No, I haven’t taken it anywhere to have it developed but I have been looking into an 8mm film converter.

Some of the items brought memories from when I was younger before any of them had passed away.  There are so many pictures of people which I have no clue who they are, like the one of a boy with horse and carriage that you see at the top/beginning of this post.  Some pictures were of people I had never met but know who they are now because someone had written their names on the back or wherever possible.  One of those being my great-great-grandfather, Malcolm Elias Alford.  He was my grandmother’s grandfather.

Malcolm E Alford Picture

Most of what’s been mentioned so far has been for my mother’s maternal line (my grandmother). I began to see a little of my mother’s paternal side (my grandfather) as I dug through all the records I’d found at my uncles.  One of such was a small old copy of my maternal grandfather’s birth certificate showing his birthplace as McLouth, Kansas, USA.  How about that, my dad was right!

SCAN0139 (2)

Taking the parent information from the birth certificate, I was able to find a 1930 United States Federal Census with my grandfather listed along with his parents and siblings.  Using that and working back, I was able to trace the family to Virginia.  From there, my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Alfred McPherson, moved his family to Kansas.  From Kansas, my great-grandfather John Emery McPherson moved his family to Wyoming in the 1930’s.

Among all the items I’d found at my uncle’s was a box that contained some of my grandfather’s documents.  In it was a divorce decree for my grandfather from a previous wife and it mentioned a son.  Now to go down a little memory lane, I had inquired of my mom when I was younger about where my name came from.   She told me that my grandfather was the one that came up with my first name, Karie.  You may be wondering why I am telling you this; well, the son’s name mentioned in the divorce decree was listed as Cary.

I have to assume that my grandfather had no major contact with him after the divorce.  My grandfather’s ex-wife eventually remarried and his son, Cary, had taken on the surname of his step-father.  Was my mother aware of this half-brother and his name at the time they chose my name?  Did my grandfather want my name to be the same as his son’s because in some way it allowed him to keep him close to him?  Did my mother ever meet or speak with him?- I will never know the answer to these questions or others I may have.  Anyone who would know the answers is long gone.  My uncle John recently passed away this year. I kept up with him but not as I should have.  I could’ve done better and so could he.  Unfortunately, we didn’t and I never really asked him any more questions about our family past. I use to feel guilty or intrusive when asking questions of families, sometimes even now.

In 2006, I tried locating my great-uncle, Lindy (my grandfather’s brother).  I had last seen him and his wife when I was around 9 or 10, maybe younger.  I remembered as a young child thinking that my great-uncle and aunt both had feminine names.  Unfortunately, I found his obituary from 2001.  I was heartbroken, not because I wouldn’t be able to ask him any questions but because I immediately felt guilty I had started my research too late in life.  In the obituary, it mentioned his wife.  I wanted to get to know her and my great-uncle more.  My memories are only from when they visited years ago so naturally, I began to search for my great-aunt.  There on my computer screen, I saw a phone number for her listed as living in Wyoming.  This had to be her right?! Well yes, yes it was!!

I called her and we talked for quite a long time.  By the end of the call, she said she would send me some pictures.  A little while later, I received a package with pictures of both of my great-grandparents and their families!  She also sent me some more current pictures of her and uncle Lindy’s family along with newspaper clippings.  I was in genealogy heaven!  She had asked for me to come out and visit her some time.  I was afraid to fly plus I just couldn’t afford it at the time.  It was a long time before we were in contact again. Below are pictures of my great-grandparents.  The first one is of my great-grandfather, John Emery.  He is in the middle on the front row.  The second is of my great-grandmother, Bessie and great-great-grandparents, Thomas Shepherd and Mary Currell.  Bessie is on the back row far right.

In 2007, I reached out to a volunteer I found on a website, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, who would do research in Wyoming for me.  Oh the things she would find for me is amazing!  I also became a volunteer for my area at the time.  The founder of the site passed away and the site was down for a few years.  I reached out to the owner a couple of times, which was the husband and offered to buy the domain from him.  I never received a response.  A few years back, it was up and running again.

Through this volunteer, I was able to learn that my great-grandfather, John Emery McPherson, was killed by a train as he crossed the railroad tracks coming home from work.  The track was right outside their home.  My great-grandmother was preparing supper when it happened.  There was also an accident insurance ad about how much my great-grandmother was paid at the time of his death, $1,050 with the “All-Coverage” accident insurance benefit.  She sent me this ad along with a transcription of his obituary.

 She also sent me pictures of the house and the tracks that she had taken for me.  Below are the pictures she had taken and sent to me in 2007 and the second row are pictures I had taken from my visit in 2016.  It was a surreal moment for me when I received her pictures and especially in 2016 when I saw it up close and stood on the very spot he died.  He was a ditchrider and therefore the home was provided to him as a “ditchriders” house.  Once he passed away, my great-grandmother had to move and the new ditchrider moved in.

Lessons I learned from this: never be afraid to ask questions, never second-guess as to whether you should reach out or not, always be courteous to those providing information.  You never know what you will find out.  Make that phone call and ask the questions!  Your family history is there, you just have to ask.

I realized if I didn’t start talking to my relatives, asking questions, thinking back to my own beginnings, there would come a time when those people wouldn’t be around to help me look back and remember.

Jacqueline Woodson 


  1. That was a great story. Just asking how does one go looking for someone, by their maiden name, Hazel Zumwalt, had a baby girl 11/22/62, inGrangeville hospital, the mother would be in late 60s early 70s?!?

    1. karielw76 says:

      That’s a great question! Best place might be newspapers. If you know her parents’ names, you could search them in the newspapers to see if there are any engagement or wedding announcements that list Hazel and her spouse/fiance.

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