Out on a Limb June 2003
Locate your ancestors in places only genealogists could love.
Genealogists' quests for their family histories take them to a lot of places less-past-obsessed folks would rather not go. Cemeteries, for instance. Most family historians can't drive past a cemetery without stopping. Sharon Carmack, longtime contributing editor of this magazine and author of the indispensable Your Guide to Cemetery Research (Betterway Books), can actually tell directions based on which way tombstones are facing, just like a compass, and can decipher all those mysterious markings on gravestones. (Some of us think Sharon may spend a wee bit too much time in cemeteries, even for a genealogist …)

Or consider courthouses, which so-called “normal” people associate with standing in line to get licenses issued or renewed, or with putting in an appearance for some part of the legal process. Not exactly fun and games. (“Mommy! Mommy! Can we go down to the courthouse today?” “No, honey, you got to go to the courthouse yesterday, and spend all day waiting in line with Mommy to contest our property-tax assessment. How about going to the zoo instead?”)

For genealogists, though, county courthouses are a dusty nirvana of old records. We love the sort of stuff that most people hate dealing with at the courthouse-paperwork, official documents, deeds-because our ancestors had to do all that stuff, too. Heck, our ancestors probably hated it as much as we do, but their bureaucratic legacy is our gold mine.