As a girl, I was infatuated with Laura Ingalls Wilder. My favorite TV show? “Little House on the Prairie.” The local library couldn’t keep Wilder’s Little House books on the shelf — I borrowed them over and over.
I distinctly recall devouring Wilder’s tales of grasshopper plagues and blizzards on hot summer nights of my youth. I found the idea of traversing the country in a covered wagon and living on the prairie a little romantic, in part because I couldn’t fully appreciate its hardships. After all, I was reading the books while camped out on the floor of my parents’ air-conditioned bedroom.
Since that time, I’ve come to understand two important facts:
1. If not for the invention of the microwave oven, I might not have survived to adulthood.
2. I’m lucky to have pioneer ancestors who were hardier than I am.
My Stacy forebears settled in Ohio when it was still the frontier, as did my Railey ancestors in Kentucky. Thank goodness their idea of “roughing it” didn’t involve having to navigate from point A to point B without Google Maps due to spotty phone service. (I clearly inherited my lousy sense of direction from a different family line.)
As my roots attest, pioneer ancestry goes well beyond Oregon Trail wagon trains and Laura Ingalls Wilder: If you have kin who braved America’s backwoods, prairies and mountains before those areas were fully settled, you have pioneer heritage.
1. Search tax records for pioneer ancestors who eluded other types of record keeping. Great-great-grandpa might have avoided the census taker, but not the tax man.
2. Use more than one genealogy software program so you can take advantage of each one’s unique benefits.
3. Check the FamilySearch catalog for microfilmed court records that could shed light on family secrets.