I've been an active family researcher since the mid-1960s, when I was in college, so I had the opportunity to interview and annoy my three surviving grandparents and a number of great-aunts and uncles. I was on the professional staff of the Dallas Public Library for more than thirty years, the last twenty years as the system's History Specialist, and the last few years as the Head Archivist. My duties overlapped considerably into the Library's Genealogy Section and Local History Division, and I spent a good deal of time teaching genealogy research methods to patrons and also compiling finding guides for source materials in the Library's archives. Along the way, I picked up a second master's degree, my thesis being based on a prosopographical analysis of several censuses in counties along the Red River in north central Texas. In the early 1990s, I was one of the assistant sysops on the old Roots Forum run by Dick Eastman on CompuServe, and there I also was recruited by Bob Velke as part of the original design and testing team for The Master Genealogist. (The software unfortunately bit the dust in mid-2014 after some 20 years of success among serious researchers.)
I retired in the late 1990s and moved to south Louisiana, where I now live. From 2000 to Spring 2010, I was the Editor of the Louisiana Genealogical Register, the publication of the Louisiana Genealogical & Historical Society. (Ten years is long enough to do anything.) I started on the Certified Genealogist quest at least twice over the years, but Real Life® kept getting in the way, so I finally threw up my hands. However, I've published a couple of books (yes, I'm in the Library of Congress catalog) and a number of genealogical articles, so with that and the journal-editing I guess I'm as "professional" as I need to be.
My wife, Judy, appears on this site as User:Jlanoux; click on her Contributions List to see what she's been up to. (She and I actually became acquainted through genealogy and she's the reason I ended up in Louisiana.) She's about 80% Acadian and other early Louisiana colonial, but with a few "odd" Quaker and other Midwestern lines that overlap in unexpected ways with my own. While I have necessarily become reasonably knowledgeable about Louisiana history and family studies, my own family's background is basically:
Plus, I have a few lines that came in through colonial Philadelphia, a line of Irish railroad workers, and some fugitive Huguenots. My mother's family descends in part from the Hatfields of Virginia, Tennessee, and Indiana (close kin to the feuding branch of the family). I also have direct ancestors who took part in every American military conflict from King Philip's War to Vietnam, so I am perhaps more familiar than most with military records and related sources. In this connection, I have qualified myself for a number of lineage societies, and I've also prepared society applications for several friends and family members. And I've written several dozen articles (mostly in history) at Wikipedia, so I know my way around wikis in general.
I have some 8,000 individuals in my main TMG database, most of them descendants of collateral lines. I'm always hoping to make contact with a present-day descendant of one of those lines, . . . a descendant who might have inherited a family Bible or a stack of letters I haven't seen. Probably 90% of those individuals have some kind of documentation (and I don't mean just World Family Tree) or they wouldn't be in there. I frankly don't approve of "name-collecting." It's like collecting baseball cards instead of playing baseball, and it doesn't help other researchers at all. When you're at a large genealogical research library, and you hear a muffled "WHOOP!" from the row of microfilm readers, you have to grin because you know someone else gets it. Rooting through courthouse files, cranking microfilm, walking up and down the rows in a cemetery -- that's where the fun is! (Yes, I know: Most of us crank through the census at Ancestry these days, from the comfort of the sofa. But still.)
All that being the case, rather than uploading a gargantuan GEDCOM file to WeRelate, I began by creating a much more limited series of groups of pages (mostly hand-crafted, as a matter of control) on those specific lines and individuals I'm actively researching -- most of whom have significant "brick walls" and other problems about which I hope some of you may have information, or at least suggestions and insights.
Just for Fun
I also have uploaded a number of GEDCOMs now that have no direct relation to me personally. These consist of a few score or a few hundred folks who are simply of interest: Huguenot immigrants. The descendants of Christopher Columbus. The family of Wyatt Earp. Neighbors of my ancestors on the Pennsylvania and Kentucky frontier. The subjects of certain articles of particular interest in NGS Quarterly. Some of the colonial Dutch. Certain titled families in the British peerage. Whoever interests me, really.
Good Guys & Bad Guys
Just for the heck of it, having uploaded a bunch of stuff on the Earp family and their associates, I've lately been digging out family data on and building pages for a number of noted lawmen, Bad Guys, "Equivocal Guys" (like Hickock, Horn, & Thompson) in Western history, and in a few cases building on existing skeletal pages. I should add that I'm not related to any of these people (my family will be relieved to know . . .).
. . . and not to forget the "hangin' judge":
. . . or the most feared & hatred guerilla of the Civil War, who is either a Very Bad Guy or a Semi-Good Guy, depending on which side your family was on:
And, of course:
These are the people for whom some documented information actually does exist, and I have tried to extend their lineage as far back as possible (most of them came from ordinary families) and up to the present, if they had recorded descendants. Although, by the nature of their trade, there really isn't much out there that can be verified for most 19th-century outlaws.
Claiborne Dynasty & Associated Families
For those who are interested in the power dynamics of political dynasties, I have recently added pages for about 500 members of the extended Claiborne family, which begins with Thomas Claiborne, a well-to-do merchant of King's Lynn, Norfolk, who died in 1581. His numerous American descendants include his grandson, Col. William Claiborne, who arrived at Jamestown in 1621 as Surveyor for the Virginia colony and was subsequently Secretary of State for Virginia. Then there's William C. C. Claiborne (governor of Mississippi Territory, Louisiana Territory, and the State of Louisiana), a number of members of Congress (including Lindy Claiborne Boggs, Congressman Herbert Pell, Jr. of New York and his son, Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island), a bunch of Virginia burgesses, a raft of governors and state legislators of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania, any number of state and federal judges, and members of high society from several states over the past 350 years. The group also includes the Latrobe family, descendants of Benjamin Latrobe (designer of the U.S. Capitol, among many other things), whose son married a Claiborne. There's even Vice-President George Mifflin Dallas, by marriage (whose page I haven't worked on yet). Also, the group includes the late Craig Claiborne, one of the "Big Three" of modern American cooking and eating, and Liz Claiborne, fashion designer and self-made multi-millionaire. Even those branches of the family who wandered off to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and West Texas seem to have done pretty well for themselves. Fascinating.
Other Famous Families
Other American families have become "dynastic" in a political and social sense and I enjoy tracking them, too. They tend to have far more influence per capita than most of us, and the reasons behind that interest me. I like to see what the background of each family's most famous members was -- did they spring out of nowhere or were they born with advantages? -- and what happened to their various descendant lines. So, far, I've worked on the family of Civil War Gen. Richard Gano of Kentucky and Dallas, who turns out to be connected to several other Texas generals and politicians, plus Howard Hughes and the Rice family of Houston. And there's Anson Jones, last President of the the Republic of Texas, whose life wasn't entirely a happy one. And Commodore Joshua Barney, hero of the War of 1812, many of whose descendants continued in the military or in other areas of government service. Another line filled with military men, elected officeholders, noted lawyers, and physicians, is that of Maj. Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, hero of the Texas Revolution and possibly the greatest military leader the Confederacy had, until he was cut down at Shiloh.
First Families of Louisiana
The Louisiana Genealogical & Historical Society also sponsors the First Families of Louisiana program, the first requirement of which is residence within the present-day boundaries of Louisiana (i.e., including the Florida Parishes) before the raising of the U.S. flag at New Orleans in December 1803. We have a couple hundred successful applicants now and WeRelate seemed like the obvious place to lay out the lineages for general use, so I've begun constructing pages for those ancestors. (It's going slowly, for various reasons, but it's happening.) Take a look at the project page.
Old Red River County, Texas
As noted above, I have a deep and longstanding interest in Old Red River County, Texas -- a very early-settled neighborhood (ten years before Stephen F. Austin got to Texas) and much larger back then than it is now (the "mother county" of all or part of thirty-nine present-day counties). It also overlaps into the history of Old Miller County, Arkansas, since the earliest settlers seemed to regard themselves as residents of both American Arkansas and Mexican Texas, depending on circumstances (and who was granting land and levying taxes). It was the focus of my own master's thesis, so I have access to a great many resources on Old Red River -- in fact, I own copies of probably 90% of all the books, journal articles, & government documents every published on that place. It finally occurred to me that I should start organizing that vast material and getting it uploaded to WeRelate, so I've begun work on that, too. Take a look at the Red River Project.
--Michael K. Smith