Her Family Hisotry Led to New Business
Sarah Crabtree Lawn is a professional genealogist who makes her living helping people trace their families.
She’d been checking family ties for at least 20 years, started by becoming the keeper of records for her own family. Now she’s set up shop in Robbins as Lawn’s Genealogy and Research, and online (www.ncresearcher1.com) as well.
“I’d done it for years,” Lawn said. “It was always fun to go way back up in Rocking-ham and Guilford counties, where my mother’s family — the Yanceys and the Goolsbys — were from. It just sort of fell into place to help other people looking for their own roots. I’d never thought about charging, but why not? It’s working well. As the economy improves, I expect my business will grow.”
The job means going to cemeteries to check headstones, talking to customers’ older relatives, digging into federal, state and church records.
“We always call it digging up roots,” she said. “That’s what it is, going back to see who family members were — and are — what lines we are related to that we didn’t even know we were related to.
“In my case I found out that the Seawells, a family I’d known all my life, growing up in Carthage, were actually relatives of mine. That link connected us back to one of the first families of North Carolina.”
Other exciting finds were discoveries she made for customers.
“I just proved for a client that the grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, also named Thomas Jefferson, was in her own family line,” she said. “Now I am working for a pilot out of San Antonio, Texas, to see whether I can link Joel McLendon to his family line. His name is Kirk, and I am working to prove that his family was connected to McLendon, working to find that connection if it exists.”
The search involves libraries, archives, state resources in Raleigh, public libraries in other states. She said that the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, Ind., has one of the largest repositories of genealogical data in this country.
“It is as big as 17 football fields,” she said.
Another big source is in Salt Lake City and is operated by the Mormon Church. It is called the Family History Center.
“I have been to Fort Wayne,” she said. “I have not been out to Salt Lake City.”
Not everything is online, and Lawn said that many things on the Internet are of doubtful accuracy.
“Unless information meets a ‘genealogical proof standard’ — a ‘GPS’ — you can’t believe it,” she said. “If it is not in archives like the state’s in Raleigh, like a will found on the Web, it’s the same as if didn’t exist. We need official documents to substantiate every claim. Everything you find has got to be tested, and the only way is through documentation. That is what I do: find the little pieces of evidence and put the puzzle together.”
Ordinarily, Lawn starts out at $40 an hour based on a 10-hour contract.
“Others charge a lot more,” she said. “Assembling and reconstructing a simple family history — as close to the truth as possible — is pretty much what I do. I do extensive research to be sure we are looking at the right line. If it is John Smith, be sure it is the right John Smith for the person I am working for.”
While Lawn doesn’t consider the Internet reliable enough to use often, some online resources are authoritative. One is a website maintained by the New England Historical Genealogical Society.
“Everything on their site is properly documented,” she said. “Ancestry.com does have documents, but some things I found there didn’t match what I found at the state archives in Raleigh.
“Other things matched perfectly. That site is something I still have to play with.”
A growing interest in family connections sparks her fascination, and now fuels her new profession. Lawn is working to become board-certified in the field.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell @gmail.com.
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