Discover your roots: Ancestry Detectives follow the clues

November 2016 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community, People
Left: Silverton’s Ancestry Detectives: Doug Crosby, Julie Davie, Bette Stewart and David Stewart

Silverton’s Ancestry Detectives: Doug Crosby, Julie Davie, Bette Stewart and David Stewart

By Nancy Jennings

The clues are there, yet there is a bit of a mystery about who you really are. 

Your great-grandmother came from Bulgaria and your great-grandfather was a Methodist minister in Montreal, Canada. But what else do you know about your genealogy?

To discover the answers, turn to the sleuths with Silverton’s Ancestry Detectives. With diligence, patience and the right tools, this all-volunteer group can help you dig into the family tree and perhaps even hit pay dirt.

Silverton residents Roxanne Walstrom and Thelma Bratt started the group and website in 2008. Over the years, many volunteers helped in different capacities. The group is now seeking new members looking to share information, stories or advice. Anybody can participate, you don’t have to live in Silverton and there is no fee.

Silverton residents David and Bette Stewart, both 73, have been involved with the group for six years. They started their history searches at different times.“I started in the late 1990s when emails were very slow, when computers were 300 bands per second. I have found many second cousins that I never knew existed,” David said. Bette began researching her family’s history in 1963 after her grandfather received a letter from a man asking about his family’s history.

“My grandfather said, ‘this is a bunch of hogwash.’ But this fellow was a professor at the University of Illinois where I was a student,” Bette recalled.
Bette and her mother met the professor and he indeed was a relative. They both felt it was well worth the effort. “It makes you appreciate the struggles that people went through to form this country – and to have that connection,” Bette said.

Doug Crosby, 67, has been active in the group for two years. He is the go-to person for advice on searching online avenues to glean information. Ironically, his first piece of advice is “don’t start online.” He advised to start with what you have: Your name, your parents’ names and documentation of that. “Always build from what you know outward and back.”  Doug’s introduction to his family history came to him in a straightforward manner. “I started out with being handed things by my mother and grandmother back in the 1960s that a great aunt had done a study using professional genealogists,” he explained.

They made a trip to England in the late 1950s and found that Doug’s great-grandmother’s side of his family (the “Bartlett” family name) traced back to the Squire Adam de Bartelott who rode with William the Conqueror in 1066.  “So, that was handed to me as my initial impetus,” he laughed. More digging followed and more nuggets of discovery resulted. Doug found that he is a descendant from pilgrims on the Mayflower, and had ties to the Virginia Jamestown Colony.

Julie Davie, 64, joined the group in 2013. “It’s been extremely helpful for me. I started with my dad’s family. His father and siblings had been adopted out after their mother died and their father left. I managed to find one of his siblings who had been adopted and had a complete name change. The man who adopted him threw out his first name, and made him a ‘junior,’” Julie explained.

Using Facebook and old newspaper articles, Julie managed to track down this younger adoptive brother’s grandchildren. Because they never knew their grandfather was adopted, this discovery opened up a new interest in genealogy for them.

Activities to learn about your family
Use a video camera to interview family members.
Create a family newsletter
Learn the traditions of how an ancestor celebrated a holiday.
Share family recipes.
Start a family blog where people can post stories.
Create a calendar with birthdays, anniversaries.
Ancestry Detectives meet the second Tuesday of the month, 10 a.m to noon, Silver Falls Library, 410 S. Water St. 503-873-5173. The next meeting is Jan. 10. Learn more at

Susan Baird, 66, teaches classes on family history research methodology at Clackamas Community College. She had been a guest speaker at Ancestry Detectives earlier this year. “I encourage my students to put together a Christmas letter about their family. Include a biographical sketch on one of your grandparents, or a great aunt or uncle just to share some stories with the family about other family members that they may or may not remember,” said. Teaching since 1974, she also helps adult adoptees search for their birth families. “People can learn all the different aspects and records that there are for them to explore and gather,” Susan said.

Susan grew up with six half-siblings. She was the seventh child from her mother and only child from her father. “I wanted to know family and where we came from. The goods, the bads, the uglies, the wonderfuls. So, I started researching pretty young,” Susan said. She refers to genealogy as family history – more than names, dates, places. “Family history is the stories behind those names, dates and places,” Susan said. “It gives a sense of living up to what our forefathers went through. Our ancestors went through hell and high water. We reap the benefits of that.”  The older and newer generations often differ on wanting to know everything about their families. The former tends to not want to “air the dirty laundry,” while the latter wants to know every detail.

“Family history does turn hearts. It makes us appreciate who we are. Everybody has good and bad inside of them. I encourage people when they write their own story is don’t leave out the bad stuff. Say what it was and write about the lesson learned. Everybody struggles with something, and that’s what family is for — to encourage each other,” she said.

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