Reconnecting with My Roots

white woman with long dark hair sitting on a couch and holding a baby dressed in white
Aunt Debbie holding me.

When assigned a family tree project in elementary school, I was more focused on the poster board formatting challenges presented in the assignment than on the actual people I was to include. Family trees seemed like a lot of work, and I knew who my family was. I saw them at all the major holidays, where we ate potluck meals on TV trays, collected fallen pecans from the backyard, drove the golf cart too fast, and inhaled overpowering cigarette smoke. I helped my mom’s mom in her garden and skateboarded down the wheelchair ramp in the home of my dad’s dad. I went swimming at my aunt and uncle’s house as often as they would have me, and my siblings and I stayed over at an older cousin’s house to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas and play with her dogs. I knew my family.

older white woman with blond hair sitting in a blue chair and looking at a book or picture
Rachel (my sister), Aileen (my dad’s mom), and Debbie (my dad’s sister). Aileen and Debbie died in 2001 when I was three years old.

I spent my entire childhood in the same home in West Tennessee, and both sides of my extended family lived within twenty minutes of us. We sometimes visited our distant relatives who lived in northeastern Mississippi, but that’s as much as I ever knew of my family’s residency outside of where I grew up.

I am the youngest of three children, and many relatives died before I was born or early on in my childhood. I’m not aiming to be morbid, but I have more childhood memories of sitting uncomfortably at funeral homes than I care to recall. I missed out on knowing much about my extended family because many of our links withered away well before I was a young adult. My family history always seemed sad, so I tended to focus on the family I still had. It seemed that there was no sense in dwelling on the depressing past.

Perhaps it’s ironic I had that future-focused mindset for so long, now that I spend most of my time at work focused on the past. As a genealogy and local history specialist at the CALS Roberts Library, I assist our patrons in solving puzzles of lineage, connect people to various records to find their ancestors, and help people uncover pieces of Arkansas’s rich history. Clearly, my frustration with the family tree poster board project from my youth did not deter me from genealogy forever.

white man in plaid shirt and ball cap pushing a toddler through the grass on a plastic tricycle
Wayne (my dad’s dad) pushing me on a toy bike.

What really drew me to this work was the sleuthing aspect of genealogy and research. I get a spark of joy from finding answers—sometimes buried deep and sometimes hiding in plain sight. Genealogical research takes a certain level of nosiness and inquisition, skills that can be a blessing and a curse.

After I started my current role last year, to become better acquainted with the research databases we have at CALS, I used Ancestry Library Edition to begin digging into my own family history more seriously.

As any genealogist will instruct, I started with what I knew:

Charles Wayne Ervin. Lived in Covington, Tipton County, Tennessee. Died in 2009. My father’s father. He went by Wayne but was affectionally known to me as Pappy. I found the record for his second marriage. I found him listed in city directories and in the Social Security Index. I found him at age one in the 1940 census listed with his parents and siblings—names I had heard before.

I began searching with Wayne’s father’s information—Richard Marley Ervin (listed as R. M. in the 1940 census), born about 1895 in Tennessee. I came across the 1930 census for Richard and noticed a name in the household I hadn’t heard of: Bradie Ervin (I learned later this was a misspelling; it should have been spelled Brady). The eldest son, age eleven, apparently my great-uncle. Wayne, my grandfather, had not yet been born.

I looked back at the 1940 census to see if I had missed something before. Neighbors to his parents and younger siblings, Brady was listed there at age twenty-one and living in his own household with his wife and two children.

Brady’s youngest child was the same age as his youngest brother, Wayne. This age difference would have made it difficult for them to be connected, which is probably why I hadn’t heard of him. I used that census information to start learning more about my great-uncle and his little family unit.

Brady C. Ervin. Lived in Covington, Tipton County, Tennessee. Born in 1918. My great-uncle that I’d never heard of. I went down that research path for a while, learning that Brady and his wife divorced in 1944. Their two young children moved with their mother, who remarried in Arkansas. Some more digging revealed that Brady’s daughter, my first cousin once removed, was married in Pulaski County and currently lives in Little Rock with her husband, a mere fifteen minutes from me. When I moved here, I thought I was putting down a new set of roots. It turned out I was following an existing growth pattern.

I have tried to connect with my newfound Little Rock cousin but haven’t made successful contact. I don’t know much about the relationship she had with her father’s family—my family.

It’s important to understand, of course, that the concept of family is far more complex than the records that call you family. I haven’t totally given up on getting in touch with my cousin yet, but in the meantime, I just like knowing she’s here. Eventually I’ll go a bit deeper into researching this branch of my family tree and see where else it leads. There’s always something to go digging for.

Visit us at the CALS Roberts Library and/or use some of our many online genealogy research tools and discover your roots—wherever they may have been planted. You never know what you’ll find until you go looking for it.

By Bekah Ervin, Genealogy and Local History Specialist, CALS Roberts Library/Butler Center for Arkansas Studies






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