Genealogy Research

Genealogy Uplugged: Getting a Local Perspective

On a beautiful spring morning we pulled into the parking lot of the Harmony Methodist Church in Alton, Halifax County, VA. [Alton, VA is located north of Durham, NC  just over the NC/VA state line.] My dad and I were on the hunt for ancestors – John B Talbott, to be precise.  We had information John Talbott was buried in the cemetery of this little church and we found him exactly where we had been told.

Genealogy Unplugged-Getting the Local Perspective

But that was only part of this genealogy story…..

We had not been at the cemetery but a few minutes with an older gentleman in a pick up truck pulled in behind us. He was a church member and interested to see why strangers were visiting the church. You can read that as: He was checking us out to make sure we were not up to mischief!

Introductions were made. We explained we were looking for our ancestor’s grave.

That’s when “it” happened.

This gentleman in his soft melodic Virginian accent opened up about the history of the area and the Talbott family.  He pointed us to locations were the family lived. He told us of the families that John Talbott’s family married into. He invited us into the church  to see where the family  worshipped. He even told us a story of John B Talbott returning from the Civil War with a number of cannon balls he kept in the barn! Apparently, these stayed in the family and were stacked so that in later years the passenger side car door could not be opened without backing the car out of the bar first! This gentleman also gave us names of others in the area who could provide more information on the family.

And as it turns out, he and my dad went to the same school as children and had many mutual acquaintances.

Why do I tell you this story?

  • Because talking to the locals will give you genealogical information you will never find online or in a book.
  • Because talking with the people local to the area where your ancestors lived will point you to local resources, databases, and even family histories in the community.
  • Because learning about where your ancestors lived will add color to their lives. Knowing about the location where your ancestors lived can help you track them in the future if they leave that area.
  • Because in the short time we spent together, this local gentleman shared historical facts AND my family’s oral history.


Leave your computer behind and head for your ancestors’ locales. If you do not have church members stopping you in the churchyard (!), talk to someone at the local historical society and/or the local genealogical society. In the future, I will not leave such possibilities to chance meetings in the church yard.  I will be intentional about seeking out locals to talk with before I start my trip.

Ask questions.  Listen carefully.

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