Follow Instructions


I learned the lesson of “follow directions” the hard way. More than once.

Several years ago, I was putting together the necessary paperwork to join some lineage societies. I wanted to get my mother into the Daughters of the American Revolution and myself into the Sons of the American Revolution. That common lineage also had an ancestor that was a Mayflower passenger, so we wanted to join the Mayflower Society also.

However, one generation was rather difficult. My great grandparents got married, had several children including my grandmother, then got divorced in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. He remarried only once. She remarried and then her second spouse died after only two years, then she remarried again. This generation needed to be proven for DAR/SAR as well as the Mayflower Society.

I had the death certificates for my ancestors and all spouses. I had the marriage records for each union. And I had either a birth certificate, sometimes a delayed record, or other records to prove the birth and parents’ lineage. Now, all these records are important to prove the correct identity and relationships of the people involved in that generation. For example, my great grandmother was born Mary Elliott, she married and became Mary Reed, was remarried and became Mary Boyd, then with her third and final marriage became Mary Clark. Now, the task is to prove that the death certificate for Mary Clark and the delayed birth certificate for Mary Elliott is for the same woman. The various marriage records prove that chain of name changes. Often, if a woman married only once, the proof is much simpler. I had three marriages, and three names change to prove! Alas, I had done the due diligence, performed all the necessary research, and had the connections needed.

One thing was missing. I did not have the divorce record for that first marriage. It was the only marriage dissolved by divorce in this generation. Divorce records are held at the county level, rather than the state level. I had done a diligent search in many places. The difficulty was locating where the divorce was filed. During the Great Depression, they moved around seeking work, and the divorce could have been filed in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado or New Mexico. That’s five states. But with divorce records held at the county level, it expanded the search to 533 counties! Although I could likely narrow the search to the panhandle and surrounding areas, it still was a very wide search.
Some of the counties had technology that allowed me to submit an online search request or to make the request by email. Some counties had no email. Some counties had a website that included only an address and phone number.

Some counties had no working voice mail, or a constantly full mailbox. Some would do a search for free, some charged as little as $5 but would only do the search after I sent a letter request with a paper check by USPS. It was a daunting challenge, and after searching over 50 counties I still had no idea where the divorce records may be found.

Then, at Genealogy Jamboree, I attended a Round Table discussion about joining SAR/DAR and the records needed. It was led by a woman who was a DAR Registrar, so she helped women join the DAR by putting together a successful Membership Application and helping them assemble all the necessary research. I cannot remember her name, otherwise I wold publicly thank her. I explained my dilemma. She interjected that divorce records are NOT needed! I said I thought I needed to prove everything. She said no, you only need to prove the lineage. Divorce records are not requested or needed. Then she said the words that stopped me in my tracks. “Follow Directions!” The DAR directions do not ask for divorce decrees. The birth certificate of my grandmother proved who my great grandparents were. The delayed birth certificate of my great grandmother proves the generation preceding her. The marriage records prove that Mary Elliott and Mary Clark are the same woman.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked. “You can join SAR now! Submit your Membership Application, stop waiting! Remember, Follow Directions!”

Wow. Follow Directions. Simple. I learned that lesson in high school, also the hard way.

In high school chemistry, our teacher surprised us with a test on day one. She said that with natural gas Bunsen burners, potentially dangerous chemicals and experiments of the chemical interaction variety, we needed to be tested on day one. She passed out the test. We were flabbergasted, as we thought we knew nothing about chemistry yet.

She said “read the instructions, and follow directions” out loud. More than once. The test had numbered questions, which doubled as instruction steps. Number 1 said “read all instructions before continuing.” Great, whatever, I was in a hurry to prove this test was useless. Number 2 said “write your name in the upper right corner.” Number 3 said “write the date in the upper left corner.” Number 4 asked what is 144 divided by 12? Number 5 asked if oxygen was a gas, liquid or solid. Etcetera, etcetera, the questions continued. Before I flipped the paper over for page two, I noticed some of my classmates were done. Wow, I thought, I must be really stupid or slow, I should read faster.

On the flip side, Number 19 said “answer the first three questions, stop, and put your pencil down.” Number 20 repeated, “did you read all instructions before you started?”

Wow. Lesson learned. Again, the hard way. I did more work than was necessary because I refused to follow directions. In chemistry class, and in my Membership Applications for SAR and the Mayflower Society. This lesson can be applied to almost anything. A recipe for cooking, assembling an item in parts in a box, learning a new software app.

This lesson was learned well by the time I was enrolled in ProGen. This subject came up more than once, and my exclaiming “Follow Directions” was repeated by our mentors, and proclaimed as an excellent lesson in genealogy.

Now, years later, I am myself a Registrar for my local SAR chapter. And I find myself issuing the same basic instructions repeatedly. “Follow Directions.” It is simple. And doing so makes life so much easier. Be patient, don’t get in a rush to finish fast, and Follow Directions. Do the same in all things genealogy.

I still haven’t found that elusive divorce decree. But it was not needed to join SAR or the Mayflower Society.

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