Thursday, September 12, 2013

Researching the Pickens Family

Now that I have the digital download of The John Pickens Family,  I have had time to skim through the entire book and look at the information it contains.  The book represents years of research by a number of people and is a good example of how to compile an interesting, readable, and usable family history book.  The work is definitely a notch above a number of others I have seem.  Below are some of the reasons I was delighted to be able to read this book.

The book was first published in 1951 using information compiled by Nellie Pickens Anderson.  Later in 1981 Elizabeth Cowan Snead Shue and Lloyd C. Shue added supplemental information, an index, and family tree charts in the combined (1951 and 1981) edition.  Both Cowan and Shue / Shue repeatedly credit the other family members and researchers who had contributed information to the book.  The book comes across as a collaborative effort.

Throughout Anderson’s book, she provided the sources of her facts, census records, land records, church records, with details so specific that I could go to the Blount County Tennessee Courthouse or the Tennessee State Archives in Nashville and request the exact record she referenced.  In addition, she also provides information on the provenance of important family items, such as the Pickens family bible and the metal buttons probably remaining from the broadcloth coat John Pickens wore in the Revolutionary War.  Interesting stuff to know.

Early in the original edition, Anderson listed the lineage key she used throughout the book.   Once she finished providing basic information about the meaning of the name and migrations of the family to America, she started using her key as she wrote about members of the John Pickens family.  Her key made it easy to skim through to locate information on specific generations.  Most family history books are written using this key, but her listing was appreciated.

          A B C D           children of John and Letitia Hannah Pickens
          I II III IV V          grand children “
          a b c d e          great grandchildren “
          1 2 3 4 5          great great grandchildren “
          (a) (b) (c)         great great great grandchildren “
          (1) (2) (3)         great great great great grandchildren “
          i ii iii iv v            great great great great great grandchildren ”
          a- b- c- b-         great great great great great great grandchildren “

Anderson’s style was to begin each biographical section in the following manner "C John Pickens, 3rd child of John & Letitia, b Dec 25, 1788, VA ?; 43 at time of father’s will, buried at Eusebia.”(1)  Then the ensuing paragraphs provided additional information along with sources about that individual.  In a family where the same names kept appearing in different generations, her method made it clear which individual was being discussed.

The library media specialist in me really appreciated the index added in 1981 by Shue / Shue.  With several other family and local history books, I've found myself writing a personal index to a book, just to make my use of it easier.

The 1981 supplement in the combined edition contained both corrections to the original edition and new information about contemporary family members.  I remembered receiving a questionnaire in the late 1970s asking for information about our family to include in the supplement.  I had forgotten about that until I saw my sisters-in-law and I listed as contributors to the 1981 supplement!  This collaborative method is one more thing I appreciated about this family history book.  After all, our family history does not belong to just one of us, it needs to be shared, revised, even extended as associated individuals learn and contribute new information.

Thanks to Nellie, Elizabeth, Lloyd and the countless others through the years for all you have added to the knowledge about my husband’s 4th Great Grandfather.

(1) Anderson, Nellie Pickens, Elizabeth Cowan Snead Shue, and Lloyd C. Shue, The John Pickens Family, combined edition. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 1981, p. 53.  Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts, accessed 7 Sep 2013 through

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