by Jeanne Rollberg


As Arkansas cooks prepare feasts that bring families together this holiday season, we’re reminded that the holidays offer an excellent time to travel, to enjoy family fellowship and learn from stories to discover more about our heritage. Let’s also make a family portrait on Thanksgiving and express gratitude for the family food traditions that are actually part of the tapestry of our historic families. It all reminds us of the Arkansas Traveler’s adventures.


Harry Thomason’s stories


When Arkansas producer and filmmaker Harry Thomason spoke at the Clinton School for Public Service this month, he mentioned his 31 first cousins, told a little about his family, expressed appreciation for many family members being there to support him, and humorously outlined Arkansas lessons learned. Thomason has left the state, but it has not left him. Thomason, from Hampton, was a science teacher and high school coach before persisting and going on to make television series and films.


Thomason’s new book is Brother Dog: Southern Tales and Hollywood Adventures. His focus is a working-class childhood in the rural south preparing him for what lay ahead with Designing Women, Evening Shade, and working with his wife and business partner, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, to help an underdog candidate from Arkansas become president. Such books are potential holiday gifts to those who love the Natural State, its lore, and aspirations.


Indigenous Peoples Contributions


Stories like Thomason’s are one way we learn about family history, and events that provide context for family history are another.


We are often surrounded by historically suspect stories of indigenous peoples and Pilgrims during November. Arkansas was home to indigenous peoples long before foreign explorers discovered it. This month saw the “Native American & Black Indian Heritage Month Fair” in Little Rock during Native American Indian Heritage Month” proclaimed by President George H. W. Bush.


Particularly if you have Native American heritage, the Sequoyah National Research Center in Little Rock and the Museum of Native American History in Bentonviille are research gems to appreciate in an era of heightened interest in indigenous peoples’ contributions to America.


Hats Off to Our Colonial Ancestors


Have you longed to learn more not only about Native American or European settler-era family members, but also about your Revolutionary ancestors and their descendants? One very useful resource is the Daughters of the American Revolution free online databases (and library in Washington, D.C.). If there’s a “brick wall” in your research, you may choose to order ancestor application packets from DAR to help fill out your family tree, since descendancy had to be proven for admission to the group.


In Arkansas, November is the 125h anniversary of the DAR Little Rock-Centennial Chapter, initially chartered in 1894 and formed in two parts. The Arkansas State Archives provided the original 125-year-old charter for display at the Old State House Museum celebration, and the Archives has many artifacts in varied collections that might contribute to your own research as well.


If you are researching 20th Century Arkansas females who had patriot ancestors, DAR has research connections to investigate. Your ancestors may have been among those who advocated for preservation of for the Old State House itself or who took other leading roles in civic activities.


Revisiting the Beginnings, Customizing Holiday Offerings


November 2019 is very important for family history in the larger sense beyond the holiday dinner table. It’s the 125th anniversary of the Genealogical Society of Utah, the primary organization that led to genealogy research internationally and the more recent formation of FamilySearch, the online portal that brings genealogy into our living rooms.


It’s extraordinary that more than 7 billion searchable names in historical records are discoverable. The society began with the idea “to help its members (who were predominantly immigrants from Europe) to gather genealogical records from their homelands so they could remember and build their ancestral connections.” There are many related Family History Centers across Arkansas where we can conduct research on site.


If we’ve been meaning to learn more about our family history, the Thanksgiving holiday may provide inspiration to do it. To help ourselves and other family members succeed at this, we can build computerized and online family trees.


We may offer gift memberships to local historical societies and archives, online genealogy services, and seek out other sites where history lives to bring our own family history back to life. We can also encourage family members to consider buying DNA tests that are discounted during the holidays as a way to break down research brick walls and attract “cousin bait,” if desired.


Just like the cooks in the holiday kitchen, family history provides the true flavoring spice in our lives, and it’s quite satisfying. We are grateful.


Jeanne Rollberg is a genealogist with American Dream Genealogy and Research who serves on the boards of the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives and the Arkansas Genealogical Society. She teaches continuing education genealogy classes in Little Rock.


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