Henry society helps
residents find their roots

By Jason A. Smith


One of the officers of a history-oriented organization in Henry County says her group is dedicated to preserving the past for area residents, so they can pass it on to future generations.

The Genealogical Society of Henry and Clayton Counties, Inc., is located at 71 Macon St., in McDonough. Its purpose is to help people trace their ancestry.

Carolyn Beck serves as vice president for the organization, which has a number of pictures, books, family histories and other public records in its possession.

These resources, she says, help people find their roots. "We have one of the best research libraries on the south side of Atlanta," says Beck, 77. "We have military histories for everything from the American Revolution to the war between the states. We [also] have a lot of books on Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, because that was the migration route from Jamestown (Va.) to Georgia."

Beck says that people's reasons vary as to why they want to trace their ancestry. "Some of them are trying to join a lineage organization, like the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Sons of the American Revolution," she says. "They have to prove every step of [their heritage] with documentary evidence, or they don't get in. Sometimes, you don't get in when you think you've proven it."

Whether her customers want to join a group or are researching their history for more personal reasons, Beck notes that certain steps must be taken, in order to make a family search fruitful. Those steps include obtaining birth and death records, as well as information on where a given person's ancestors are buried.

"When [customers] are just starting, we tell them to learn everything they can from their family that's living," says Beck. "When you're researching your family, you've got to know where they lived and when they lived there," she says. "You can't just say they lived in Henry County. In 1821, Henry County was much larger than it is now."

Beck explains that Henry, in the 19th Century, contained parts of what are now known as Fayette, DeKalb, Newton, Butts and Spalding counties. "In 1858, Clayton came out of the middle [of Henry]," she says. "There's only one district in Henry that has not given land to another county, and that's the district McDonough is in."

As for her own interest in the subject, Beck says it was born years ago, from a desire to know more about her own family. "I took a course at Clayton State College on how to do your genealogy," she says. "Then, I went to hear a lecture on the importance of the railroad in the settling of Atlanta."

After talking with the instructor of the class, Beck explains, she began to learn more about members of her family who were among the early settlers in Georgia. One of those people, she notes, was Stephen Terry, who once owned a large portion of Atlanta, in what is now the Lakewood area

"The last book I read online said he owned one of the first 12 houses in the city of Atlanta," says Beck.

Becky Shiflett, 62, has been conducting research on her own family for the last 10 years, and came to the Henry society Wednesday to continue in that task. Shiflett, who lives in Butts County, says finding out as much as she can about her history, is more important to her now than ever.

"It's more prevalent when you lose your parents, and you want to know different things about your family," she says. "My family could tell me some of [my history], but you can't go back and find it. If I don't find it now, my children and grandchildren will never be able to, because they won't have the resources."

Shiflett says through "picking the brains of older relatives," she has been able to trace her family history back to England in the 1400s.

She says the Henry society, and organizations like it, have been instrumental in helping her to connect with her past. "If you go to the library, you won't find this stuff."

For more information on the society, call (770) 954-1456.