Branch out and find your roots

Do you know who you are, where you came from? Genealogy has been an interest of mine since I was a child listening to my dad tell stories of his North Georgia heritage and my mom talk about her German ancestors.

When I lived in Macon, I spent countless hours in the genealogy department of Washington Library, dusting off thick books and trying to link this name with that one. The library provided a wealth of information for researchers. The Internet, of course, has completely changed all that for the better.

Back in the late 1980s, I interviewed a man who claimed he could trace his ancestors back to Adam. Seriously. He showed me the documents but I have no idea how accurate they were. Anyone can write down names and dates.

However, through the interview, I learned that the Church of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City has the largest collection of genealogy records in the world. I could pack a lunch and wander the stacks for months, I thought. With the world at my fingertips now, I don’t have to.

I find it fascinating that my maternal grandfather’s lineage consists of generations of Germans marrying other Germans until my mom married my dad in 1959. In fact, I am only a fourth-generation American on that side as my great-great-grandfather George Toennies was born in December 1849 in Hanover, Germany, and emigrated in 1866 to St. Louis where he married Christina Nagel in 1878. She was born in Missouri but both her parents were born in Germany.

Generations of my branch of the family stayed in St. Louis until my mom and dad moved us to Macon in the early 1970s.

I wrote a few weeks ago that my maiden name is Autry and that my dad’s family is distantly related to the “singing cowboy,” Gene Autry. I’ve since done some research and discovered exactly how we are related.

The story of the Autry family is pretty interesting. Legend has it that Cornelius Autry Sr., a French Huguenot, and four brothers emigrated to North Carolina from Autry, France. Other accounts claim they went first to Great Britain and then Ireland before heading to America. Subsequently, all families in the United States whose surname is pronounced “Autry” are related despite the spelling of the name. Four of Cornelius’ sons settled in Georgia but there is an Autryville, N.C.

I recently met a Robert Autry on Facebook, who turned out to be the much-older brother of a friend of mine from our church youth group in Macon. We swapped family information going back a few generations but couldn’t find a connection, so we settled on “cousins.”

However, being the curious, industrious, experienced reporter that I am, I was compelled to find the answer. I was able to trace both our paternal lines to Cornelius Sr. As it turns out, our respective fifth great-grandfathers were sons of ole Corny. Gene Autry’s fourth great-grandfather was another son but he traveled farther west and ended up in Texas.

Census records are such a great source of information. As I read and searched, matching up names and discarding others, I tried to imagine life more than 150-200 years ago. Transportation wasn’t as readily available so folks rarely moved unless they absolutely had to. They were born, married, raised their own kids and died pretty much in one spot.

I was tickled to find my great-great-grandfather Newton Jasper Autry on a census report with his siblings and their parents, Alexander and Louisa. Then I noticed the names of their neighbors. Living right next door with her own parents and siblings was Mary Collins, whom Newton married a few years later. So, although my grandfather left Georgia in search of another life in St. Louis, where my dad and I were born, I come from generations of Georgians.

We who are interested in genealogy or history and live in Henry or Clayton are so lucky. In case you didn’t know, the National Archives and Records Administration is right there in Morrow. As if that isn’t cool enough, the Georgia Archives is there, too, practically on the same property. The National Archives has been featured in TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?,” a show that explores the ancestry of celebrities.

My next mission is to track down the Cherokee Indian link my dad always talked about in reference to his paternal grandmother. Until next week, in the language of some of my people, “bis bald” or “au revoir.”