Social graces are defined as the skills to interact politely within your home, family and community. It is a universally accepted behavior within a culture. It used to be these skills were taught in Finishing Schools or Charm Schools; later they were generally taught by one’s mother or grandmother. I look around today and I’m delighted to see some matriarch’s took the responsibility of teaching their children to heart… sadly others, not so much. But whether our society is lacking in a profound demonstration of Social Graces in modern times or not isn’t the point of this article. I want to approach this blog entry as a detective of family history and remind everyone of the importance of researching EVERY avenue available when you’re building your family tree.

While digging through some of my great grandmother’s old letters, I came across a ‘Thank You’ note from one of her friends, a Miss Belle Cato, posted from Rome, Georgia, December 31, 1906. It’s not clear how close the two women were, but apparently they were in Sunday School together and my grandmother had delivered a class gift to young Belle at Christmas. I’m not sure if Belle was out of class due to illness or family obligations (at times young children were kept from school to assist in family chores or to take care of other infirm family members), but she must have been missed by her classmates.

Curious about who my great grandmother’s friend might have been, I decided to do a bit of online research. I discovered Miss Belle (short for Arabelle) spent her entire life in Rome, Georgia. She was the daughter of William and Laura Cato, had a sister named Estelle, was born between 1877 and 1880, and appeared in City Directories for Rome until 1957. In 1910, she worked as a clerk in a Dry Goods Store. In 1920, she was a milliner for Lanham & Sons. After that, she was listed as a saleswoman. Still years later, in a vague listing of ‘furn rms,’ I decided she must have rented rooms in her home.

From what I could see on the census records and city directories, Fannie’s friend Belle lived on Avenue A early on, but most of her life she resided at 908 N. Broad Street. She died December 23, 1954, forty-eight years to the month after she wrote her ‘Thank You’ note to my great grandmother.

So from one small letter, and a simple understanding of how genealogical research works, I’ve been able to develop a broad picture of someone for whom my ancestor thought enough to deliver a present. It’s important, I think, to learn about the people my ancestors interacted with during their lives. By doing that, I can better comprehend how they lived their lives and appreciate what they valued most. Which brings me to what I value… the ability to gather data on my ancestor’s past, at the same time learning how to leave information for my descendant’s future.

The thing to keep in mind when you’re researching is to never limit yourself to what you can find in books or online. Search out letters and personal items left behind by your family and really, really look at them. More often than not, those items are pure gold.

Note: Article previously published in 2012 on

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