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


I had no idea the impact of what I was doing when I began gathering my family’s history. I had intended to collect names, dates and places so I could build a family tree. Little did I know that the relationships I was building with my relatives would one day lead to my appointment as custodian of many, many family documents, photos and personal items. As grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins (many of whom were of the ‘great’ or ‘extended family’ variety) began to pass away, I either stepped forward and asked for those items no one else seemed to want, or I was called upon by other family members and given the opportunity to safeguard what the deceased’s closer relations had no place for. I never once felt burdened by the responsibility. In fact, I felt honored. But as time passed, I began to realize my duty towards family didn’t stop with merely keeping those treasures safe. I needed to preserve the information they held. First and foremost, I had to identify and label as many of those old inherited photos as possible.

Sound familiar? How many of you have ever gone through a box of your parents’ old photos and wondered: Who’s that? Where was this taken? How is she/he related to me?  Have you tried the same process with your grandparents’ pictures? Take it a step further. Have you ever gone through images left behind by say, a second or third cousin, who you knew briefly, and had only ever sat with in person three or four times? You see where I’m going with this. If you’re lucky enough, you inherit your family’s photographs, tintypes or even Cabinet Cards, but there is something deeply inherent and obsessive about wanting to put a name to every face. If there is the tiniest genealogical instinct in your soul, you’ll feel it come to the surface when you make it your mission to bring the family ghosts into the light.

It is just such a mission that has driven me to create my pet project, ‘Familiar Faces’. It’s experimental, but I think it’s well worth the effort. I have created a gallery for those nameless faces with the hope that someone, somewhere might recognize them or might have a similar photo in their collection with a name written on the back. It’s a longshot, but it’s at least a shot. While I am currently adding my own pictures from the past, I would like to share the gallery with others who need help. So, if you have an old photo of someone you know is related but you just can’t identify, feel free to send me a scanned image with as much pertinent information as you have. In other words, the name of the family who had possession of the image, what area that family was from and any other details you know. Then, send your family and friends to this page to see if they might recognize the face. If we all work together, perhaps this project will be a success and no photo will remain untitled.

To check out the Gallery on Journey of Generations, go to Familiar Faces.

All visitors who believe they can identify someone among these images, please leave your thoughts in the comments section or contact me here.




I have been a writer since I was sixteen. The reason I make that claim isn’t so much a declaration of when I began to put pen to paper, but rather when I began to write with intent. I began a journal. Not what you might think of as a diary, full of stories about friends, fun times and boys (although to be truthful, that notebook did contain its fair share of thoughts any normal female teenager might have), but it was more a place I could record my own personal history, comment on current events and gather family data for a series of books I hoped, one day, to write. I was an amateur journalist, commentator and historian, and I took my efforts very seriously. I wrote every single day for nearly twenty years, and to this day, I still refer back to that journal when I want to remember something exactly the way it happened. Even at age sixteen, I knew the importance of recording the past, or in my case, the past and present. History was simply a beautiful and elegant stream of events, full of indisputable facts and amazing coincidences. That’s why the timing for my life’s project then was so perfect. I saw my writing as the ultimate freedom and a way for me to be both courageous and creative. So, on July 4, 1976, the 200th anniversary of our country’s independence, I wrote my very first entry.

Now it’s 42 years later and I’m celebrating another new beginning. It’s not by accident I chose today’s date for this post. I wrote an introduction to set this blog in motion, but this is my first official shout out to everyone. I’m here, I’m happy and I’m writing!

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!