Rooting out the family tree: Arkansas genealogists to meet in Benton next month

By Wayne Bryan Published August 21, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Steve Perdue, head of genealogy and local history for the Saline County Library, stands in the documents and artifacts section of the library. Perdue is preparing for the Arkansas Genealogical Society’s annual meeting, set for Sept. 20 at the Benton Event Center.

BENTON — Probably no hobby has exploded more during the age of the Internet than the search for our ancestors.

“More and more people are involved in genealogy than ever before,” said Catherine Hickerson, a member of the Arkansas Genealogical Society. “The Internet has let people into records that were locked away for a long time, and now there are all kinds of websites that have links to other sites that make things easier. There are also several popular reality shows about reaching your ancestors, such as Who Do You Think You Are? and The Genealogy Roadshow.”

On Sept. 19 and 20, those who enjoy digging out the roots of their family tree or who help others find their forefathers will gather at the Benton Event Center for the annual meeting of the Arkansas Genealogical Society.

“This is the first time the meeting has been held outside of Little Rock, and I’m glad they selected to come to Benton,” said Steve Perdue, head of the genealogy and local history department for the Saline County Library. “We hope to have a big crowd come out. There are usually about 100 people, along with vendors and speakers.”

Five to 10 people a week come by Perdue’s office at the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library in Benton to seek his help in searching for a link to some multi-great-grandparent. Along with Internet sources, Perdue also has access to local records drawn from Saline County records and old local newspapers, many of which no longer exist.

“Most people still want genealogical information, but the number of people interested in local history is growing,” he said. “A lot of the calls we get asking for obituaries or other official information come from out of state.”

At his office early this week, Perdue said there are unique resources at the library for researching the past in Arkansas.

“We have many of the old newspapers like the Pick & Shovel (the Bauxite newspaper from 1944 until 1958), as well as papers and old records from Benton, Bryant and Haskell,” he said. “There are high school yearbooks and other items people can use to find out about local history or search to find out more about their relatives from the past.”

It seems a natural for Perdue to be interested in family histories in Saline County

His ancestors were among the first settlers in Saline County, arriving in 1839, Perdue said. His great-grandfather Hogue, on his mother’s side of the family, was working at the bauxite mines at the turn of the 20th century.

“The story was he worked in the mines but was hurt, and the company made a job for him as a guard at the front gate to the mine,” Perdue said. “I remember people telling me he wouldn’t let people he had known all his life go past the gate without their badge. He took the job seriously.”

Perdue was raised in Bauxite, the fourth generation of his family to be there, and graduated from Bauxite High School, but his family move to Benton in the mid-1960s.

“Company housing ended in 1966, and we were part of a big influx of people into Benton,” he said.

Perdue said the major speaker at the annual society meeting scheduled in Benton next month will be Cyndi Ingle, owner and webmaster of Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites. It is a popular Internet address that receives more than 3.2 million visits each month.

A veteran genealogist, Ingle will talk about how to find the specific information for which a researcher is looking from among the many websites available across the Internet.

“She is going to talk about the links that help, along with some of the pitfalls found on the Internet,” Hickerson said. “It will be helpful information that will get you to the right trail as you wander around the Internet.

“Researchers are also looking in different ways than just following church records and census reports,” Hickerson said.

“Some of the different trends include finding a homeplace or some other location linked to a family history,” she said. “You can use Google Earth, and with that information, there are sites that can overlap that positioning so you can see what it looks like at different points in time.”

Another growing trend in genealogical research is tracing DNA. Hickerson said the new science of tracking the genetic code can turn up useful information, while also bursting some family legends.

“I know a family that has always claimed they had Native

American ancestors, either Cherokee or Choctaw, based on where their family had lived,” Hickerson said. A brother got his DNA tested, and it turned out there was not a bit of Native American DNA in the family. Grandmother had just been embellishing the family history.”

She said many old family stories, especially stories of the “old country” where the families lived before coming to America, don’t seem to work out with the results of DNA testing. However, Hickerson said, the testing also opens up new paths of research.

Hickerson, who chairs the seminar committee for the Arkansas Genealogical Society, said she was one of the members who chose to move the annual meeting to Benton.

“We looked over the event center, and it looks like a good location,” she said. “We will return for the annual meeting in 2015, as well. That meeting will be in October.”

Perdue, who is a member of the society’s board of directors, said he looks forward to having the annual meeting in Benton.

For more information about the annual meeting, contact the Arkansas Genealogical Society at its website, www.agsgenealogy.org, or call Steve Perdue at the Saline County Library at (501) 778-4766.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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