LITTLETON, N.C. (WAVY) - In a time when families rarely stay in one place for long,keeping up with immediate family is hard enough, let alone keepingtabs on generations gone by.
Genealogy is the study of ancestry and family histories. Andwhile the study is nothing new, it has grown in popularity in thelast few years, particularly with online ancestry database websitessuch as ancestry.com.
This year, NBC thrust the concept of genealogy into by airing anew series called, "Who Do You Think You Are?" which traces backthe ancestry of some of celebrities, such as Susan Sarandon andSarah Jessica Parker.
"Who Do You Think You Are?"--a network program--has seeminglyunlimited resources to tell these stories, but we wanted to showthat the story of a family history can be told on a much smallerbudget.
And we didn't have to go far to find someone eager to tracetheir family line...
WAVY-TV anchor Alveta Ewell gladly accepted the opportunity tobring part of her family ancestry to the public, and at the sametime, prove that genealogy is something anyone can do.
Our first stop was The Tidewater Genealogical Society in NewportNews.
The Genealogical Society is an organization that makes use ofthousands of books documenting local families and local heritage.That library, coupled with ancestry.com, opened a door to Alveta'sfamily history.
Jill Russell, a local genealogist with more than 42 years ofexperience helped us along the way.
"We have family files on local families and that's not somethingyou'll find anywhere else but here," said Russell.
Russell suggested we begin by looking at U.S. census formsdating back to 1930. She said that because of privacy laws, 1930 isthe most recent census available to the public. With the help ofancestry.com, Jill and Alveta stepped back in time--more than acentury.
"We work our way back using the census records on ancestry untilwe get to 1850," Russell said.
After only a few minutes of searching, Alveta's family treebegan to grow. A handwritten census form revealed something shedidn't know.
"My great grandfather, Thomas Burton," Alveta said,surprised.
"He was born in North Carolina, as were his parents and he was afarmer," said Russell.
Using century-old documents as a guide, we decided it was timefor a road trip.
A two-hour drive brought us to a small town in North Carolinacalled Littleton, which began an emotional journey as Alvetabrought her past back to life.
Alveta's second cousin Valerie Thompson, who still lives inLittleton, offered to help us find what we were looking for. Ourcameras followed Alveta and Valerie through three cemeteries insearch of the graves of Alveta's ancestors.
"This is your great granddaddy, Thomas Burton," said Valerie,pointing to a gravestone in the ground.
Alveta was shocked. Her first look at the grave of her greatgrandfather was an emotional one.
"He was born in 1866 and he died on Christmas Day," saidValerie.
It took a little footwork--or, perhaps, a lot of footwork--butby the end of day, Alveta got to connect for the very first timewith the grave sites of family members from two generationsago.
"This is Great Grandma's plot and this is Uncle Tom Eddie. Sothis is her son," Alveta said.
Alveta's great grandparents Gratsie and Thomas Burton lived in ahouse just a few miles from their grave sites. The green house sitsalone on a lot, and its structure is partially falling down.
"When Valerie put the key in the door...the key was so old,"Alveta said. "It made me realize how long ago it was."
When we first pulled up to Alveta's great grandparents house inLittleton, Alveta said she doesn't see an empty, decrepit oldhouse; she sees a house filled with memories. But she soon learnedthat not all of these memories were happy ones.
Alveta's great uncle "...came out here to the outhouse," Valeriesaid, indicating the area, "the outdoor toilet right in this areaand shot himself."
But tracing Alveta's roots beyond this abandoned home in a townthat is best described by its name, was a feat that only sciencecould help us tackle.
We took a cheek swab from Alveta and mailed it to a lab thatwill test her DNA, which we hope would link us back evenfurther.
"It takes you back hundreds of thousands of years, starting with'Eve', who lived in the northeast part of Africa," Russellsaid.
The questions Alveta wants answered are not so simple.
Who is Alveta Ewell? How did she get here?
"I really want to know" Alveta said.
When the test results come back in a few weeks, she will havemore of those answers, and her entire family will be anxious tohear what we find.
And this story isn't over yet. Alveta will be blogging about thethe results from her DNA test and we plans to bring the findings toa family reunion that her family is planning in a few months.
In November, Alveta will share the secrets of her family linewith everyone, in an updated story of her family's genealogicalpast.
Look for that story on the air on WAVY-TV 10 On Your Side and onWAVY.com.
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