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The Daily Genealogist: “Christmas Questions” and “Christmas Answers”

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Managing Editor

In the NEHGS online library catalog, I came across a pamphlet with a title that piqued my curiosity: Christmas Questions for the Goodwins of Virginia; Christmas Answers for the Goodwins of Virginia. After locating the pamphlet in the library’s vertical file, I found that it consists of two four-page sections published in 1892 and 1893 by John S. Goodwin (b. 1858). 

One hundred and twenty years ago, Goodwin attempted to use the holiday season to make progress on his stalled Goodwin research. The first part, Christmas Questions, opens with these words, “'We cannot help having ancestors,’ and there is no better time to talk about them and their lives than when we are gathered together in family groups during the festivities.” Goodwin then tries to establish the importance of the Goodwins of Virginia — a group “proud of probably the longest line of American ancestry of which any family can boast — and dismisses the Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut Goodwins as late arrivals. (He notes that Goodwins were already in Virginia “when the timbers of the famous Mayflower were still growing in their native forests.”)

Then, Goodwin made his appeal: “As a Christmas greeting this suggestion is sent to you. The writer is a busy Chicago Lawyer not at all imaginative enough to create a line of descent or to manufacture facts. You are in the old homes, have the old Bibles, church and churchyard records and the records of your county seats and as you meet and talk the old traditions come to mind, together with ‘many a quaint and curious legend of forgotten lore.’ Write down these traditions; send me your own family data; send copies of your Bible records; look through the county seat records and send everything pertaining to the early Goodwins and the writer will so arrange and collate the matter sent as to put our lineage beyond danger of loss. Many have already responded but all can do more.” Next, Goodwin detailed what he knew of Bartholomew Goodwin, the immigrant to Virginia, who he thought probably arrived between 1600 and 1625, and presented his research questions.

In 1893, in Christmas Answers, Goodwin reported a good deal of success. “Just one year ago the ‘Christmas Questions’ were sent out and so prompt and full have been the replies that their mission is virtually accomplished, only three groups still being unconnected with the immigrant ancestor.” (Sadly, though, he admitted that “[my] own branch is still unidentified and I will gratefully appreciate any assistance which can be rendered me on that question.”) Goodwin then described the research breakthroughs and included a two-page table of descent. The fourth and final page of the pamphlet advertised that the author’s book, The Goodwin Families in America, was in preparation and posed a few more questions.

I enjoyed Christmas Questions and Christmas Answers. I appreciated John S. Goodwin’s goals, his willingness to cast a wide net to find answers to his genealogical problems, and his creative plea to his fellow Goodwins. Although 120 years have passed, I think his appeal continues to have a lot of resonance. Goodwin’s requests to his readers — to search home and local sources, ask questions of relatives, write down what you know, and share and preserve your data — still provide a good blueprint for genealogists.       

Posted by Ellie Spinney at 12/21/2012 02:56:56 PM | 

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