Gather your own family documents!

I have been tracking down my family history all my life, ferreting out every detail possible about all those ancestral lives that contributed in some way to my own.  But it wasn't until I became involved in the DAR, and particularly in my role as chapter Registrar, that I realized the glaring error in my ways:  I never collected documents for the living members of my family.  Clearly, my reasoning was: "why bother, just to prove what I already know?"  

I know why we tend not to get these documents.  The process of gathering them is a hassle.... you have to send a request to the town, county, or state where the event took place (every location has different rules, of course), send in a check.... and then wait.  Some states are tougher than others.  I (rhetorically) asked my great-grandmother, Jessie Lee Lynch, why she had to be visiting her daughter in New Jersey when she died, instead of staying home in Maryland? 
Jessie Lee Seabolt Lynch

Didn't she know that New Jersey takes much longer than Maryland to respond to vital records requests?  Not only that, but I had to furnish NJ officials with the same number of proofs that I did for my DAR application in order to show I had a right to her death certificate.  Actually, NJ needed more hand-holding, because I had to write a letter explaining what the certificates meant (the DAR understands how to read them!)

When I joined the DAR, most of my known patriots were on my mother's side of the family.  That's when I began to understand the importance of having a full set of vital records for my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  So you'd think that I would have started right away to collect all the vital records for my father's parents and grandparents.  Wrong.  I guess it's just harder to make that effort without an impetus.  

Not too long ago I found my impetus, in the form of new data linking my Dad's line to two Revolutionary War patriots.  One of them, David Vermilyea of Albany, NY, had a rather interesting heritage.  He was the grandson of Johannes Vermilyea, a member of Jacob Leisler's council of ministers and part of the famous Leisler's Rebellion of 1689-1691.  How exciting...he would be my first ancestor who was sentenced to be executed!  

My happy dance faded away, though, as I recalled that while this line is thoroughly documented from Johannes in New Amsterdam down five generations to my great-grandfather, Foster Cookingham in Chatham, NY.... there's the minor detail of a few missing vital records for Foster's wife and daughter, my great-grandmother and grandmother.  Did I mention that New York state is now taking about 8 months to fulfill orders for vital records?  It's so frustrating because I knew my grandmother -- and her mother, too -- it would be so easy just to write "personal knowledge" on the application and be done with it.  Sigh.

So even if you aren't addicted to joining lineage societies, please take that extra step and gather all the family documents you possibly can.  Ask your living relatives for copies of their vital records so you won't have to wait those agonizing months and months before you can even submit the application to add another supplemental ancestor to your collection.

Your descendants will thank you.