One of my passions is researching my family tree. For years I have been collecting names, dates, documents and other interesting information about the various branches of my tree.

By Trish Morgan
For the News Tribune
One of my passions is researching my family tree. For years I have been collecting names, dates, documents and other interesting information about the various branches of my tree.
At first, I started with the Umstot branch of my tree, as my mother was an Umstot. Thanks to information shared to me by my cousin Bryan Putnam, and research of my own, I have been able to documents back to the early 1700s in my Umstot family. I happen to think that's quite exciting!
As I was working on the Umstot family tree, I would move on to the Gates family, which is my grandmother's family. I haven't done much research on this family yet, because as I would get into more and more research, I found myself moving on to my father's side of the family. That is what is fascinating for me as I do research - learning about the people in my family.
My father's mother's name was Williams, and I have found a lot of his family...family I never knew. Using ancestry.com, I have found aunts and uncles and grandparents...and lots and lots of cousins. My sister Debbie and I will soon take a trip down south to spend the day with Auntie Louise - who is my grandmother's sister. The plan is to gather even more information on a personal level about the family I never knew.
The Cavin family - my dad's family. Now this family research is the most interesting of all! I have traced my heritage back to the early 1700s so far, and it appears that most of my father's family were farmers in Tennessee. Another discovery is that unfortunately there was a lot of divorce and death in the family. The Cavin men and their wives had many, many children - some with 10 or more per family, and each of those children repeated history!
It seems as if in the 1800s, all sides of my family had very large families. I have found Methodist and Baptist preachers and farmers mostly, but I am chomping at the bit to find even more as I go along. My research shows children and young adults dying young from diseases and illnesses that nowadays are just routine and handled with medical care.
It is just incredible to find the variety of names of my relatives, and how different names were handed down through the generations. Names such as John, Alonzo, William, Oscar and Benjamin are a few examples. One of the most unusual names I have run across is Elpena...you don't hear that name these days! Elpena Benjamin Williams - my great-grandfather on my dad's mother's side, born in 1880.
I have been intrigued since my teenage years by family history because there were so many people in my family I never knew. My father just had very little contact with his own family because of what had happened when my father was just a young boy.
My dad's mother Leila died when he was just 8 years old. At that time, Dad had one sister and three brothers - with Dad being the oldest of the five children. Can you imagine what it was like for those five children to lose their mother at such young ages?
As it turns out, after Leila's death, my Granddaddy Cavin decided that there was no way possible he could raise or handle five children on his own. He decided to keep my father, his oldest child, and give away the other four children. This is a very sad part of my family history. The thought of my father, at age 8, losing his mother, losing his brother and sister, and being packed up and moved to Richmond, Virginia - away from the home he had always known and the aunts and uncles he loved...tragic indeed.
This was the reason that the Cavin and Williams side of the family was practically non-existent throughout my entire life. From then on, from the age of 8, my father led a very lonely and neglected life - until one day a Navy recruiter literally saved my father's life. We're not sure how old my father was when he enlisted in the Navy; I am still researching that. But, we do know he was underage and was approximately 14 to 16 years old.
Back then, during War World War II, enlistment ages were overlooked. Dad joined the Navy, got an anchor tattoo (LOL) and served his country for a short period of time before his age was discovered. Again, we don't know how long he was in the Navy, but he told me that he served on a ship and that he was a cook.
My dad was quite the storyteller, so we're not sure if this is all true...thus, the importance of research and documentation. We do know that my dad had his photos taken in his Navy whites, because he presented these photos to his dad when he was able to go home on leave. My Grandaddy Cavin had no idea where his son had gone; all he knew is that Freddie (my dad) left home. Again, can you imagine that? Can you imagine being a parent today and not knowing where your age 14-16 year-old son had gone? But that's the kind of relationship that my dad and his father had - not a good one at all. I know my father must have missed his brothers and sister, and the family in Tennessee they left behind. And, my father never got over that.
As sad as my father's life was, he was able to rise above all of that grief and loneliness, and become a responsible, caring husband and father. My dad broke the cycle of at least 200 years of divorce and multiple marriages in the Cavin lineage, and that says a lot about my father. He was married to my mother for 56 years, until he passed away in 2013. How I wish I could tell him how proud I am of the man he was able to become despite being neglected and unloved after his mother passed away. I am very proud of what he accomplished in life.
So you see, there is so much to learn about your family. It's wonderful and sad at the same time to find out the good and the bad in your heritage. But, family is everything. And, in a line of preachers and farmers, I think my family is quite special. Are there skeletons in the closets? Oh, yes. Every family has those. Yet, we still love.
My research will continue, and I am sure I will discover more and more about my family. I am back to the early 1700s with my 4th grandfather Cavin, and soon I hope that my research will take me to County Kerry in Ireland, where my father's family was one of 23 Cavin families to emigrate to the United States.
Ancestry.com - such a terrific resource to start that family tree. Think about starting your tree - it's challenging, thrilling and intensive work at times - but so worth it.