Tennessee library recognizes woman's genealogical research
JANESVILLE—Lona Black Koltick can trace the history of the United States through her family.
In 1608, she had a relative in Jamestown, home of the first successful English settlement in North America.
Another relative, who was too old to fight, repaired guns during the American Revolution.
After the Civil War, her great-grandparents moved from Ohio to Tennessee, where she guesses they kept a low profile.
“There was much bitterness in the South after the war,” Koltick said. “People from the north kept quiet about their origin.”
Sit with Koltick awhile and listen to her engaging family stories about grit and perseverance.
Like her, so many people do genealogical research, one of the most popular hobbies in the United States.
But few pursue their effort with Koltick's diligence and passion.
In the era of ancestry.com, when insight into our ancestors is a computer click away, the 94-year-old Koltick recalls an earlier time when digging for family history required real legwork.
The Janesville woman spent 20 years scouring libraries, talking to people, visiting historical sites and courthouses and tromping in muddy cemeteries to track down information.
In the course of her work beginning in 1980, Koltick acquired about 855 genealogical items, including photos, clippings and writings. Most related to the Black and Koltick families and 24 others.
A few years ago, she donated her genealogical materials to the Tennessee State Library and Archives because many of her ancestors can be traced to Tennessee.
Koltick was happy to see the fruits of her labor go to a safe place where others can benefit from her research.
This fall, the Tennessee State Library and Archives presented Koltick with a plaque in recognition of her contributions to preserving history.
“It can take many years to track down all of the records and documents necessary to prove a family line,” said Charles Sherrill of the Tennessee State Library.
He praised Koltick for not only gathering the information but also publishing it in two family histories, “My Heritage” in 1986 and “My Colonial Ancestry” in 1999.
Both are in the Wisconsin State Library and Archives in Madison and in many libraries throughout the country, including the world's largest genealogical library in Salt Lake City.
The fact that Koltick donated the materials to the Tennessee archives “makes her part of a select group,” Sherrill said.
Koltick calls the honor “a highlight of my life.”
Her interest in family history began after retirement, when she started writing stories about living relatives in memoir style.
One day, her brother called her and asked her to find the marriage certificate of their great-grandfather.
Knowing nothing about genealogical research, Koltick went to the library and timidly asked the librarian how to find a marriage record.
She found the certificate, which revealed her great-grandfather was married to someone the family did not know.
“That stirred my curiosity and started me on my goose chase,” Koltick said. “One thing led to another until I finally solved the mystery. The mysteries I found along the way kept me searching for answers.”
Koltick's husband, Joseph, died when she was 60. For the next two years, she devoted herself to writing her story.
“I was new at this, but I wanted to make my stories interesting by adding personal information about each person,” she said.
Koltick does not shy away from family wrinkles.
“Most people think their families are perfect,” she said. “That's a lie.”
Koltick advises people new to genealogy to begin by writing down their family stories.
“They are priceless,” Koltick said. “They give us a peek into the human heart and soul of not only our family but the history of the human race.”
She called most family stories abbreviated and exaggerated.
“But there is a grain of truth in every story,” Koltick said. “You have to find it. Following these stories is like detective work.”
Koltick said family research gave her a deeper understanding of herself and her background.
“Doing the research has enriched my life,” she said. “It wasn't work at all.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.