Columbia Man's Genealogy Search Reveals Rich Family History

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COLUMBIA - A Columbia man who has spent hundreds of hours researching his family history said he wanted others to know and appreciate his ancestors.

"I didn't want the Scotten name to vanish," said family historian Dan Scotten. "As long as the name is recorded it will never be lost, so that's my purpose."

It has been about three years since Scotten began piecing together the genealogy on the father's side of his family, particularly the story of his great-grandfather Peter Scotten. Now he's writing a book about his discoveries.

"It's discovery, it's really effort," he said.

He feels the Scotten story is representative of tens of thousands of European-Americans moving westward.

"I want people to know that Peter Scotten was just an everyday guy," said family historian Dan Scotten. "He was a strong man and was not content with what he had. He was very determined to make a better life for himself."

Scotten said he believes more books need to be written about people that were just "everyday commoners," coming to America to find something better in their lives.

"As I opened one page I found another," Scotten said. "Many people have stories to tell, and they've had nobody to tell it to."

Scotten estimates he has spent at least 1000 hours researching his family history. His visits to area courthouses have allowed him access to over 300 real estate documents and the ability to trace all the property ownership of Peter Scotten from 1822 until his death in 1877.

He said the difficulty many people face in doing genealogical research is figuring how you go about contacting people.

Changes in technology and the increased digitization of documents are making more information available and searchable electronically, but the trouble with crowd-sourced genealogy is that incorrect information can spread easily.

"You can't really depend on online sites as to being complete," Scotten said. "You can have lost side trails with even a simple name like Scotten."

He turned to The State Historical Society of Missouri for assistance.

Reference specialist Amy Waters said, "Everything is a bit more accessible, it's easier to put in your family history now, than it ever was before."

Waters said she believes this accessibility can sometimes be a disadvantage.

"They latch on to somebody else's work and so they don't tend to do their own work, and that's a draw back," she said. "We always want to encourage people to make sure they double check facts because if a record's not cited, you really need to cite it to make it a really good piece of genealogy."

People are searching for an experience greater than just digesting family information.

Senior manuscript specialist Laura Jolley said, "They've gone beyond the facts, births and deaths. They want to know the story."

Jolley is fighting the perception that everything needs to be digitized. She said it would take five to ten years to sift through all the boxes at the state historical society, make sense of the information, and make it easy for people to view on a computer.

"It takes a lot of people a lot of hours to even do a small collection," Jolley said.

Gary Kremer, executive director, said he sees a similar problem.

"It's labor intensive to digitize, it's expensive to digitize, only a small fraction of the newspapers that we have are digitized," he said. "I fear that people will get to the point where if they can't find something with a few key strokes they're going to abandon their search, and that would be a shame."

The historical society has a newspaper collection dating back to 1808. Much of the more than 3000 titles and 50,000 reels of microfilm remain un-digitized, meaning people most often have to come in person to access the information.

"We definitely have over 100 in-house patrons a month, who are just working on family history," Jolley said. "And that's just a small part of what we do, where all the staff are responsible for responding to the letters that come in; that's thousands."

Kremer believes the notion of a greater interest in genealogy is more impressionistic than scientific. He sees it as the baby boomer generation facing the reality of their own mortality and beginning to have a sense that they missed something and connect to their past.

Genealogists have told him, "Gosh, I wish I had talked to my grandfather when he was alive, but I didn't care then and I didn't care about the past."

"They want to go, they want to physically go to the place. They want to breathe the air, they want to see the sights," Kremer said. "I think we're going to simply try to retrace the steps of our ancestors and physically try to walk where they walked, and see what they saw, and hear what they heard."

Scotten traveled to North Carolina in the hopes of retracing his ancestor's footsteps.

"I've now walked every place that Peter Scotten likely walked or rode a horse in his lifetime," Scotten said." From the county where he grew up, on a road called Scotten Road, to the trail he likely came when he walked to Missouri in 1817, to where he owned farms in Howard county, to where he owned farms in Pettis county, and to where he is buried today."

Kremer believes that many times those researching their family history lack context. He said that one of the biggest challenges is the way Missouri used to report its census records.

"It's really very difficult to find an actual birth or death record in Missouri prior to 1910 which means that you have roughly a century of your state's existence prior to the time birth and death records were kept," he said.

Kremer suggests people think about leaving a legacy for future generations.

"If you're still coherent and you're still active, and you still have your wits about you, you can do a great service to your children and your grandchildren by recording yourself. All that you know about your past and about your life," he said.

It was something similar that sparked Scotten's initial research: rediscovered tapes sent by his father, outlining information about his youth and life experiences. The research taught Scotten more than just about his great-grandfather and the rest of the clan.

"The real hidden strength of all the Scotten family was the women in the family," Scotten said. "The men were always perceived as the breadwinners, but they really weren't. The women had an even more difficult life than the men."

Scotten also learned about relatives living in Mid-Missouri he never knew about.

"When I started the search I found that there were at least two cousins that I was not aware of that live in this area," Scotten said. "It's been strange coincidence there are people that are your descendant relatives that are geographically in your own town."

Scotten said he does not think it's too late for people to get started, depending on what they want to accomplish.

He does not have any line descents, meaning his son and daughter have not had children. He said his work in putting together a family history means the Scotten name will live on.

"The Scotten name won't be lost," he said. "Even if it's not on an individual, even if I don't have a Scotten descendant, directly with that name, that the name won't be lost...a book that reminds everybody that Peter Scotten was somebody that might have been important to their heritage."

Scotten hopes to have his book, "Peter Scotten Tales," released early this year.