Right off the bat, I need to put this story in context. First, my friend and distant cousin Roger Alexander is the main character. Roger is the all-time gold medal award-winning recruiter for convincing men to swab a cheek for the sake of country, motherhood, world peace, and the Alexander DNA Project. Second, this story takes place in the Genealogical Dark Ages, when amateur family history researchers had to walk barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways, in order to do research in person at a genealogy library.
I explain Roger’s success like so: you have either agreed to Y-DNA test, or you are still talking to him. Today. If you are within a three-hour radius of where he lives, he may show up at your front door. As a favor to me, he once convinced a Rankin about whom he knew virtually nothing to Y-DNA test. He has retired from the recruiting business, or I would still be pestering him for help.
Some of you may not know what the genealogical Dark Ages were like. The Church of Latter Day Saints (“LDS”) had not yet made available online the zillions of county records it has microfilmed, now accessible free at FamilySearch.org. Consequently, family history researchers back then either had to (1) rely on abstracts and microfilm at their local libraries, (2) go to county courthouses to look at original records, or (3) go to the LDS main library in Salt Lake City to access the church’s vast microfilm library. Alternatively, one could write a snail mail letter to a clerk of court to ask for copies of original deeds. I actually did that once and only once, and the resulting deeds play a minor role in this story.
O.K., now to the actual story. It begins a quarter-century ago, in the mid- to late 1990s. The Genealogical Dark Ages. I struck up an email conversation with a very nice man named John Alexander. One of my ancestors is Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander, the wife of Samuel Rankin of south-central North Carolina, so John and I had that surname and approximate location in common. He is the best researcher I have ever known, bar none. We were unable to help each other, and the correspondence ended.
Fast forward about ten years, to 2005-ish. Not only was this still the Genealogical Dark Ages, it was also a time when many of us still had land lines, a telephone option some of you may not be familiar with. Landlines featured phones that may have actually dialed, and they were connected to the wall with a wire. We had eliminated our land line because it was a magnet for junk calls.
About this time, John Alexander and his cousin and fellow researcher Roger Alexander had reached an impasse. They had been convinced they were descended from a famous Alexander family known as the “Seven Brothers and Two Sisters.” That Alexander family had probably been among the early arrivals to the Colonies during the so-called “Great Migration” of Scots-Irish that began in 1717. Many of them moved to the Piedmont Area of North and South Carolina, which includes both Mecklenburg County, NC and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Several men from the line of the Seven Plus Two signed the famous Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
John’s and Roger’s earliest proved Alexander ancestor first appeared in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, just a short hop across the state line from Mecklenburg. When Y-DNA testing disproved their descent from one of the Seven Brothers, they labeled themselves the “Spartanburg Confused,” or “SpartCon” for short. Because their Alexanders first lived in North Carolina, they mucked around in NC records. They found — in a deed abstract rather than a film or an actual deed book — a series of gift deeds from James and Ann Alexander to their children James, David, Robert, and Eleanor. Roger’s and John’s mutual Alexander ancestor was a James, the right age to have been a son of James and Ann.
This was exciting, but for one problem: Y-DNA testing also suggested that their ancestor James had a brother named John. There was no John among the gift deeds in the deed abstract, however.
Roger’s cousin John Alexander, whose memory is as outstanding as his research skills, recalled having had a conversation some years earlier with a descendant of Eleanor Alexander Rankin. Roger and John thought I might be able to help them solve their puzzle.
Unfortunately, my email address had changed, eliminating the obvious means of contact. Roger switched into detective mode in high gear, trying to track me down.
Our next-door neighbor Sabrina rang our doorbell one morning. She handed me a scrap of paper with a name and phone number on it: Roger’s. I invited her in, but she was busy.
“What’s this all about?” I asked.
“I just got off the phone with this Roger guy after a half hour conversation. He is looking for you.”
“OK,” I said, still in the dark.
“He tried to get me to tell him your phone number or email address.”
“Did you?” I asked.
“Hell, no,” she responded. “He claimed he needs to get in touch with you about something having to do with Alexander genealogy. He made it sound like the earth would stop rotating on its axis if he couldn’t talk to you.”
I’m still confused by all this.
“So … why did he call you, rather than me?”
“Because he couldn’t find your phone number since you no longer have a land line.”
“OK, that’s why he didn’t call me, but why did he call you?”
“He was able to tell from an online map that we are next door neighbors, and he was also able to find our land line.”
All was now clear except for the apocalyptic nature of Roger’s need to talk to me.
“He made me promise to give you the message that he urgently needs to talk to you about some earth-shattering issue concerning Alexander genealogy, but he didn’t tell me what that is.”
“OK,” said I, “thanks Sabrina. I’m sorry you were inconvenienced by this nut.”
“No problem,” she said. “This will probably be the most interesting thing that happens to me all day.”
After she left, I promptly deposited the slip of paper with Roger’s name and number in the trash, having concluded that he was a total nutcase. Who on earth tries to contact you by calling your next-door neighbor?
A week or two passed. At some point the mail arrived, including a short handwritten letter on lined paper saying this:
“Please call or email me. I urgently need to talk to you about an important matter concerning Alexander genealogy. You can reach me at ______ (phone number) or _____ (email address).
At this point, of course, my curiosity finally kicked in and I was hooked. Wouldn’t you be? Moreover, I didn’t have to call Roger — I could just email him and find out what the deal was. If he was truly wacko, I could simply block his emails.
Turned out that Roger and John are sixth-ish cousins of mine. We are all descended from James and Ann Alexander of Anson/Rowan, North Carolina. Furthermore, Roger turned out to be smart, witty, and fun — as well as being constitutionally incapable of accepting defeat.
All they needed to know from me was that the abstract of the gift deeds they consulted had omitted the deed from James and Ann to their son John. The copies of the gift deeds I had obtained from the county clerk identified James and Ann’s children as James, John, David, Eleanor, and Robert.
The unintended moral of this piece: don’t trust an abstract, check the original. That’s easy to do now, thanks to FamilySearch.org.
It is a good thing I emailed Roger, or he might have driven from his home to Texas and knocked on our front door.
If you have a better story about the lengths someone will go to in order to further their family history research, I really want to hear it.
See you on down the road.
 The library where my father researched in Shreveport, LA in the late 1960s had a microfilm collection limited to census film, so far as I knew.
 Another alternative was to go to a local LDS “family history center,” an option we didn’t use.
 If John Alexander tells me that James Alexander’s parents are X and Y, I will believe him without any evidence whatsoever.
 If you read this blog, you have run across a member of the Seven Plus Two before: Adam Rankin’s wife Mary Steele Alexander was the widow of “James the Carpenter” Alexander, one of the Seven Plus Two. If you do this hobby long enough, you will run over your own tail.
 This is poetic license, of course. There are several places on the planet, particularly in Scotland, where Alexanders are thick as thieves.
 Anson Co., NC Deed Book B: 314 et seq., five deeds dated 12 Jan 1753 from James Alexander Sr. to his children James Jr., John, David, “Elener,” and Robert, gifts of land and/or livestock. Two other deeds prove another child, a son William, almost certainly the eldest son. Rowan Co., NC Deed Book 3: 495, 498, deeds from William Alexander identifying David and Robert as his brothers and Ann Alexander as his mother. Numerous court records establish that James Sr.’s widow was named Ann. See, e.g., Rowan Co., NC Court Order Book 1: 53, record dated 9 Oct 1754, Ann Alexander, “wife and relict of James, dec’d,” took the oath of office as administrator of his estate.