Bertie Beall Cummins

When I was a young boy, living in South Salt Lake City, a woman named Bertie Beall Cummins came to visit our house. She was a distant relative of my father, which at the time meant almost nothing to me.

I’m not sure how she learned where we lived, because there was no internet then. No easy access to public records, except possibly through the telephone books. So how would Ms. Cummins, who lived in Texas, get a hold of a Utah telephone book?

She was delivering a copy of her book, “The Georgia Beall’s and Their Kinfolks”, which became known as The Beall Book in our family. It was produced in a limited quantity, with something like the serial number of the book, printed inside the hard pale blue front cover.  My father and I consulted it more reverantly than any other book, except perhaps the Book Of Mormon, which every devout Mormon kid carried to their LDS Primary class on Tuesday afternoons.

Ms. Cummins had done a great work for us, putting our Beall ancestry in print. Or, so it seemed. I had no reason to question it until about 35 years later. And most owners of this Beall Book are not going to like this.

There was a time when Dad might have had hard evidence to dispute Ms. Cummins work. After my grandmother Della Beall, who lived in Jerome Idaho, passed away, she left boxes and boxes of photos and correspondence; keepsakes from relatives in Georgia and Alabama, some of which might have been very telling about our family history.

My father, who was the only Mormon among his siblings – in this life – was a likely candidate to investigate and categorize what his mother left behind. He seemed rather exasperated with the subject, when I asked him, out of curiosity, why he didn’t take his mother’s stuff. He replied, “Where am I gonna put it?”

The house we lived in was a rental, and we were not wealthy by any means, but there were places to store things.  I remember finding Christmas gifts hidden in the garage, and in my parents bedroom.

To be fair to Dad, we lived several hours away from Jerome. If maybe Dad could afford the gasoline to drive our car to Jerome, perhaps even the empty Chevrolet Bel Aire would not contain all the boxes of keepsakes that Grandma had left in her house.

After my aunt Dovie Morgan died, there was no longer any Beall relative in Jerome who wanted to maintain Grandmother’s house. The task of cleaning out the house, and getting it ready to sell, fell to one of Dovie’s boys.

Darlene Olson, a certain cousin of mine from Utah, sifted through many of Grandmother’s letters of correspondence, looking for rare postage stamps. She wanted to spend more time there, actually reading, but she had to get back to work in Utah. She pulled out only a couple of my father’s letters to his mother, and asked the Morgans to not dispose of anything until she would come back the next weekend.

For whatever reason, the Morgans did not wait. The remainder of  my grandmother’s keepsakes were sent to the garbage dump.

In 2001, while I was a full-time caregiver for my mother, I became interested in preserving family history. I obtained a Umax flatbed scanner to digitize photos and documents. I traveled around the Wasatch Front, to my maternal relatives, for a chance to scan their photos.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Beall relatives in Utah. I decided to digitize “The Georgia Bealls and Their Kinfolks”, and add some extra photos and details as I could find them. My initial complaint was that Ms. Cummins failed to provide many source notes, to cite publications or pertinent vital records.

In 2004, while browsing some Rootsweb genealogy forums, I learned about the Beal Surname DNA Project. It could help me expand upon what I knew about my ancestry. I soon joined the DNA project, submitted a DNA sample for testing, and was corresponding with other participants, proudly sharing my genealogy as I knew it. They in turn provided source documents that put my ancestry in a different light, to put it mildly.

I became frustrated trying to read the poorly rendered results page, so I reworked it into html tables, using a program called Claris Home Page. Charles E. Beal, the project founder and coordinator, was delighted and asked me to be the webmaster.

One of the most difficult refutations of my Beall Book genealogy, came from a researcher in Arizona, Roberta Hull. She used mostly census records to construct her articles. One of these articles proved to my satisfaction that my Beall Book was loaded with critical errors; I was certainly not a descendant of the famous Colonel Ninian Beall, as we had supposed. Ms. Cummins was wrong about my ancestry.

Roberta’s work was the kick in the pants that made me hire a genealogist in Georgia to find some vital documents, to further bolster the new ancestry links I was discovering. What she found was worth every penny I paid, and more.