If, for you, the mention of genealogy conjures up images of endless boring lists of “so-and-so begat so-and-so,” then obviously you have not met Dorothy Sargent, who lives in Miller. Yes, genealogy is a list of names, but it is so much more than that. For with every name on the list, there is a story, and that is what makes it so interesting–even fun. “Genealogy gives you a love for geography and history. You don’t start with it, but you end up with it,” says Sargent, who discovered through research, that her own roots can be traced back to the Mayflower. She is a direct descendent of Edward Doty, who was one of two “lusty young men” who fought the first recorded duel in this country. Sargent says she likes to know what part her ancestors played in developing this country and how it’s made her who she is.”
She asserts that there are certain qualities needed to succeed in finding one’s genealogical roots. “You have to be a bit of a snoop, a gossip, a detective, a historian and a geographer,” explains Sargent, and it is obvious that she is all of those and more.
Sargent’s journey began when she took genealogical classes at Brigham Young University every summer for ten years in the 1960s and ‘70s, before attending Huron College in the 1980s. Since then, she has become a true genealogical pioneer, paving the way for others in the state to search out their genealogy. (In April of 2013, she was presented with a plaque that recognizes Sargent for “her dedicated work pioneering genealogical research in South Dakota”.) She has been instrumental in establishing six genealogical societies throughout the eastern part of the state, as well as the South Dakota Genealogical Society.
For thirty years she ran the Family History Center in Huron. She took German so she could help the Hutterites translate their early records so they could read about their own families.
She was once hired to help actress Cheryl (Stoppelmoor) Ladd’s genealogy and completed it as far as it went in this state. “I spent a solid week working on it,” said Sargent, who was friends with Cheryl’s grandmother.
Sargent loves to share her knowledge of genealogical research with others, which has opened up many opportunities to speak on the subject. For instance, she taught a course at Dakota State University to public school teachers in how to incorporated genealogy into their social studies classes. “I could talk non-stop for a couple of hours, with no notes,” Sargent proudly proclaims. “All my life I have been at ease talking to crowds. I guess that’s because I came from a long line of Quaker women preachers.”
She also has been active in the East River Genealogical Forum, in Huron. “The Forum is a monthly meeting of people interested in preserving the historical records,” explains Sargent.
For the person who wishes to start researching their own genealogy, Sargent advises that you begin right where you are. Start with yourself and your immediate family. Write down names, dates, places, births, deaths, and burial records. “Now prove it,” said Sargent. “If your genealogy won’t stand up in a court of law, it is not worth the paper it is printed on.”
From there, fan out to interview other relatives to see what odd bits and pieces of information they may have stored around their homes. Family Bibles, old letters, military discharge papers, baptismal records, passports, pictures, autograph books even telephone books are great places to uncover pieces of your story. Once you have accumulated lots of seemingly unrelated notes and items, it is time to get organized. “The Family Group Sheet (FGS) is an indispensable aid in recording what you know about your family,” said Sargent. The FGS, which can be found in any good genealogical book or online, and can be used to list all the pertinent information about ones family: husband, wife, and children.
The next step is to begin filling out a pedigree chart, which usually has room for listing four to six generations. “Those names will be your ancestors,” said Sargent. “When talking with family members, a pedigree chart is often the only way to keep up with the conversation.”
For computer buffs, Sargent can recommend a number of good genealogical programs and websites, such as www.familysearch.org and www.ancestory.com, though she cautions budding genealogists against copying information from the internet without first verifying it.
Libraries, newspapers and courthouses are also a wealth of information, but be prepared for surprises, says Sargent, “Nobody’s line is 100 percent pure.”
People often ask Sargent how much time it will take; she promises this in not something that has to take over your life. In fact, one can actually get quite a lot done in just thirty minutes a month. Of course, she does admit that it can become very addictive, so don’t be surprised if you want to spend more and more time on it.
“Once you start this, you’ll go into a very amusing time in your life,” says Sargent, who confesses she will go to any length–even crawling around in dark, dusty attics–to find the information and pictures she needs. “Early on I realized nothing is what it seems to be until you know the whole story, which is why I keep doing this.”
Though genealogy is a large part of Sargent’s life, it is far from all that keeps her busy. She married in 1944, and she and her husband, Kenneth had six children and 19 foster children to keep them busy on the family ranch.
More recently she was awarded the President’s Lifetime Service Award, for completing over 4,000 hours of non-paid, non-clergical, non-political volunteer service. Her community service has included typing 1,000 pages of the People’s History of Beadle County, volunteering at the nursing home, as well as a number of other organizations. She is involved in the Maga-Ta-Hohpi Friends Group dedicated to developing an environmental campus for the Huron community, the South Dakota Association for Retard Children, Marine Corp League Auxiliary. Local organizations she in which she is involved include the Lion’s Club, VFW Auxiliary, the American Legion Auxiliary, and her church.
Every day during the school year, Sargent assists her daughter Barb (Mrs. Lowell) Jones, who is a second grade teacher at Miller Elementary School, helping new transferring students catch up, listen to kids read, and help them with their penmanship. “I also help them to learn to think for themselves and help reinforce manners,” says Sargent.
Another daughter, Patricia (Wayne) Ames also lives in the area, as do a number of Sargent’s grandchildren. A third daughter, Dottie Lou, living in Arizona. She also has two sons, Robert in Florida and Kenny Jr. in Utah. According to Sargent, all of her children have “caught the bug” and are involved to one degree or another in researching their genealogical roots.
Sargent says she would love to help anyone who wants to learn more about how to get started searching out their own genealogy. I am interested in helping people, so give me a call at 893-1015. “I think everybody should do this for the sake of their grandchildren,” stated Sargent. “It’s an educational trip you cannot believe!”