"Well, it's just off the square." Okay, where's the square. "You see that hill? Just follow the school bus and turn left." Luckily, there were signs posted with arrows pointing to the fair grounds and the museum or I'd still be driving in circles.
The museum was once the Ray County poor house and contained artifacts donated by the area's first families: civil war uniforms, china, furniture and cases full of books, scrapbooks, handwritten notes, newspapers, photos and decades of ghosts ready to tell their stories. After the first 10 minutes I realized that I'd planned poorly; I'd need a week just to get started.
Lisa, the director of the genealogy library was very nice and pointed me at family history files for the Dudgeon and Pigg families. I opened the first file folder to find photos donated by my 2nd cousin 1x removed, Eleanor. Eleanor and I have been writing and sharing information for about 3 years now and so I felt a bit like a prospector who'd turned up the same yellow rock three times.
I opened the second folder to find more files donated by Eleanor. "Who are you looking for?" Charlie had grown up in Camden, Missouri, just south of Orrick. "Hicks, Dudgeon, Pigg, Dennis..." I replied. "Oh, I knew Arnie Hicks..." And so the stories started.
Stories are the real gold.
The genealogy library closes at 4:30, but the museum's director, Linda Emley, stayed to give me a tour of the museum and the county's history. As she walked me to the car, she mentioned that she had Elliott ancestors from Ray County, but hadn't researched them. "You don't mean Millie Elliott do you?" I asked. "Yes!" she smiled. Another cousin.
On the trip home, I met my third cousin Vickie from the Dennis side of the family. Her husband Jim met me at the door. "You look familiar!" we both called, recognizing smiles from Facebook photos. Again, I time-planned poorly and started the introductory meeting speed talking about my family interlaced with questions about hers and casual conversation about travels, their new home and landscaping plans over a wonderful lunch on the patio. We never really got around to looking at one another's research, sufficing to swap Ancestry.com invitations and a promise to write, but touched on stories of shared family in Cocke County Tennessee and another 3rd cousin I've not yet met and plans for another road trip.
I'm going to close with a couple quick links to the Ray County Museum and Genealogical Society. Call before you go. Ask for Linda or Lisa...and if Charlie's there, tell him Arnie Hicks's great niece says thanks for the roadmap (it was a lifesaver!) and the stories.
Ray County Museum: http://raycountymuseum.zoomshare.com/
...and their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RAYCOHISTORY
Ray County Genealogical Society: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~morcga/