Tracing family history: 4-H genealogy project leads to surprising discovery for family


How many people can say they are related to a U.S. president?

After years of studying her family history, Laken Waskom, 16, of rural Seymour can.

She actually made the discovery last year while working on her 4-H genealogy project for the Jackson County Fair. She’s a member of the Hamilton Hammerheads 4-H Club and has been involved in 4-H for the past seven years.

In her research, she made the startling and exciting connection that she is related to President Harry S. Truman. He is her second cousin five times removed.

Truman served as the country’s 33rd president from 1945 to 1953 and died in 1972.

Her project earned a grand champion blue ribbon for the third time in a row and was entered in the Indiana State Fair, which begins Friday and runs through Aug. 19 in Indianapolis.

This year, Waskom and her family decided to bring that part of their history alive. In early July, they traveled to Missouri, where Truman was born and died, to visit several sites that are significant to his life and career.

They toured the Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, family gravesites and the Truman Farm, which was purchased by Truman’s maternal grandfather, Solomon Young.

“We got to tour his house,” Laken said. “And we got to see his boyhood home, which was cool.”

Laken traced her lineage all the way back to Young, who was her dad’s great-great-great-great-great-uncle.

Even more interesting to the family, Laken also discovered Truman’s great-grandfather, Jacob Young, is buried right here in Jackson County in Waskom Cemetery in the Tampico area.

Laken and her mother, Stacey, were looking for an obituary when they stumbled upon an article in The Tribune that led them to the surprising find. The article was about Jacob Young, his wife, Rachel Goodnight Young, and then all of his children.

One of their children was Sarah Goodnight Young, who married Joseph Waskom in Shelby County, Kentucky.

Joseph Waskom was a soldier in the War of 1812. For his service, he received a bounty land warrant for land in Jackson County, so he moved his family here, becoming the ancestors of the Waskoms in Jackson County.

The 11th child of Jacob Young and Rachel Goodnight Young was Solomon Young. One of Solomon’s daughters was Martha Ellen Young, who married John Anderson Truman in Missouri. One of their children was Harry S. Truman.

After seeing the article, they went online to and found the Truman family tree confirming the lineage.

This year marked the sixth year for Waskom, an incoming junior at Seymour High School, to take on genealogy for 4-H. Each year, she tries to go back a little further in time and fill in details about her ancestors.

Her interest in genealogy is inherited from her mother, who has done it on and off for the past 20 years.

“My mom has done it for a long time,” Laken said.

But Stacey focused on her side of the family and had never looked into her husband David’s side.

So all of the information Laken is gathering on the Waskom side is not just repeating what her mom has already done.

“I like finding out where I come from, and I think it’s just really interesting and fun to find stuff about my ancestors,” she said of genealogy.

Another aspect of genealogy that interests her is where her ancestors immigrated from.

In Laken’s first year of genealogy, the project consisted of a simple pedigree chart or family tree. She collected and displayed her research in a binder. One binder has now become many.

Besides the pedigree charts, there are family group sheets that provide details on each family member and additional information worksheets to supply information like what school they attended, their occupation, hobbies, military service, medical history and other facts.

Laken said most of her ancestors were farmers.

If she had not made the Truman discovery, Stacey said it would probably never have been known.

“The newspaper article in The Tribune had a small mention of it in 1995, but that’s been 23 years ago, and a whole new generation has arrived and wouldn’t have seen this article,” Stacey said.

Genealogy is a much easier hobby than it was when Stacey started doing it after graduating college, she said.

“You had to literally travel to cemeteries and libraries then,” she said. “You had to physically go to the health department to pull birth records or the courthouse and pull whatever you were looking for, a will or deeds to different estates.”

They have been to Waskom Cemetery, however, as part of their research.

But most of the information, such as obituaries, can now be found at your fingertips through the internet and search tools such as Google,,, and other online resources.

That alone makes it a more accessible hobby to a younger generation, Stacey said.

But it gets more difficult the further back you go, Laken said.

There aren’t many youth who choose to do genealogy projects for 4-H anymore, she said.

“It’s pretty hard once you get so far,” she said. “Because not a lot of documents were kept back then.”

And there weren’t people taking selfies and posting their pictures on Facebook and Instagram.

The actual 4-H genealogy requirements stop at the seventh and eighth generations, Stacey said. Laken is on the eighth generation and has gone back as far as the late 1700s with 255 direct descendants identified.

In the 4-H advanced genealogy division, there are options for research to help fill in blanks and details. This year, she studied her family’s religious background, most of which has been Lutheran and even the same church.

“They have you just keep working every year to try to find and add new things,” Stacey said.

Besides genealogy, Laken also does 4-H painting and drawing.

Genealogy can take a lot of time and seem overwhelming, but it’s very rewarding, Laken said.

Although online research is great, Laken said talking to her grandma helped a lot, too.

“You just start with who you know,” she said.

It’s exciting when she comes across pictures of ancestors, she said, because it’s no longer just a name of a person but a face.

She plans to continue doing genealogy and going back as far as she can. All of the work she has done so far, she plans to keep and pass down so it’s always in her family.

Laken compares genealogy to doing a many-pieced puzzle. And like a puzzle, it can be frustrating at times.

“When you find those missing pieces,” she said, “that’s the exciting part.”

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