Lessons in genealogical research: Part Three

My wife Susan and Danny Cotten at the Hotchkiss-Crawford Historical Museum.

My third lesson follows on from the events of the second – explorations into family history can result in rich and rewarding personal relationships.

So who was this man in Hotchkiss? His name was Danny Cotten and, for all but a few years in California, he had spent his whole life in the area known as the North Fork Valley of Colorado, which encompasses the towns of Hotchkiss, Crawford, and Paonia, and lies just north of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. These are areas where my grandfather took most of his photographs. Danny had been a cowboy from an early age and grew up herding and tending cattle all over the area. He knew every rock, bush, trail, stream, rancher, etc., for miles around. In later years he made a living as a contractor installing ranch buildings in the county, a job that continued and expanded his local contacts. Danny had taken great pains to learn about the history of the area and its people. He was an asset to the local historical society and he now was the key that fit into the lock on my grandfather’s images.

In 2010, my wife, my sister, and I visited Danny and his wife, and enjoyed some home-cooked meals with them. We stayed in the Stone House B&B, the very place that started the adventure. While spending time at the local historical society we met another man with the same intense interest in local history. Chuck Farmer was a former FBI investigator and he knew how to find records of any description. One day I asked an innocent question about the location of my grandfather’s homestead ranch, and the next day I found a pile of documents waiting for me – homestead and land records, maps, mortgage documents, newspaper clippings, etc.

My grandfather's photography in book form.

With the information that poured out of these guys, I was later able to self-publish a book of my grandfather’s photographs, with descriptive information for most of them.[3] This book was intended for just my family. But, in a surprise to me, their historical society has sold dozens of them.

For several years I corresponded with Danny and Chuck regarding the histories of their area and our families. Sadly they both are no longer living, but I think about them often. First, they were a godsend of information that I was unable to obtain on my own. Secondly, they were amongst the nicest and most generous people I have ever known, and a friendship developed between us. Thirdly, they lived in a community and culture much different than my own, and through them I gained a great appreciation of theirs.

I live in a suburban area near San Francisco. Most in my area commute to their jobs (pre-COVID-19) and work in a great diversity of occupations, many of them office and technical jobs. Some of our neighbors we know well, others we hardly encounter. Danny and Chuck lived in a rural western community where virtually everyone is connected to ranching and farming. They knew all the people for miles around and knew instinctively what to do if anyone needed help on their ranches. I know very little about what problems or issues many of my neighbors have associated with their jobs, and probably couldn’t help them if I did.

We are currently living in a time when different cultural values and ways of making a living are causing great rifts in our country. My friendship with Danny and Chuck has made it clear to me that such rifts can be avoided by finding common interests and taking time to know each other and each other’s problems. Mutual exploration of family and regional history was the common interest in this case. There surely are other ways, but this one worked splendidly.


[3] I have self-published several books at Lulu Press. To create a book you need only upload two files: your content and your cover art, both as pdf files. There are no charges to do this. You pay when you order finished books. You can order just one if you choose, or thousands if desired. Imagine the printing hardware that can produce a single hard-cover, 200-page book for under $20.

Philip Grover

About Philip Grover

Philip Grover is a retired chemical engineer who got involved in genealogy by helping his mother enter her extensive family research into Personal Ancestral File for Mac. Little did he know then what a slippery slope that minor involvement would become. After getting deeply involved in doing his own research, he realized how disinterested family members can be in genealogical charts, lists, and diagrams. His focus since has been making his family history more interesting and accessible, and toward that end he has self-published three books of family history.View all posts by Philip Grover