Searching family roots on a motorcycle and the internet

Published 4:43 pm Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Riding his motorcycle over the back roads around Chelsea in the late 1960s while visiting his friend Glen Autry, Jr., teenager Lester Crane had no idea that his ancestors had once lived among these hills and hollows.

It wasn’t until about ten years ago, while talking with his Uncle Johnie Crane of Warrior—his father’s youngest brother and the last living member of that generation—that he became interested in learning about his ancestors.

He made copies of census records someone had sent to his uncle, and a family tree his uncle had started, then began his own research.

He learned that some of his forefathers, farmers in St. Clair and Shelby County, had moved to Warrior to work in the coal mining business (one was a state mining inspector). Living now in Chelsea, he began checking tombstones in old cemeteries in the area and found the grave of John F. Crane, his great-grandfather’s brother, in old Quinn cemetery on Shelby County 47.

He surmises that his coal mining ancestors in Warrior likely worked first in the old Coalville mine at Chelsea.

After learning of my book on early settlers to the area, he came down to see what I could tell him about the Chelsea Cranes.

It was interesting to learn that Crane has, at the request of another genealogist, verified some of his ancestry through DNA testing.

According to the internet, “Genetic genealogy is the journey of a lifetime.” It not only allows you to search for family lines, but is “a dynamic global project which will show you (from) which part of the world your ancestors originated, what their race was, and where they have scattered throughout the world.”

Crane explained that people who want to participate can order a kit from Family Tree DNA (on the Internet) to use for collecting cell samples from inside the mouth to mail back to the lab. Participants get back a chart showing a series of numbers that represent key chemical markers within their DNA. These numbers can be compared to results from other people to help determine mutual ancestors, or to verify an ancestor.

It’s an interesting concept. But not as interesting to Lester Crane as riding one of his several motorcycles over the country roads of central Alabama with wife Nancy, checking out old cemeteries and home places.

Shelba Nivens can be reached by e-mail at