When Your Ox Is in the Ditch

Genealogical How-to Letters


Author: McDowell, Vera
Publication Date: 1995
Reprint Date: 1996
Pages: 161 pp.


Vera McDowell’s letters containing practical advice to genealogists first appeared in the Augusta Genealogical Society’s newsletter, Southern Echoes, in July 1982, and since then she has become something of a “Dear Abby” in genealogical circles. Mrs. McDowell’s emphasis is on problem-solving; thus all her letters bear the unstated refrain: when your ox is in the ditch (i.e. when you’re stuck), here’s what you do! The other thing that sets her apart is her enthusiasm for genealogy, and here her focus is on fun, personal fulfillment, and pure joy, and her letters resonate with the excitement of the chase.

Ten years after they first began to appear in Southern Echoes, Vera McDowell’s letters were assembled in the form of a how-to manual and grouped into chapters covering topics ranging from record-keeping and numbering systems to courthouses and cemeteries–traditional fare with a special McDowell twist! Under the title When Your Ox is in the Ditch, the compiled letters were published to universal acclaim in l992. With the Society’s permission, it is now being released to an even wider audience by the Genealogical Publishing Company.

“Through the device of good-humored, chatty letters to her cousin, Bette, Vera manages to give sound advice and detailed instruction, and to make genealogy sound like fun–which it is.”–The Connecticut Nutmegger (March 1993).

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