Books written by a family members are among the memorabilia collected by Lallie Benkoski at her west Albany home. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
Lallie Benkoski on the importance of family history
Alice "Lallie" Dozier Jones Benkoski, of Albany, explains how genealogy became so important to her and shows some of the tens of thousands of documents that she has acquired in her years of researching family history.
ALBANY — Taking a tour of Alice Elizabeth “Lallie” Dozier Jones Benkoski’s west Albany home is much like being granted access to a museum. Her rooms are filled — wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling — with the memorabilia, heirlooms and minutiae of a lifetime of travel and genealogical research.
In one room are files of data collected on 36,000 — and counting — individuals with ties to the Dozier and Brinkley families, everyone from Abbotts to Wynns. In others are collectibles and photographs from Japan, China, Ireland, Russia, Germany, Brazil, Spain, Italy. There are maps from a Lewis and Clark tour, books written by family members, a kimono purchased during a trip to Japan, numerous mounted coats of arms, certificates and plaques of appreciation from various historical societies.
In Benkoski’s collection are lists, such as the Georgia counties (six in all) that are named for members of her extended family. And the various states and countries she has been to in her extensive travels. And the family associations (seven in all) that she helped found.
All are tied to Benkoski’s — Miss Lallie’s, if you please — passion for genealogy, a passion that started with the collection of her mother, Alice Louise Brinkley Dozier’s, papers.
“When my mother died in 1967, the family gathered at the ‘big house’ after her funeral,” said Benkoski, who at 88 is as spry as women generations younger. “Someone had broken into the house years before and scattered her papers all over the place. I told my brother I wanted to put her papers in order, so we gathered all of them up.
“It took me a year to get everything together and organized. It was so interesting reading through what essentially was the history of my mother’s family. I’d read some and cry, then read some more and laugh at the memories.”
That initial family project ignited a passion in Benkoski that has survived now for almost 50 years. She’s since conducted genealogical research on the various branches of her mother’s and her father’s (Obedience Rogers Dozier) family trees, research that has carried her to several states and to Ireland, France, England and Scotland, as well.
Already a world traveler — Benkoski has visited all 50 U.S. states and made trips to Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Wales, Sweden, Norway, Lichtenstein, Russia, Germany, Spain, Majorca, Portugal, Italy, Japan and Costa Rica, in addition to her fact-finding missions — and a member of the “Friendship Force International” and The Travel Club, she’s frequently tied her travels into quests to find information that she adds to her ever-growing collection.
She’s collected letters her sister, Mary Lois Dozier Norvelle — a one-time reporter and Garden Editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution — exchanged with friends who fought in World War II and donated them to the Georgia Historical Society. She donated the vast collection of fellow family genealogist L. Hunter Dozier to the Augusta Genealogical Society.
“I find this fascinating,” Benkoski said of her obsession that she calls “my little hobby.” “Each little project that I do is like doing an investigation. I find information in libraries, courthouses, museums, graveyards, family Bibles and through personal interviews.
“I’ve found that people are pretty much open when they find you’re researching their family history. Of course, I only research my own family. I use the websites ancestry.com and familysearch.org to find a lot of initial information, but I still try to document every bit of information I find.”
Benkoski has plenty of interesting tales from her fact-finding missions.
“I went to the capitol in Atlanta; any time I visit a place like that I like to research the proper etiquette,” she said. “I went into (then) Secretary of State Ben Fortson’s office and found that he had an ‘open-door policy.’ His secretary told me to go on in when I got there, and I walked up to his desk and said, ‘Secretary Fortson, I’m Lallie …’
“Before I could finish, he said, ‘Dozier Jones.’ I was a little stunned that he knew my name. Then he said, ‘When I was young, your grandparents took me into their home and raised me for a couple of years. So, yes, I know who you are.’ I’d had no idea.”
Then there was the workshop Benkoski, who was born in Thomson, raised in Atlanta and moved to Albany in 1951 to help her first husband run a State Farm Insurance Agency, conducted in Evans, Ga. The one black person who attended the workshop, Jimmy Ramsey, said his research indicated his ancestors had worked on the nearby Woodville Plantation.
“That’s where my grandparents grew up,” Benkoski said. “I was so excited to find that tie. I said, ‘Jimmy, see me after class.’”
In addition to her ongoing research, Benkoski stays busy. She is a member of the Commodore Richard Dale chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, past president and current member of the Albany Junior Womans Club, as well as the Southwest Georgia Genealogical Society and the Thronateeska Heritage Foundation. And there’s all that travel with the Friendship Force and Travel Cub.
But that’s not enough to fill all her hours.
“I’ve decided that I’m going to write my memoir,” Benkoski said, more than a touch of pride in her voice. “At our last (SW Georgia Genealogical Society) meeting, we were given seven pages of notes on how to get started. I’ve got all this information, all this memorabilia, all these stories. … I figured it’s time.”
When it comes to time, Lallie Benkoski’s in her element. She has been, after all, putting its stories away for safe keeping for almost half a century.