Saturday, December 11, 2010

Parishes of Virginia

I found a fun website tonight while doing some research in Virginia. This website shows all the parishes of Virginia, when they were formed, and which counties they served. I am adding it to my website list. I think it's awesome and I am very appreciative of the person who put it together. To check it out click here. It's part of the Virginia GenWeb pages. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Collaterals to the Rescue!

So this week's post isn't so much about research in the southern United States except the family I was working on did come to Texas. They were German immigrants. I was having a hard time finding the origins of a couple who both came to Texas where they married about 1873. Death certificates weren't much help even though they both died in the 20th century. Apparently they never told their kids much about their lives in the old country because only the death certificate of the wife gave a surname for her father but no other information was supplied for either. Talk about frustration!!

I found that the husband had petitioned for citizenship and so I sent to the District courthouse for copies of his records but to my dismay they didn't give any indication of his village back in Germany. It only gave a date of arrival in the United States. A search of passenger lists didn't turn up anyone with his name on a ship that came in that day. More frustration!!

I then turned my focus on the family of the wife. Because I knew her maiden name, I found references to a citizenship record for a male with the same surname in the same county as the ancestral couple. Once again the citizenship papers came back with no place of origin except Germany. It didn't even give an arrival date!! My next step was to go to the census and see if I could locate this man and see if I could tie him back to the wife.

I traced him in several census records and located him with his widowed mother and several siblings. I then went to the passenger lists and found the ship they came in on but the ancestral wife I was hoping to find wasn't ever listed with the family but I didn't stop there.

Since the family arrived before the 1870 census year. I searched for them in 1870. I found them, the mother and the children, listed with a man, the probable father. Also listed with the family in birth order as if she were a daughter was the female ancestor I was looking for!! What was also hopeful was that they were living just a few counties away from where she and her husband were living in 1880.

To verify that this was probably her I looked for her future husband as they were known to have married in 1873. Lo and behold I found him in the same county as his future bride. I also found to my delight that there was another young man with the same last name also living in the same household. No they weren't living with parents but these two men were probably brothers who had come over together and were living as boarders. Now I can go back to passenger lists and see if I can find the two men coming over together.

Oh and I forgot to mention that the passenger list for the mother who came over with her children gave a village name in Germany!! More future searches. It is interesting to think about this family. I'm wondering if the father and the other daughter, the ancestor, were already here when mom and the other children arrived or if they were missed on the passenger list. More mysteries to solve!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tax Lists

Recently I have been able to solve two pre-1850 research problems using tax lists in Virginia. If you're not familiar with them, I would encourage you to give them a try.

Tax lists can help you link fathers, and sometimes mothers, to sons. Tax lists generally contain a list of every male, usually over the age of 21. These are the men who had to pay a poll tax. If the male was younger than the taxable age but over 16 then his father, or widowed mother, paid his poll tax but his name might not have been listed. By tracking all the males of your surname over various tax years you can tell when there were males in the household over 16 and when they came of age or moved out on their own and begin to pay their own taxes.

Often relatives went to pay their taxes on the same day and so keep track of the dates they paid taxes if given. You may also find several men of the same surname listed next to each other on the tax list giving you an indication that they probably paid their taxes together when no date was given.

Sometimes on rare occasions the tax list will give the father's name AND the names of his sons for whom he is paying a poll tax, but this is not very common. Another clue to look for, when given, is the names of the slaves that the owner is paying taxes on. Sometimes you can track a slave with an unusual name from a father to a son in the tax lists.

You may also want to track their acreage and the location of their land if given. This is more common in Kentucky tax lists.

For more information I suggest the following article from the Library of Virginia.

Using Personal Property Tax Records in the Archives at the Library of Virginia

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Recently I was given a family to research who had roots in Hanover County, Virginia. It is understatement to say that I was sorely disappointed to find it was a burned county! So what can you do with a burned county?

Usually land records are a good bet because they are so important that they are usually always re-recorded. Unfortunately for Hanover County they begin too late for the family I was researching. The county was formed in 1720 and the earliest and best land records don't begin until 1782. You can easily miss at least one and maybe two generations during that time lapse!

There are some early land records that have been extracted from land patents, parish vestry books, and other miscellaneous random records. In a case like this these are some of the best possibilities you can hope for.

What about probate records you might ask? Well a burned county means a burned courthouse and that usually includes ALL the records that were stored at the courthouse. One little book of deeds, wills, and inventories exists for the years 1733-1735. Everything else starts in the 1780s.

It was not a fun experience to research in Hanover County and to borrow from an old phrase from Mr. T. "I pity the fool who has ancestors from this county!"

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Adventures of Preparing for Accreditation

Today I met with my good friend Kelly Summers to go over my four generation project that I plan to use to begin the accreditation process. She gave me some very helpful tips on how to prepare my family group sheets and pedigree charts and present them in the best light for grading purposes. I feel like my four generation project is almost ready to go. It needs just a few modifications and a little bit more research.

The part of the application process I'm not excited about completing is the Experience Chart. It's hard to think back over the years I've been doing genealogy and calculate how much time I have spent in different record types. It sounds like a tedious job but I guess I'm going to do it!

One of the other things I need to do is spend more time researching in the records of Kentucky, West Virginia, and South Carolina. I guess I may be working on another family line of mine that goes back to South Carolina to get more experience there. I left that line a while back because I just got too busy - life happened! Now it's time to return. Anyone have Kentucky or West Virginia ancestors they can share?

If you want to learn more about the accreditation process, I recommend you visit the ICAPGen website. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Free Land in Florida

I wrote this blog entry for the Price and Associates blog but I also wanted to share it here because it pertains to Southern States research.

Recently while exploring the roots of a Spaniard who came to the southern United States in the early 1800s I came across a way for settlers to get land that I was unfamiliar with. The “Armed Occupation Act” established in 1842 by the United States Congress. Its main purpose was to help get parts of Eastern Florida settled. It was like a homestead grant in that you had to prove that you were a resident of the state of Florida for at least five years. The settler was required to clear and cultivate at least five acres of the land in the first year and build a house to live in. The owner and his heirs were then required to live there for at least five years. The area to be settled was “south of the line dividing townships numbers nine and ten south, and east of the base line.” All who applied could get a quarter section of land, or 160 acres.

As with a homestead grant you had to provide documents proving that you had met the requirements. These affidavits and letters are kept at the National Archives in Record Group 49. As of this writing I am eagerly awaiting copies of these documents in order to learn more about the Spaniard I mentioned previously.

Copies of the permits are filmed and can be found both at the Florida State Archives and at the Family History Library in Salt Lake. The records are called Armed Occupation Act Settlers Records. If you have ancestors who may have lived in Florida you may want to consider checking them out.

Source - A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875
Statutes at Large, 27th Congress, 2nd Session

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Virginia Germans

Recently I worked on a project that involved a family in Augusta County, Virginia. It turns out this family was part of a larger group of Germans who settled in the area from Pennsylvania. They got there around the end of the 1790s, maybe earlier, and ended up staying in the area for several generations.

I was really pleased to find that these German settlers started a church in the area and there I found some wonderful records that actually gave me birth dates for children born in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It made me wish every area had been settled by religious Germans who believed in recording baptism and birth dates for all their children.

Now let me just say however, that it would have been even nicer when the child's baptism was recorded that they ALWAYS recorded the names of both parents. It makes it a little difficult to figure out which children belong to the family you're researching when there were two men in the area with the same first and last name and the only parents' name listed on the baptism was that of the father.

Learning about all the different records available for Virginia is one of the many things I hope to do as I work my way towards the accreditation process. I think I mentioned in a post from some time last year that I hoped to become accredited in the Mid-south region of the United States. After working two and sometimes three jobs at a time for the past year I have finally settled down to one full-time job and hope to pick up where my good intentions left off and continue the process. I think this blog can become a great vehicle for sharing what I learn and so I hope to do that on a more frequent basis. :-)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Where can they be hiding?

This week I had the opportunity to help an African-American woman look for her ancestors in the U.S. Federal Census. She was able to locate them in the 1930 census but couldn't find them in any other years. It seemed very odd to me because her ancestor had a very unique given name and a surname that seemed hard to misspell. I helped her look for a while. We tried wild card searches and birth year searches and just about every other trick we could think of with no luck!

She ended up moving on to look at some films and when I had a few free minutes later in the afternoon I began searching again. This time. I searched for the names of the children and their birth years. In the 1920 census I didn't get any hits on the children until I dropped the surname as part of my search. I searched just in the parish I knew the family was living in and the first name and approximate birth year of the children one by one. Finally I hit the jackpot. It turned out that the census taker wrote down the father's surname as his given name and his given name as his surname. No wonder we couldn't find them!!

Next I returned to the search in the 1910 census. This time I tried some of the same techniques that I used in the 1920 census search. I began with children's names. I also used a wildcard search for the surname omitting the last letter of the surname, which was Gary. It turns out that this time they had spelled the father's given name mostly correct but they had really butchered the last name. Instead of Gary it was Garregue! Since they were in what used to be French Louisiana the census taker had given the family a French-ified version of their surname. The mother's name was also changed from Mary to Marie.

This whole incident just goes to show that you need to persistent in your census searches. Never give up!! Think creatively too! You never know how your ancestors might have been recorded. Consider given name searches, birth year searches, and always throw in some wild card characters if you have a name that could easily be misspelled!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


A while back I was asked to try to locate proof that an African-American family was involved in sharecropping in Louisiana. My first inclination was to check the land records. I knew that I had seen crop contracts in Arkansas which indicated liens on crops planted to cover debts incurred in raising the crop. It seemed like a logical step to try to locate sharecropping contracts among the land records.

After a careful search of the land records for Caldwell Parish, Louisiana where the family was known to have lived I came up empty. I found no such records among the deeds. Not quite sure where to go next I tried looking in Land and Property Research in the United States by E. Wade Hone. I found no information to lead me to the possible location of sharecropping contracts.

A fellow researcher I was working with on this project but who was involved in more of the historical context research suggested that I try Freedmen's Labor Contracts. A catalog entry was located in the Family History Library Catalog for the labor contracts for Caldwell Parish. These can be viewed at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or they are available through the National Archives.

These records are not indexed but are filmed by parish. At the beginning of the section for each parish you will find a list of all the plantations where the contracts came from. In order to find the people you are looking for, you have to search each page.

The header of the contract gives the contractual details of the agreement. Below the contract header you will find a list of all workers for whom the contract applies, giving their names and ages and in some cases, their occupations if it was something other than farmer. It was my experience that people were generally listed together as families much like a census although in very few records did the contract actually give relationships.

When I got to the section for Caldwell Parish, you can imagine my delight when the family I was looking for was on the very first contract. Their wages according to the contract were to be 1/3 of the proceeds of the crop, after expenses. This was to be shared among all the people listed on the contract. As you can imagine, sharecropping was only one step above slavery.

If you would like to learn more about sharecropping, I recommend Slave to Sharecropper an informative website sponsored by PBS. The life of a sharecropper was tenuous at times. Everything hinged on getting a good crop in order to have a successful outcome. This was a transition from slavery to freedom that really had few of the markers we associate with liberty. I encourage you to learn more about this topic.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Confederate Pensions for African-Americans

This past week has been an exciting one for the genealogical research project I am working on. I am in the process of tracing the roots of an African-American family. This has proven to be challenging and rewarding. One of the difficulties with the research has been locating the family after the Civil War in all census years. This problem has been compounded by the location where the family lived. They lived in several counties along the West Virginia - Virginia border. The counties are in the hills (coal mining country) and considered pretty rural. I think some members of the family may have been missed in the census due to the rural nature of the county and quite possibly their color.

While searching for the family, I came across an obituary for what I believed was a great grandfather. It was not a surprise to me to find that the man had lived to be at least 114. The family has this tradition and firmly believe this to be the case. Many of the older family members recall having met the man. What did surprise me about the obituary was that it mentioned that the man had received a pension as a Confederate war veteran. Now I was concerned. Was this really the obituary for the man I was searching? Did African-Americans, who were also slaves, actually participate in the Civil War for the Confederacy?

To my surprise the answer was yes!

Slaves were often pressed into service as body servants, hostlers, or horse handlers. The latter was the case for the service of the man I was looking for. I came across his pension application at the Library of Virginia website and found a wealth of information about him. The record gave the name of his master, his place of birth, and his age. It was even attested to by people who knew him in his hometown. Among these witnesses was his daughter-in-law. This was such an exciting find for me. I learned a lot from this experience.

Yes! African-Americans could have been pressed into service for the Confederacy during the Civil War and some even received pensions for their service. One source indicated that there were as many as 400 in the state of Virgina.

For more information about this topic see the following links:

Black Confederate Soldiers

Black Confederate Pensioners After The Civil War

Saturday, January 2, 2010

West Virginia Vital Records

Thanks to some other blogs that I follow I discovered that you can now find quite a few vital records online for the state of West Virginia. Their site West Virginia Vital Records has birth records that start as early as 1790 in Monroe County while the majority begin in the mid 1850s. The last searchable year for births in most counties is 1908. Some marriage records start as early as 1780 and run through about 1970. Death records begin as early as 1836 in Greenbrier County with most beginning in the mid 1850s and ending about 1969.

I have bookmarked this site on my computer and hope to make good use of it in any future research in the state of West Virginia. This site will also be added to my list of resources that I will take with me when I take the ICAPGen accreditation exam.

You can learn about the latest in research resources and tips by following genealogy related blogs. This information came from Genealogy Blog by Leland Meitzler

Happy hunting!!