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!"