UNLOCK THOSE FAMILY PUZZLES
September 12, 2010
Puzzles! I hate family puzzles, but I seem to find them frequently as I piece together my families’ histories. What system do you use to restore the missing information? I find that following a few records religiously will help to crack it.
Records that often help me to unlock the secrets that keep me from solving those annoying puzzles are found in courthouses and often in digital archives online. When these accounts exist, they can hold the key to the secrets not obvious to those hunting colonial ancestors.
Females specifically are difficult to find. I find that marriage records are one of several valuable records. These give the maiden name of females that cannot be quickly determined in any other way. Where else can you find early maiden names? Seldom are maiden names on census records, or tombstones. Rarely are they listed on court documents, but much appreciated when they are.
Wills can be informative, or not. Don’t you cringe when you find a beautifully written will only to discover that it does not give the maiden names or relationship of females? For instance, “I leave to my wife…,” only identifies his spouse as female. In addition, there is the instance when a will reads, “I leave to Mrs. Alfred Connolly …” which does not identify the woman as a relative or friend. It would be so satisfying if the old wills named Mrs. Connolly as his daughter, niece, aunt, mother-in-law, etc.
Another set of records, and the one I believe to be almost as important as marriage records and wills, but one often not searched beyond the indexes, are land records. Land records are the oldest records kept and one that is most available. Even if destroyed, the courts quickly reconstruct deeds because no one wants to lose their precious land, and the county does not want to lose tax revenues. After every catastrophe, the owners filed into the courthouses to re-record the property so there would be no problems later when they or their heirs sell it. You can recognize these easily by the notation, “reconstructed.” The records in New Madrid, Missouri were reconstructed after the earthquake in 1811 and 1812. Reconstructing of legal documents occurs after courthouse fires, tornados, floods, and after the destruction caused by the Civil War.
One tricky situation I must warn you about is checking for the transfer of title of a property after the demise of the pioneer landowner. If it is not found within the year before or following death, then you must check for several years after the owner dies. Many times when the original owner dies, through a previous verbal agreement, the land goes to one of the sons who may not file the transfer of title until forty years later when he wants to give the land to his descendants. I have found this to happen more than once.
The best way to read a deed is by reading everything in the instrument, abstracting or transcribing it accurately, locating it on the county map, and placing it physically where it lies in the community. By identifying the neighbors, noting when the family bought or sold the land, one may begin to build a collection of neighbors for tracking the colonist’s migration route across the county in the quest for the perfect piece of land. Thus, land records are more complete than other county records. Always consider these a valuable resource.
Two books I recommend as land reference books are E. Wade Hone’s Land and Property Research in the United States, and The Source, A Guidebook of American Genealogy edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. These two books are probably on the reference shelves of every genealogy library in the country. Use both books often and well. I do not recommend reading either of these from cover to cover, just grab one, find what you need, and continue with your business.
I recommend searching the free site for marriages and wills at http://fsbeta.familysearch.org/. If it is not there yet, it will be soon. For all other free searches, use http://www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp.
Let court documents prove your descent and unlock those annoying family history puzzles.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.