Friday, January 13, 2017

Locating Mary's Grandfather

Have you ever thought about doing the genealogy of a place, as well as genealogy of a family. Think about the political map of Europe and the many changes over the centuries. Though an ancestor may have lived in one village throughout their life, the name of the country or duchy where they lived may have changed several times. Understanding boundary changes are essential to finding the records of our ancestors.

Mary's grandfather presents a perfect storm of the challenges in location research in early Virginia records. Fortunately, as of this writing, there is a wonderful resource for United States boundary changes at a website named On this site you will find historical county formation maps for the contiguous 48 states. The maps use a program named AniMap, which is available for purchase from The GoldBug. I've owned a copy for many years and use it often. The Virginia images I show here are from AniMap, with a bit of coloring added by me.

The story starts with Mary Maddox Neff's mother, Elizabeth Greaton, who was born in Virginia about 1798. Her father, David Greaton, signed her marriage consent in Pickaway County, Ohio, in 1816. He filed a lawsuit there in 1810, so was no longer living in Virginia by that date. Yet Virginia location research cannot just stop in 1810, as you'll see.

What did Virginia look like in 1798? AniMap shows the combined Virginia and West Virginia, as it was a single state in 1798. Fortunately the western boundaries of Virginia had been set, so there is a western limit to this particular Virginia research.

The name David Greaton is fairly unusual and fortunately shows up in a few online records. Remember that online records are the tip of the iceberg. There may be many other records and other men, but the online records at least provide one place to start looking in the challenge to locate the man who is my ancestor.

David appears in the tax roll of Greenbrier County in 1785. We'll be focused on the blue area for this research. Greenbrier County is very large, so in reality, he could have been living anywhere in that county. Fortunately there is another clue that helps focus the search.

Since David must have reached at least 18, and likely 21, by 1785, he would have been born no later than 1767. If he was born in this area of Virginia (at this point unknown) where might his family have lived?

Have you seen the name Botetourt (pronounced Bot-a-tot) County? Oh, my, one of the big historical counties of western Virginia. It was carved out in 1770, so he could not have been born there. Let's go back further.

In 1761, Augusta was the mother county for all of western Virginia, with no boundary except the Pacific ocean and, realistically, the mountains.

Are you following so far? The Greaton research would start in Greenbrier and potentially track backwards through Botetourt and Augusta, as well as other counties. I will need to create a list in reverse county formation order before going on a field trip.

Now let's move forward in time. The name David Greaton (Grattan) appears in a head-of-household list in Bath County in 1791 and a marriage record is found in Bath County in 1792.

See the blue area? That small section of Bath County came from Greenbrier County. It is certainly possible that there was more than one David Greaton or that there was just one who moved. However, it is most likely that there was only one at that time and that he lived in the section of Greenbrier that became Bath. So research needs to include Bath and in fact will start there.

That area of land didn't stay in Bath County. In 1821, it was absorbed into Pocahontas County. Why would that matter? David Greaton was long gone by 1821, first to Ohio and then to Illinois.

The reasons to care about Pocahontas County are church records, cemeteries and possibly probate records. Assuming the Greaton family attended church within that area, that church is now in Pocahontas. If a sibling or parent died after that county change, the probate could be there. I would ignore Pocahontas at my own peril. Add that to the research list.

There are still more changes after 1821 that I need to be aware of. What happened in 1861? That's right, Virginia seceded from the Union and became the capital of the Confederate States of America. All those counties changed the nation to which they belonged.

And, of course, 1863 brought the next big change. 50 counties left Virginia and the Confederacy, forming the state of West Virginia and rejoining the Union.

The research list got a bit more complex. Greenbrier and Pocahontas are now in West Virginia. Archives will primarily be in Charleston, West Virginia, with some records in Richmond, Virginia. Due to the 1863 change, it is likely that county information will be found in federal records of both the Union and the Confederacy.

Bath, Botetourt and Augusta are in Virginia with archives in Richmond.

For anyone doing Virginia research, there is one more potential twist, though it doesn't affect this exercise. Here's a fairly modern map. All the yellow areas are independent cities that are no longer part of counties.

As you research your ancestors, whether in the USA or elsewhere, remember that understanding the genealogy of location is a critical part of  your search.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mary's Iceberg

Only a tiny fraction of all genealogical records are available online. That was the assertion of one of the speakers that I heard at FGS 2016 this past summer. And that makes sense. 

This series has been focused on online search strategies to flush out hidden records. However, collecting all the available records for a family goes beyond searching names in online collections.

How do you locate offline collections in the US? And how do you decide what collections are of value?

Start with the Family Search Wiki for locations that are of interest. Check out Cyndi's List, USGenWeb and other sites that describe resources. Look at websites for genealogical societies, historical societies, libraries, churches and archives. State and local government websites often list holdings. Remember to check the NUCMC, the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections.

Also use your favorite search engine to search the entire internet. You never know what will turn up in an internet search. I located a collection of family letters in a university archive by simply doing a Google search.

I've shared with you just a few of the records that I have for Mary Maddox Neff and her family, but there are many others under the tip of the iceberg. I've been collecting Maddox family records for over 14 years.

Many online "records" are actually indexes to complete records. Each of those underlying records has to be evaluated, in addition to other offline collections. I had to analyze the cost and value of each record. Only you can do the value analysis for your own findings.

Here are some of the costs I've paid for copies (plus postage or travel costs):
  • Mary's obituary from genealogical society: $4
  • Marriage consent for Mary's mother from genealogical society: $1
  • Tax rolls for Mary's father from genealogical society: 25 cents/page
  • Probate for Mary's father from genealogical society: 25 cents/page
  • Death certificate for Mary's brother from state archives: 25 cents 
  • Obituary for Mary's great-grandnephew from library: $7
  • Deeds signed by Mary and siblings from county courthouse: $2/page
  • Probate for Mary's brother from county courthouse: $1/page
  • Criminal court case for Mary's nephew from county courthouse: $1/page
  • Marriage license for Mary's aunt from county courthouse: $12

What about the Civil War pension files for Mary and her husband, George M. Neff? We've seen index cards in two online collections, but the pension files themselves have not been microfilmed. Copies of the original pension files from NARA cost $75 for the first 100 pages and may take a year to be be copied and made available. It's a huge gamble with a huge price tag. If the files contain Mary's Bible records, the cost might be worth it. To George and Mary's descendants, it certainly might be worth it. For me, $150 is not cost effective.

You can see that copies from record collections managed by societies and archives can be much more reasonable to purchase than copies of records held in government collections. Reach out to local societies. They often have family files and indexes that you can use at their facility or that they will use to do lookups at a minimal cost to you.

Field trips are a favorite strategy for me to visit societies and courthouses. But if a field trip isn't in your plans, you can borrow microfilm of some records at your local Family History Center or through OCLC.

Record collections are somewhat random. You'll never know what's available until you look for the offline iceberg.