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.

No comments:

Post a Comment