Carol Sanderson, Editor
Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor
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Genealogists are always looking for records. Most of the records we use were created for another purpose. We all know from history that the census was created by the Constitution to allocate the representatives to Congress so every congressional district has about the same number of people. The census is very important to genealogists as you can follow your ancestors as they migrate across the country. Where the children were born will help fill in the gaps between the census years.
The earliest records available are the land records, some in the 1700s. Land records are probably the least used and one of the best sources for genealogists. Land records can sometimes either directly or by circumstantial evidence establish marriages. The land deed may describe the man and woman as "husband and wife". Land records may also establish death, as the land is transferred to the heirs at the time of death.
While the census takers may have missed your ancestor, the tax collector seldom missed anyone. Tax records vary greatly by region, so do not expect they will all be the same. What was taxed? Property or real estate is probably the most widely taxed, but property also included slaves, horses, cattle, sheep and hogs. There were also poll taxes on those eligible to vote. Real estate taxes will give a description of the property including acreages. Remember, though, that women didn't get the right to vote until 1920. Poll taxes will list males over 21 but this varies by region also. Property taxes start as early as 1782. Personal property taxes on livestock, carriages and slaves started as early as 1782 also. Widows and heirs are listed as taxpayers on inherited properties. Poll taxes were used to raise general revenue, they were for free men over 21 and every slave or servant over 16. Some colonies put an age cap on poll taxes.
The churches kept vital records from the earliest years of the colonies. Unfortunately a lot of the early church records have not survived, so land records may help establish marriages. Marriage records are usually found in the county courthouse where the couple lived, but what happens if they lived in different counties. Check the courthouse where the bride lived. Some will never be found due to courthouse disasters such as fires, floods, etc. There were also common law marriages, and you might find these in court records or military records. Military pensions may have records of witnesses of the marriage.
Today we have birth and death certificates, but neither of these date back very far. Statewide death records started in Rhode Island in 1853 and not till 1920 in New Mexico, but most states started between 1900 and 1920. Death certificates were used to help the public health departments determine the causes of death and to help find the causes of some diseases. Civil birth records started about the same time, so before the records started, you néed to check church, military records, census and land records. Maybe you will get lucky and find the family bible . It should have the birth, marriage and death information for your ancestors, but be sure to check the copyright date of that bible. Why? You want to be sure that it is not one that has been copied.
Where can you find these records? Well there are state, counties, cities, towns, villages, boroughs, parishes, court districts, school districts, and fire districts. All of them generate records, and they will be stored somewhere. Check our website here or the internet for places to find these records, or one of the books like The Source edited by Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny or Everton's The Handy Book for Genealogists.
Every one should periodically look back through their notes. Why? Not only to weed out some of your paper work out but also to refresh your mind as to what you have. You may spot something that you hadn't really seen before. That one item upon further investigation may just lead to a hole in one of your brick walls.
It may help you to get organized in a slightly different way and you will have more success in furthering that line. In my past two moves, there have been other hands packing and moving my genealogy files. I have just now started going through some of the drawers of material...some of which I know by heart. In others, I am finding papers that belong to other lines mixed in with families to which they don't belong.
I found one paper that reminded me to tell you about another source when looking for siblings or children of deceased ancestors. This is a type of deed...a quitclaim deed to be exact. This would have signatures of all the living heirs of the deceased ancestor. In this case it was a paper diagram of the descendents of an ancestor who had died some time before but the cousins who owned the property wanted to sell it. There was something about the title to the land that hadn't been done correctly years before so it had to be redone and all the heirs of this person had to sign a quitclaim deed. I found on this paper a diagram listing my grandmother's siblings and their children some of whom I had had no knowledge. Not only the list but also addresses and dates of births or marriages...all of this done by the attorney or someone hired by him to do it. Of course these facts néed to be verified but now that I have them, it will be easier than hunting for unknown quantities.
We, sometimes, look for and expect to find lists of heirs in probate records. In the case above, there was no probate record, as this person didn't have anything to probate. Her house and land had liens on them and one of the nephews had paid the town off so the property could remain in the family. All that was done after her death.
This diagram, alone, gives me the names of three generations of cousins that I didn't have before. It also gives me dates and places so that I shouldn't have too much difficulty in verifying the information. I had it all the time but had not really looked at it closely.
I've also found names of people and places that I had jotted down thinking for some reason that they might belong to the family. What made me think that? I don't remember. I, also, had not cited my source so those are more or less useless. If I want to follow up, I will have to hunt for where I had found them. I may never get back to that source either, if I can't remember the source or where I was at the time.
While I am reminding you of some of these things, I want to once again tell you to be aware of moving boundaries in other areas where our ancestors left paper trails. State, county and town lines have and do still change over the years. If your ancestor lived near one of these lines, it might have been easier for him/her to travel to the other state, county or town to transact his/her business. I, in fact, found my grandmother's marriage across the state line from where she lived. The why was probably because that area was a more urban area and easier to get to than the center of the town where she lived.
I truly believe that our ancestors want to be found. So keep yourself open to serendipitous events...because they, too, will help you to find your ancestors.
These were some of my thoughts while I was going through my files and I want to pass them on to you. I hope they will help to review some of what we have talked about before and that they will help you in your search. Good luck in your searches!