I recently had the opportunity to work on the Ledford family of Clay County, North Carolina, while reconstructing land records for a client.1 One of the problems I encountered was the fact that every family unit seemed to have at least one male named Jason. In an eight-tract (i.e. land lot) area over about twenty years, I handled records for at least four different Jason Ledfords: Jason D. Ledford, “Big Jason” Ledford, and two distinctly different Jason W. Ledfords (who lived on adjacent tracts).2
Sorting through these Jasons is problematic, but it also brings up an interesting point. When this land was first granted by the state of North Carolina in Cherokee County, North Carolina (from which Clay County was formed in 1861), the two eldest Jason Ledfords were designated in the deed index as Jason Ledford, Jr. (later known as “Big Jason” Ledford) and Jason Ledford, Sr. (who later went by Jason D. Ledford).
These two men were not father and son. Instead, they were designated as “Jr.” (meaning younger) and “Sr.” (meaning elder) by the recording clerk to differentiate between them in the records each created. We only know this because we verified this information against other records. If we hadn’t studied land records over a large span of time and correlated them with federal census records, then we might have assumed that the Jr. and Sr. designations meant father and son.
Assumptions of this sort can be dangerous when reconstructing a lineage. People often assign relationships to others in legal documents that had different meanings in the past than they do today. The term brother could refer to an actual brother, or it could be a brother-in-law or a spiritual brother (one who professes the same faith as the party in question). A son-in-law named as such could actually be a daughter’s husband, or it could be a stepson or grandchild. Efforts should always be made to determine the legal and biological relationships of the people involved before definitively applying a modern relationship indicator.
1. This research was performed at the request of Bobby E. Ledford, whose ancestors resided in Clay Co., NC.
2. There were other Jason Ledfords in the area at the same time, at least some of whom were directly related to the four Jason Ledfords mentioned. The narrow focus of the described research largely eliminated these other Jason Ledfords from the study’s purvue.