Archive for ‘Research Tips’

September 5, 2009

Junior and Senior in Records

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.

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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.

September 3, 2009

The Curious Manner of Lazarus Tilly’s Will

A friend of mine asked me to look into the Tilly family of Rabun County, Georgia a few weeks ago. While doing so, I ran across the last will and testament of Lazarus Tilly, which was written November 30, 1839 and proven in court during the March Term, 1841, in Rabun County.1 In his will, Lazarus named his wife, Sarah, and children Alfred Tilly, Elizabeth Millender, Polly Calwell, Margaret Owens, Lewis Tilly, John Tilly, and Nancy Holcombe.

In and of itself the will does not seem strange, but further research into contemporary court records illuminates an oddity: two of the named children were deceased at the time Lazarus wrote his will.

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September 2, 2009

State of NC and Payne vs. Dills

I ran across this interesting tidbit a few weeks ago while indexing Superior Court Minutes 1869 – 1872 (Macon Co., NC). From page 46:

Warrant Issued 7th day April 1870 Returned 7th April 1870 with the defendant [J. M. Dills] arrested by W. A. Shepherd. She [Mary E. Payne] come up on evidence of the prosecuter that the said child was born in the State of Georgia where its mother was at the time domiciled.

The child’s name is not mentioned, and repeated attempts to find Mary Payne in the 1870 US Census in both Macon County and nearby Rabun Co., GA, have proved fruitless.

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July 9, 2009

The Paper of Record

Paper of record is, in short, a term used to define a newspaper that functions as the legal organ of an area; that is, the newspaper is responsible, whether officially or unofficially, for publishing public notices required by law for certain instances, such as rezoning efforts or changes to statute.

For genealogists, the paper of record can be a goldmine of information as it contains legal notices that might be missing from court records, for whatever reason (e.g. the court minutes were destroyed). This includes notices to debtors and creditors for an estate, notice of two parties divorcing, and notice of sheriff’s sales, or any other instance where public notice was required by law.

In Rabun County, the current paper of record is The Clayton Tribune. While the Tribune has been published off and on from 1897 to the present, it wasn’t always the paper of record for Rabun County. During the late 1910s and early 1920s, the Tri-County Advertiser, published in Clarkesville, Habersham County, Georgia, was the paper of record for Rabun County.

Before the Tribune was published, other newspapers served as Rabun County’s legal organ. During the 1850s, the Southern Banner out of Athens, Georgia filled this function. From at least 1878 to the time the Tribune was first published, the Gainesville Eagle, published in Hall County, was the paper of record, although the Clarkesville Advertiser, the Tri-County Advertiser’s precursor, and the Clayton Argus may have been used as the paper of record during the 1890s. Issues of the Tri-County Advertiser, the Gainesville Eagle, and the Clayton Tribune are still on file in the Probate Judge’s office at the county courthouse in Clayton.

A little research into local historical newspapers can yield a great reward for the family historian. Recent efforts to preserve these papers have resulted in the formation of newspaper projects by large universities and state libraries. The University of Georgia’s Georgia Newspaper Project was the first such project I learned of and used. For information on other state historical newspaper collections, see the United States Newspaper Project, courtesy of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

July 2, 2009

A Fellow Researcher Asks About the Neville and Price Families

On June 20, 2009, I received the following comment on a previous blog article I’d written for my old blog at Today.com, Tombstone Tuesday: Edward Coffee and Elizabeth Neville Coffee. Since I’m no longer able to access that blog, I thought I would post and answer the comment here:

Hi, this is very interesting. I have visited this cemetery and have seen these stones. Elizabeth was a sister of Rebecca Neville. Their father and mother were Jesse and Margarette McCarter Neville who are buried in the old Neville Cemetery just outside of Walhalla. Jessie had a plantation at the site of the cemetery, so I assume that the girls were born in what is now Oconee County. Rebecca is my ggggggrandmother, having married William Price. I am looking for their graves, but not having any luck. He died in RABUN County, Ga in 1825. Rebecca lived to be 94 and also died there. Do you know much more about the Neville family? I would love to know more and would love to know what you have. If you should find their graves, please let me know by my private e-mail address. Thank you, Sue D.

Thanks for writing, Sue. Unfortunately, I know very little about the Neville family except what I’ve learned from other researchers or local history books (e.g. Sketches of Rabun County History by Dr. Andrew J. Ritchie).

As for Rabun County burials, try the USGenWeb Archives for Rabun County. At the top of the page is a link to the search engine. After clicking on that link, enter the surname, select the county and record type, and then hit the search button. Most of the burial grounds for Rabun County were surveyed and placed online in about 1998 by Elaine and Bill English, a local couple who are avid historians.

I can tell you from personal experience that there aren’t many graves marked by engraved tombstones in this area from the early to mid-1820s. I’m not certain why that is, because there were certainly residents who died during that time period, and many were more than able to afford to erect a stone. Part of the reason may have been because Rabun County was still very much a wilderness in 1825, in spite of the influx of white settlers and businessmen. It’s also possible that many of the earliest graves were marked by engraved tombstones, but years of weathering may have eroded the stones to the point of illegibility.

You may be able to narrow down possible burial sites by comparing early land records for William and Rebecca Neville Price against the original land lot maps and modern maps to find nearby burial grounds. If you can find where they lived, you may also be able to locate the church they attended, if any, and find burial or other records that way.

I wish you well with your search.

April 27, 2009

Index to Marriage Bonds Filed in the North Carolina State Archives

Hands down, one of my favorite records to use is the Index to Marriage Bonds Filed in the North Carolina State Archives, 1741 – 1868. If you can’t make it to the State Archives, the best way to access this record is to find a library that houses it (many in North Carolina do) or to view it using Ancestry.com.

This index is, as far as I know, only available on microfiche. It’s made up of numerous sheets containing both groom and bride indices, alphabetized by surname. Each item may contain the names of the bride, groom, bondsman, and witness, the date and county in which the bond was taken out, and the record number. It may also give additional information, such as a parent’s name, or may point to additional information given on the bond itself.

This index is particularly useful for anyone whose ancestors moved through North Carolina, either from county to county or to and from other states.

For more information on the history of this work, see Overview of Marriage Bonds Filed in the North Carolina State Archives. This item is available for purchase through the North Carolina State Archives.

April 10, 2009

Southwestern North Carolina Genealogical Society Quarterly

Local historical and genealogical society newsletters are often an excellent source of information about an area’s records. One such example is that of the Southwestern North Carolina Genealogical Society Quarterly, which covered the counties of Cherokee, Graham, and Clay in Western North Carolina.

The SWNCGSQ was published from Winter 1984 (Volume I, Number I) to Fall 1994 (Volume XI, Number IV). Articles were primarily record extractions and queries; a large amount of coverage was given to marriage records, cemetery surveys, census indexes, and lists of delayed birth certificates for all three counties, with member-contributed pedigree charts and family group sheets thrown in for good measure.

At some point after the SWNCGSQ ceased publication, a surname index was compiled covering all issues. The index can be found at the public libraries located within Cherokee, Clay, and Graham Counties. Issues of the quarterly are available at the same locations and in the Family History Library.

April 1, 2009

Historic Georgia Newspapers

Valerie over at Begin with ‘Craft’ has compiled a nifty list of historic Georgia newspapers whose images have been digitized and placed online. All of the sites she mentions are for-pay, but this list will help you compare what’s online and where so that you can determine which subscriptions you might need to purchase in order to access these wonderful resources.

If you’re old school and would rather use the microfilm, the University of Georgia initiated a Georgia Newspaper Project several years ago, wherein they attempted to track down and microfilm extant copies of all known historic Georgia newspapers. To search the online catalogue of the collection, you will need to know the city where the newspaper was published. As far as I know, the University of Georgia is the only repository holding the entire microfilmed collection, although other libraries and research repositories should have microfilmed copies of historic newspapers which were published in or near their locality.

Begin with ‘Craft’ is an excellent guide to online resources for those researching in Georgia. Valerie’s posts are well-written, concise, and informative, and I highly recommend her work for those who need that extra helping hand to find their Peach State ancestors.

March 29, 2009

Land Records as Proof of Kinship

Land records are one of the most underutilized document sets available to the modern genealogist. They often provide a wealth of data outside their more commonly known function of describing and detailing transactions of real property.

A case in point is the indenture between Jasper Hopper and the heirs of Samuel Hopper, deceased, made in Rabun County, Georgia, which reads: This indenture [...] entered unto this ninth day of April eighteen hundred and fifty-eight between Jasper Hoper of the county & state aforesaid of the one part & Charles Hoper, Henry Hopper, the children of Caroline Himphill formerly Caroline Hopper, Jasper Hopper, Zachariah Hopper, Thomas Hopper, John A. Hopper, Joseph Hopper, Florian Norton formerly Floriann Hoper, & Sarah Adline Gillaspi formerly Sarah Adaline Hopper of the other part [...] the above named parties being the heirs and representations of Samuel Hopper late of said county deceased [...]

Most wills aren’t that clear cut. In fact, I’ve seen several last wills and testaments which named the daughters by their maiden names, even though said daughters were married at the time the will was written.

Land records such as this are especially helpful when the owner died intestate (without a will), as Samuel Hopper did. While there are probate records associated with the settlement of his estate, none clearly spelled out who his heirs were. I knew to look for this deed because the probate records did include mention of the administrator applying for leave to sell Samuel’s land, as allowed by law.

The bonus in this case is that two of Samuel’s three daughters had married before 1850, and so this indenture provided direct proof that they were related to Samuel Hopper. Further, it provides clues which, when used with other records, would lead to the discovery of these women’s husbands. Caroline Hopper’s marriage to Joseph Hemphill was recorded in the earliest marriage book for Rabun County and was easy to find.

Flora Ann Hopper’s marriage was not recorded, however, in either Rabun County or nearby Macon County, North Carolina; I was left to search through other records for her husband’s name. Fortunately, I didn’t have to search long: a closer examination of the probate records associated with Samuel Hopper’s estate revealed that a Barak Norton bought part of Samuel’s personal property. I later found two US census records (in 1850 and 1860) of a Barak Norton and wife, Flora A. Norton. Given that no person bought property from Samuel Hopper’s estate who wasn’t related to the family in some way, and also given that this Flora A. Norton was the right age to be Samuel’s daughter, I knew I had the right family.

Now, to go off on a tangent, as I am wont to do: notice that the indenture says the heirs of Caroline Hemphill. This is a good indication that she was deceased at the time this record was made and, in fact, I later found this to be true. Caroline died between about 1846, when her youngest son, Albert, was born, and December 27, 1847, when her husband, Joseph Hemphill, remarried to Peggy Thomas.

I have found land records to be helpful in breaking brick walls I’ve hit while researching other families, and so I’m fully convinced of their usefulness to genealogists and family historians. If there’s any indication at all that your ancestor owned land, take the time to search through the pertinent deed books or other places where such transactions might have been recorded.

Keep in mind, however, that if a person was deceased at the time their land was sold, then the land might be recorded under the name of the estate’s administrator instead of the name of the deceased. The administrator’s name should be recorded in the appropriate court minutes for the locale in which your ancestor lived. If you don’t know who the administrator was or can’t find his or her name, check the deed index for records made by the surviving spouse, the eldest sons, or the eldest sons-in-law, or if all else fails, look for each child or suspected child. If you find a record of, for instance, Jasper Hopper et al. (Jasper Hopper and others), then you may have hit pay dirt, but check the other records anyway, just in case.

Have land records helped you make connections? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear your research stories.

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