A while back, someone asked me about the estate records of Benjamin Odell. I’ve made partial indexes of many of the early probate books for Rabun County, so I was able to quickly go to the right pages in two of those books to find information recorded on Benjamin’s estate. I’m not going to post the entire estate proceedings here (that would take a lot of room), but I did want to point out a few interesting items that could be used to answer the questions many researchers might have about this family.
Oh, the dreaded brick wall ancestor, the bane of every genealogist’s life! We all have them, those ancestors who refuse to cooperate and instead prefer to lurk just out of reach of our inquisitive minds. Luckily for us (not so much for the lurking ancestors), there are plenty of tricks to help researchers break down those brick walls. Here are four useful techniques:
My son and I have been looking for ideas for a research project he can complete by the end of this school year. I suggested doing a one to three page biography of a family member who lived during a time period he enjoys studying. After a bit of thinking, he decided on a Revolutionary War veteran ancestor who died during that conflict. One reason I suggested this particular ancestor was because I have very little information on him, and what I do have was given to me by other researchers who neglected to put source citations on their documentation.
I wanted to see what, if anything, had already been published on this man and/or his family, so I did a quick search of the Internet.1 In particular, I wanted to see if I could find a source for information given to me about this man’s parents. Lo and behold, one of the first returns for my search was a lengthy article tracing the Revolutionary War veteran’s lineage back to Great Britain, several generations previous, and forward through a collateral line to late-19th century descendants.
The article when printed ran to about 18 pages, so you can imagine the kind of detail included. In spite of its length, there were only eight footnotes, six of which were explanations of items in the text and two of which were truncated source citations.2 I scanned the article looking for in-text, informal citations and found a small handful of vague references like “according to records held” in XYZ county or “land records indicate” or similar remarks.
Me, my brother, and my sister, Easter Sunday, circa 1976. On Duggan Hill, Clayton, Rabun Co., GA.
James R. Roberts (1828 – 1891) was my great-great-great-grandfather. His ancestry is a brick wall I’ve been chipping away at for several years. So far, I’ve identified at least two and possibly three siblings, but I still don’t know who his parents were.
One of the first records sets used to research 19th century ancestors in the US is the federal decennial censuses. James was married in 1853 in Jackson Co., GA, and all indications point to him living there for the remainder of his life. His brother, William, was enumerated in Jackson County from 1850 through 1880, and James was enumerated there in 1860, 1870, and 1880, but I have never been able to find him in the 1850 free population schedule. This bothers me quite a bit. If only I could find him in 1850, I often think, then perhaps I would find the evidence I need to link him to his parents. But there he is not, no matter how often I look or how thoroughly I search.
Fortunately, Georgia researchers have other records to draw from, including the many extant county tax records. Jackson County has a rich set of tax digests extending from the county’s earliest days through most of the 19th century with very few gaps. I had a little time last week, so I hopped on down to the courthouse in Jefferson, Jackson County’s county seat, and spent the afternoon reading those digests. I focused on the years 1849, 1850, and 1851, because those years’ tax records act as a substitute and supplement for the 1850 federal census.
You might be a genealogist if…
…the only t-shirt you own is related to genealogy.
…you think the phrase “related to genealogy” is funny.
…your significant other has threatened you with bodily harm if you utter the words “It’s all relative” one more time.