Many years ago I published a tip on where to look for clues for breaking down your family tree brick walls. I would like to re-visit the topic using the hands-on approach. (Technology will be covered later). Ye who live in the same area of your ancestors and have access to source documents are blessed! Most of us live or did live hundreds or thousands of miles away and are bound to the information we can eke out or pay a researcher to find information for us.
I have been in both positions. Starting my genealogical quest in IL, then Missouri, then Texas, then Arizona … trying to find Kentucky records while raising my family. I knew where every library was in these states but didn’t have that much time to spend there with little ones at home. I was blessed with an excellent researcher in my area of Kentucky who is still my best friend since 1970; I don’t think she missed any shred of old paper from 1799 on! But, being on a budget …. well, you understand; I could only go so far. So – I moved here! Since then, I have almost taken up residence at the County Clerk’s office and began transcribing records myself to help others.
I know many of you are saying “even if I do live close, where do I look; I’ve read the census records, gone through the deed books, etc. etc. etc.” Let’s go through the check list again, maybe you’re still missing the big picture. Starting at the County Clerk’s office, what can you find?
1 – Marriages. This is a logical place to look to see if your ancestors married here. Check not only the marriage licenses, but look at the bonds. I’ve discussed before that a bond had to be taken guaranteeing the marriage would take place. Who was the bondsman? Jot down their names too. Were they relatives – a father, a brother? Was he a dear friend when the parents might have been deceased? Women sometimes signed the bond. Why? Was the father deceased? Write down her name and try to find out who she was. This might give a clue to the death of the father indicating that the father was deceased before the son married. Who signed the permission slip? Why did permissions have to be given? Ah, under age .. that helps date the bride or groom’s ages, you had to be 21. Were the bonds filed with the marriage papers or in a separate book? If the latter, more information might be found such as the ages, if this was the 1st, 2nd or 3rd marriage, occupation, parents’ names, where everyone was born, etc. Many counties have the bond books.
2 – Deed books. Ok, we know what the index books show – who sold, who bought, how many acres, the nearest waterway, and the type of deed and cost. This leads us to the actual deed books. Have you read thoroughly the deeds? Here you might find the history of the land – who owned it originally, the chain of sales through the years. Most list the property lines of the land on each side. Who were those people? Was it a parent selling the land to their son in preparation of the son’s marriage? Were they neighbors? Write down those names and do some snooping around as to who they were and the connection they had, if any to the buyer or seller. Note the location of the land – even though in KY boundaries are listed in reference to the nearest waterway and based on marks on a tree or a stone. Find those neighbors on a census record (1850 on primarily) and see how they are listed. Could they be the husband of one of the seller’s married daughters? Did you find a reference to a family cemetery in that deed? Land could be sold, but the cemetery land was never included and always remained in the name of the individual who established the cemetery.
3 – Guardianship books. Why was there a guardianship? Was it a short-term guardianship when an individual is named to represent a child in a legal matter (ad litem)? That child could have been an infant or up to age 21. Perhaps the parents felt they couldn’t represent their child in a case in law; when the matter was solved, the guardianship ended. Who was that guardian? Were they relatives, a lawyer, a friend? Check them out! What about a long-term guardianship? Was the father deceased and someone named to represent the child? Did the child live with the guardian? Not usually. The mother could be alive and quite capable of raising the child – but a guardian appointed to help with investments, rentals of land or slaves.
4 – Indentureships. There are normally books showing all the indentureships also. Why was the child being indentured? Were the parents deceased? Not always. A family also indentured their children to learn a trade where the parent had no expertise in that field of learning. Many indentures show not only the name of the child, but their age, what they were to learn, how long the indentureship lasted, what the child was to be provided at the end of the term.
5 – County order books. So often overlooked, these huge books are simply the notes of what happened at the monthly court meetings. Here you will find references to Revolutionary War pension applications, naming of administrators for individuals who died without a will, note of executorships, paupers, payments for various duties performed for the county, waiving of payment of taxes, references to criminal cases, non-payment of taxes – the list is endless. Most of these books are indexed to a certain degree, but only the major names. Indentures and guardianships are also cited here, elections … it’s important to look at these books!
6 – Roads books. Most counties maintain a “roads book” which is a list of new roads or alterations to existing roads. Sounds exciting right? Well, it can be. When a road was laid out, it named where the road was, appointed a supervisor for that particular precinct and his “hands”. He and his “hands” would have lived along the same proposed road. Note who they are and this will likely help you later on in locating the land where your ancestor lived.
7 – School records. Many counties have bound copies of the school records for various time frames (normally in the 1850s or later in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The teacher filled out each year a pre-printed form where every student is listed in his school – name, age, many times the parents’ names (or guardian’s name).
8 – Will books. Of course we’ve all looked to see if our ancestor left a will and screamed at them if they didn’t! Read the will closely for the names of the heirs – many times showing the location of heirs who didn’t live in the area any more, the married names of their daughters, the provisions to the widow, etc. Note again who signed as the witnesses. Each will had to be witnessed, even death bed wills. If not, they were shown in the books as having an administrator appointed (even though an executor might have been named) “with the will annexed”. Who were the witnesses? It couldn’t be any heir named in the will so who were they? They had to be friends or other relatives not named in the will. Why did the individual name this person? A neighbor? Try to figure out who they were – again check the census records and try to find them.
I’m aware that not all of these books still remain in various counties due to fires, etc. And, I know that if you live some distance away, you can’t check all these books. But, if you hire a researcher, be sure that they look in these books if available.
We will continue next week with other tips.
© Copyright 26 Jan 2012, Sandra K. Gorin