Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 6, Number 23 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 November 5, 2014
In this article we will discuss the importance of finding those minor sources to help paint a more complete picture of the life of your ancestor. It is always interesting to try to find out more than just the birth, marriage and death dates. This extra information into the life of your ancestor is so important in understanding who they were and the time period in which they lived.
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James L. Douthat
MOST UNUSUED RESOURCES
If you are like 90% of genealogical researchers, there are resources that are never or seldom ever checked for our ancestors. We all tend to use the same set of resources over and over with each new search. Almost 100% of us start with the Federal census and too often that is where we stop searching. Fewer of us then drop back to the local county records like the marriage, will books, deed books and lament when nothing is found. There are many more areas of resources that we have not even thought about to find our ancestors and locate them in a particular time and place. Even if we have found them in each of the above mentioned records, we need more information to make our story of their lives more complete. It is like painting a picture of those people and if we just use black and white paint we get an image, but not a very good one. We need to use other colors to round them out and make them live in our minds.
Some of the other records you can find in the courthouse are things like voter lists. Most of our ancestors lived prior to vote by computers or by mail. They had to go to a certain place on a certain day and make their own marks for their choice. At least you know they are there in that place on that day. The voter list gives you some identity in their location and time frame. This may be very important. You might want to check and see if they had to have property to vote, as was common with a lot of southern states. This was one of the ways southerners controlled the vote. Another way was the “poll” tax that just went out in some states as late as the 1960s. The “poll tax” is another list you can check, if the county has kept these records.
Other great records to check are the various “tax” lists. Many counties have some of these, but not always all of them. Primarily, they keep the current ones for collection purpose. However, many societies in the area have found and have kept the older ones. Here again, you can locate your ancestor in time and place. You can also determine if they were property owners as most of the taxing was on property either real or personal. Rural counties tie their taxes to the land whereas urban counties use personal property to extract revenue. Either way, the information is very important in your portrait of your ancestor. Color is now being added.
The minute books of the county are a great source of extra information about those living in the area at the various time periods of the records. The Court of Pleas and Quarterly minutes and County Court Minutes give details of the day-to-day running of the various counties. In these records, you can find deed transfers, naturalization as well as road orders where a supervisor is given with the “hands” named. These “hands” are the people asked to do the work on the various roads, usually in a particular neighborhood where they lived. In the early days, this was the only way that a county had to take care of their road system. Since there was no paving of roads, the job was something that anyone could handle with picks and shovels. You might want to make a note of the listings with your ancestors and pay close attention to the other names. One of them might have been a father-in-law of the ancestor. Many times marriages were with people in close proximity.
Naturalization Records are frequently found in these court minutes, but they can also be found in other County Court Records. This is one of those areas that states have had trouble nailing down to a particular place. Sometimes, the Civil Court or the Federal Court or even the State Legislature had to handle the change of citizenship of individuals. In the very early days of our culture, the ship’s manifest was the only place to find the country of origin.
There are many more records to be found in the courthouse, many of which are unusual as manumissions, wolf scalp bounties or even insanity records. You can also find orphan orders, guardians, jury records, business licenses, etc. Keep looking and digging to find more unusual information.
Also, don’t forget your local societies. Most all areas of the country, especially in the east, have a local historical or genealogical society. These groups have made a point to locate the records of that particular area. For a small fee most of them will be happy to search their records for people who live away from the area. Even if they do the work for free, offer a small amount for their efforts and to help the society with their expenses. A plane ticket from California to lower South Carolina is greater than any fee you might have to pay. Besides, these folks know the area, they know the names and they know the records available so they are miles ahead of you personally coming into town to research. They also know those small and unusual sources that are hard to find in the courthouse.
Good luck with the minor sources in your search. Here is where the color is found for your painting of your ancestors. Happy Hunting!!!
Tennessee County Court Records
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