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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 1, Number 3
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
Nov 09


Third Edition of the Genealogy Gazette
Following is the third article titled "Who was Great-Grandma?". Hopefully, there will be some ideas to help with your genealogy search.

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James L. Douthat
Mountain Press

Who was Great-Grandma?

Who was great-grandma?? This is a very frequently asked question since most of the time only her given name is known. We find this from the census beginning in the 1850 forward. We also find the name on deeds when the property is sold as is stated, “John Smith and his wife Alice sell to Robert Black....”. But the question remains, what was Alice’s last name? I’m sorry to say, there is no single silver bullet that takes us to the answer, but following are some clues to help up dig it out.

1] Start with the marriage license. We normally think that this will give both his and her full name. Not always! Many of the very early licenses only give the name of the male. Thank goodness, this went out of fashion early in the 18th century. But many of the early states were Commonwealths and their record keeping is different from just a state. There is usually a marriage packet with multiple listings of each marriage. There were bonds, licenses, consent forms, sometimes minister’s returns and all were kept together in the courthouse. This is the only place these can be viewed in their entirety. Just as an example: Rebecca Painter was married in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her guardian [identified from other records] included a note as a consent form, “I have known her since birth to be the daughter of ....” and names her parents. We knew from other records, letters and diaries that she was the sister to two other Painter kin that were of more interest to us. There we got the parents and confirmation of the last name.

2] In most cases, Census records give only the first name of grandma. Finding her last name takes more work. Study the ten to fifteen entries prior to and after the person in question. In the early and mid-eighteenth century, a man did not go far astray to find a bride. In many cases, they were within a mile or so of the home place. In the twenty to thirty entries, are there several with a common last name? This probably is a family group staying close to Ma and Pa. Go to the deed records now. Did Grandma and Grandpa purchase their farm from one of those names? If so, then there is a strong chance this is her father or grandfather selling the young couple a farm to keep them all at home. If the name of the seller on the deed is not one of the neighbors, there is still a chance this is kin somehow. With the census records, you might go back to the 1820-1840 where the number of children is given only in age groups by sex. Study these groups to see if one or more of the girls is missing about the time of the wedding. Here is another name that might be Grandma.

3] The will books of a county are extremely valuable. If you have an abstraction handy, this will save time in searching out each of the twenty-thirty neighbors. Remember that Great-Grandpa or Great-Grandma might mention Alice by just Alice, but it might be your Grandma’s last name. Don’t forget the “Settlements and Inventory” of the estate. Remember that neighbors and friends came in like scavengers to buy up pieces of the estate at a good “yard sale” price. Is your Grandma one of them? She might be purchasing some of his husband’s precious memories back. Remember even the widow had to buy some of her husband’s estate back herself. She kept only what was left to her in the will. As a footnote, I worked on a will book for a local county and a man left his two daughters each a farm placed under the management of their husbands. To his wife, he left the outhouse. Does that give us fodder for thought?

4] Court Records are of eminent use in this search. The major problem with using them is that many times, they are not indexed and one has to read them from beginning to end. Real information is given when a child is “bound out” or “orphaned”. They become the ward of the court and annual reports have to be given for review by the court on their care and keeping. Select a date and read around those for information. Some states have “bastardy bonds” so that when a young lady is compromised and is found with child, a bond was taken from various persons of interest in that child’s welfare. North Carolina has many of these records. Here the mother will sometimes name the child - male or female - and then had to procure a number of individuals to sign the bond that this child would never become a ward of the court. The assignees would see to it that the child was cared for until it reached eighteen years of age. In most cases, her father, brothers, uncles would sign as would the father of the child without singling him out. Now whether the child would take the mother’s last name or the father’s is sometimes in doubt.

5] Bible Records are a place to look. The real problem here is to find the Bible in the first place. Since there is only one Bible that has all of the names, it is very difficult to find. However, in most of the southern states, there have been attempts to locate and record the Bible records of the area. For example, the Tennessee DAR has just finished a project to photograph the family/data pages from Bibles all over the state. The result is a three inch thick index with over 8600 Bibles on a DVD disk. What you see from the disk is a photograph of the actual pages of each of the Bibles. There are no mistaken transcriptions to deal with - what you see is what is actually recorded. Don’t give up the search. I finally found one I have known about for over fifty years and it came to me purely by accident.

6] Don’t over look the church records. Sometimes more difficult that Bible records to find, the church records are of great value. These are people who knew the truth and wrote it down, but they are also the people who want to keep the records hidden from prying eyes. Having served as a pastor of local churches for many years, we found that Aunt Sallie Sue kept those records at home and only God himself could get to see them. We might later find that when she died and the family finally surrendered the records, Aunt Sallie Sue had kept personal opinions on each of those she liked and disliked. These would not be counted as valid records in the long run, but it might provide interesting reading. For many of those who received their Social Security check in the mid-twentieth century church records were all that could establish their age. Church records are definitely important. 7] There is always a trip to the cemetery that might be fruitful. Most of the time, the last name is not on the stone for the female, but sometimes it is there. Then again, she might be buried in a family plot of her family and not in one of his. Look carefully at all of the names around her and make note of the similarity and differences of the stone to the others around her. There may be a clue hidden there.

8] If you can locate a local newspaper or even one that serves a regional area, get the microfilm and spend an afternoon just going through the newspapers. There will be certain dates to look out for - weddings, funerals of spouses and neighbors, weddings of children, veteran’s affairs, etc. Going through the microfilm does take a lot of time. Grandma might just be listed in an obituary of one of those neighbors you have been tracking as a sister, aunt, etc. Remember that most newspapers did not run lengthy obits for the common man in the street, but if one happens to be someone of note in the community, more information was given. A lot of information can be gleaned from obits especially if they are persons of note. We had an argument about the burial place of a man of note in our area, but in 1824 most of the newspapers did not even mention his passing. However, one did run a full page on the man with the Governor “...accompanying the body down river to be buried by his wife and son...”. Argument settled.

These eight suggestions are the primary sources of the name Grandma was born with, but there are others that might be called the second string. This level of research would include the following:

1] Printed sources which would include biographical sketches from the mid-nineteenth century collection, family histories, county histories and even local histories. Sometimes, especially from the publications by Hardesty and Goodspeed, we find that the family gave the information for these biographical sketches they printed. A hundred years ago, the family knew who Grandma was before she married Grandpa. Also, don’t forget to look into the neighbors in these same publications as they may mention Grandma also.

2] Other researchers on the family line can sometimes have information that is not readily available to all researchers. Some have private documents like letters and diaries that are not easily found everywhere. Always try to get the documentation when you find something like this as you will need that eventually.

3] Always check with the local historical or genealogical societies in the area where Grandma lived. Multiple heads are always better than just one. Many of these local societies have files on many of the families living in that area and they can search the records for Grandma and her neighbors. If you have identified a name or two in your other research, ask them to check the files for these others as well.

There is no single silver bullet to find all the answers, but as you find bits and pieces and keep them together, eventually they will all fit to make the puzzle complete.

Good hunting!!!!

James Douthat

North Carolina Bastardy Bonds

by Betty J & Edwin A. Camin, 258 Pages, Perfect Bound, NC-0144, $35.00

The "Bastardy Bonds" of North Carolina contains bonds posted from 30 counties because of the birth or impending birth of a bastard child. These bonds were intended to protect the county or parish from the expense of raising the child. When the pregnancy of a woman or birth of a child was brought to the attention of the court, a warrant was issued and the woman brought into Court. She was examined under oath and asked to declare the name of the child's father. The 'reputed' father was then served a warrant and required to post bond. If the woman refused to name, the father, she, her father or some other interested party would post the bond. In some cases, the mother and reputed father together posted the bond.

Click here for examples and surnames.


Virginia Wills Before 1799

116 Pages, 5.5" x 8.5", Perfect Bound, VA-0683, $15.00

This volume covers six counties in early Virginia records with two of the counties in the northern portion of the state and three in the central part and one in the Shenandoah Valley. The listing is an alphabetical listing of the wills of each county giving the date filed, name of the deceased and the other names listed in that will. Each county reference is given also. There has been an index added to the names that do not fit the alphabetical listing such as married daughters, in-laws and grandchildren. This latter will help in the genealogical research of the areas.

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House of Representatives Document Number 110, 34 pages, Soft Cover, Full Name Index, Reprinted 2009, GA-0248, $10.00

During the time period of 1795 through 1804, the state of Georgia went all the way to the Mississippi River which included the present states of Alabama and Mississippi. As the state was being broken up into other territories, this area of Mississippi Territory was already dealing with land grants that were within the area. This volume gives the names and locations of those grants in the territory.

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Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana History and Biographies

59 Pages, LA-0010, $12.50

Avoyelles Parish is famous for its Cajun/French speaking history dating back before 300 BC as the various tribes of Native Americans settled in the region. By 1650, there were various Spanish and African traders in the area. Later settlers from Normandy, France, Scotland, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Spain established towns and villages. African Americans who had served under Napoleon as well as some loyal to France in Haiti and the French West Indies came into the area to settle. Avoyelles Parish is a real mixture of cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

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Webster Parish, Louisiana History and Biographies

56 Pages, LA-0021, $12.50

In 1871, the county was created from lands formerly belonging to Bienville, Bossier and Claiborne Parishes and was named for Daniel Webster, the 19th century statesman of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The parish, as have all of the parishes in Louisiana, has had a strong influence from the Spanish, Native American and French. The area is a real mixture of these three long before the English came on the scene.

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