Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 4, Number 5 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 March 7, 2012
This article discusses how to find the missing pieces of your genealogy puzzle. If you are missing marriage, census, deeds or will records, I have listed a few other places to look for the information. Hopefully, this information will give you an idea of somewhere else to look for that missing piece.
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James L. Douthat
In everyone’s genealogical research, there are bits and pieces of information missing. It is like working a jigsaw puzzle, you get almost finished and find that a couple of pieces are missing. This throws the whole process off center and you want to quit. If you do finish the puzzle, and you look back on it, all you see are the holes left by the missing pieces. In genealogical research, there are ways to find those missing pieces. Unlike the puzzle when you know the dog ate those two pieces, it is not over.
Perhaps you are missing a marriage record. Don’t give up the ghost as there are a number of places that you can look. Some of these may take a little more effort than others, but you can find the missing piece. One of the best places to look is the military pension files, especially if the widow had to apply for the pension. Look in the newspapers of the day or the church registers. These latter two are sometimes harder to find, but they may also contain many obituaries that may help you. There are also probate packets, Bible records and diaries. You may find the answer in the deed records, especially if the property is a gift from her father. In the mid to late nineteenth century, the wife is frequently questioned by members of the county court to verify that she agrees with the sale of the property. In many cases, this implies the property is a gift from her side of the marriage. All of these records will show her given name but not necessarily her surname, but at least you have a start.
If the census is missing, they are several other resources. Most of the information found in the census can also be located in things like the state or local census and tax listings. In fact, the census taker might have been scared off by a mean dog, but the local tax collector wouldn’t let that bother him. In many counties, the tax listing is a better listing of names for the county than the census. All of the other information can be found in court files, militia records, school records or voter listings. One of the most overlooked sources is the road order records when “hands” were listed for the road work. In the nineteenth century, most all roads in the country were taken care of by those who lived along the road. A supervisor is listed and given the “hands” or a listing of those who live in a certain area to help with the work on the roads. One of the great advantages of this kind of listing is that neighborhoods are grouped together. Seldom were workers enlisted from other sections to work a particular portion of a road. If you have both the road orders and the census, you have a fairly good grouping of the neighborhoods. In a large percentage of cases, a spouse will be found amount this grouping.
If the deeds are missing, you can also find that information elsewhere. In many cases when the courthouse burns, they will make every effort to restore the deed records. You cannot sell property if you cannot prove that you own it, so everyone will take their original deed and have it recorded again. If this has not happened in your particular county, then you can begin looking in probate records since something has to be done with the property at the time of death. If no mention is made in the probate records, then consult the newspapers, tax listing or even estate records. Property is one thing that is never left hanging as far as ownership is concerned.
If the wills are not found, the search is a little harder but not impossible. There are usually court records of differing kinds either in general court or chancery cases. The deed transfers give some indication with the distribution of property. Even in church records there is frequently listing of changes in families, and of course, there are the newspapers of the day and time.
If you are having trouble finding newspapers, one of the best sources is the state universities and their journalism departments. Most of these schools have attempted to collect all of the newspapers published in their state. Through the years, these have been microfilmed and many times are made available especially through the State Archives in each state. At the same time, local genealogical and historical societies have collected the newspapers for their area. It takes a little effort to research these papers, but the efforts are very rewarding.
Even if you have a missing piece of puzzle, don’t give up but press ahead and think outside the box on the subject. Hopefully you can find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Happy hunting!
These county records detail the happenings in the county and may include land transfers, divorces, adoptions, guardianship, road orders, etc.
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