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Southeastern U.S. Research Group

 
 
Overcoming Obstacles in your Southern United States Research
 
If you have spent time doing genealogy work in the Southern United States you have heard this:   "We had a Courthouse fire!"  or "General Sherman burned records".    Sound familiar?    This is a reality in doing southern United States genealogy work and yes I am still mad at General Sherman! 
 
In reality not just fire but storms, hurricanes and other natural disasters all have contributed to records loss in the South.   This is just one obstacle to overcome.   Another obstacle is the natural way of life in the south.   The South was an agrarian society (largely farmers) who spent time working in fields and due to their lifestyles, schooling was decentralized and took place  in many instances after the crops were brought in.   Many inconsistencies in spelling, birth dates and places exist.    
 
So how do we overcome the obstacles in our Southern research efforts?  
 
1. Walk a mile in your ancestor's shoes and understand your geography.   A water source was important for your ancestors. Find the common migration trails of the settlers that came to the county. Try to find maps of the county at the time your ancestors were living there.  Did a certain geographical area have a former name?  
"Over Yonder..." does not help! What communities or towns no longer exist but did when your ancestor was there?
 
2.  Understand the county and its parent county.   When your ancestors were living in an area was it the parent county or the subsequent county? Should you look in more than one county for records?
 
3. Find out if you are working in a county with records loss from fire, flood, etc.  Have researchers in that county attempted to reconstruct records?  Family Search has a record of what records loss there are in counties. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Burned_Counties_Research 
 
4.  Understand the terminology.   In Louisiana there are parishes not counties...In Louisiana it is the "Clerk of Courts" with records.  In Texas it is the County Clerk that is in charge of records. 
 
5. Don't always expect to find a gravesite.  Many times settlers marked a grave with a rock or even a rose bush.  Sometimes a graveyard had more than one name or it is was renamed. Think about when the first burial took place in a cemetery.  Was it before or after your ancestor was living nearby? The old Southern saying
"If the creek don't rise" is accurate in why many an ancestor might not be buried where you think they should be. 
 
6. Understand the types of records in a county:   probate, land records, tax records, agricultural censuses. What local records exist?  Courthouse records and local College archives are great resources.  
 
7. Find out if vertical files exist in libraries within the county.   Many times you can tie into someone elses research.
 
8. Timeline your ancestor's life within the county.  What do you know?  What do you need still to find out?
 
9. Look at the neighbors! Many times different families moved together in the south. So you will see the same surnames together. Many practiced the same religion and traveling together was safer.   Men courted and married within a certain radius. It is important to look at the relationships between families in the South.  Did the Jones, the Smiths, and the Williams all travel together?  Did they marry among themselves?
 
10. Look at the events happening at the time your ancestors lived in an area.   Was there a yellow fever outbreak in a certain year?  Was the railroad coming in to a nearby county and people were moving to find work?
 
11. Use soundex and naming patterns to help assist with different spellings of names. 
 
12.  Ask for help in the county you are researching.  Call local libraries. Call local museums.  Ask for the name of the local historian. It works!  
 
 
      Y'all be good!            Submitted by G. Andrie