Saturday, October 16, 2010

Can’t Find Records? Use Formation Maps

Chasing Counties
My Virginia Genealogy

 The most frustrating, hair pulling genealogy research issue is not being able to find records, that “should be there.”  But the question to ask is: Has every portal been opened, no matter how small or how far? 

The first step of preparing for your research is educating yourself on the area.  When was the state/county formed? From which counties or territories was the area created? And, what was going on politically that may have affected records for your time period? 

Keep in mind, just because a county changed, or a new one was created, doesn’t mean the records migrated. 

County Formation Maps
Let’s take a simple state –Virginia, not so simple when it comes to finding genealogical records. Have you seen the Virginia County Formation Maps? If you don’t research the map changes for the span of years you are researching, you probably have not opened a portal or two.  This could explain your missing ancestor’s records. (Note:  these county formation maps are available for all the states, and are interactive with notes online).

Chasing Your State and County Records 
Boutetourt County in Virginia, for example, is one challenging area. Botetourt was nothing more than a open territory (see image above) created from Augusta in 1769.  In 1772, part of Botetourt was given to Fincastle.  In 1777, part of Botetourt was given to Greenbrier.  Later, Fincastle was split, Greenbrier was divided, and so forth. So where did your ancestor’s records land?

Like counties, boundaries of states were transformed through history. Kansas gave some of its boundaries to Colorado supposedly because they didn’t want the gold found within their boundaries; Missouri extended its already large state by acquiring the Platte Purchase in 1836; and Virginia split in 1863 creating West Virginia.

And let’s not forget the western state of Idaho that was treated like an unwanted burden.  First it was part of the Oregon Territory; then divided between the Washington Territory and Oregon Territory.  Then when Oregon became a state, what would become Idaho was attached to Washington. With the discovery of gold, a lot of politics and being bounced around, Idaho finally became its own territory in 1863.  Whew, and that was the short version.

The goal here is to verify the surrounding states and counties, political reasons that may have influenced the moving of your records and open new portals to find those records that you need.

Kathleen Brandt

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